Most entrepreneurs hear more “No’s” than “Yes”. In particular, first time entrepreneurs in the early stages of their start-up venture. This is especially true if your idea is of the “brave new world” type, versus “the better mousetrap” kind.
Naturally, most people find it hard to comprehend breakthrough, visionary ideas, or disruptive business models. Even if it’s in their own industry. Some famous examples include:
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” — H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
“640K ought to be enough for anybody.” — Attributed to Bill Gates, 1981.
Therefore, as entrepreneurs, we should expect to hear “No’s” and negative feedbacks from investors, partners, and customers. Negative feedback in itself is not a bad thing, as long as it’s constructive. It might include some important perspectives and lessons that can help us improve our ideas and business models.
Moreover, sometimes we simply have a bad idea and receiving sincere and constructive feedback early on can save us lots of wasted time and money.
Thus, we should develop the important skill of active listening, and learn how to receive negative feedback. It will enable us to learn better and faster. And even more important, encourage people to give us their sincere and honest feedback, even when the message might be unpleasant.
Here are a few tips that I found to be very useful.
- Put yourself in a “positive reception mode”. Nobody likes to hear “No’s”, or receive negative feedback and criticism. But to make the most of such negative messages, and learn the valuable lessons that often come with them, we must be in a positive reception mode. That means we need to come with a positive mindset and attitude that will allow the deliverer of the message to speak openly and candidly.
This is sometimes easier said than done. The approach I recommend is to simply think of the positive outcomes that will eventually result from this feedback. You will get an honest opinion that will enable you to improve your idea/product/plan, or even yourself. You will avoid possible failures and greater disappointments or frustrations that come with them.
In short, there is no bad feedback. Any constructive and sincere feedback is valuable, and you should encourage everyone around you to provide you with feedback on a regular basis. That’s the best way to continuously get better and better.
- Listen intently and actively. This is the most important part of the feedback. Most of us are not good listeners. We need to really listen to what is being said. Not judge, not defend, not attack, not plan our response. Simply listen and understand the message. I suggest repeating what we just heard; using our own words, in order to ensure that we heard and understood correctly what was said to us.
- Ask clarifying questions. This technique helps us listen better, and be sure that we got the message correctly. It avoids misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the message. The purpose is to make sure we fully and correctly understand the message and its supporting arguments, assumptions, and rational. Good clarifying questions include: Why? What do you mean? Can you give me some specific examples?
- Summarize your lessons learned. Now that you have actively listened and correctly understand the messages that you received comes the most valuable part of the feedback—learning from it.
I suggest taking some time to digest the messages, preferably by writing them down first, then recognizing your immediate emotions, which are likely to be negative, such as anger, disappointment, and fear. And yet, don’t let these negative emotions consume you. Simply recognize their existence and move on.
The next step is to review your notes and derive from them the key lessons that you should learn from them. Write down those lessons. They should lead you to develop an action plan to apply these lessons as you move forward with your venture.
Let’s be honest, no one likes to receive negative feedback. We rather hear praises and compliments. And yet, many times we can learn much more form a “No” than from a “Yes”. As entrepreneurs and innovators, we must become comfortable with failures, mistakes, and negative feedbacks since they are our stepping stones to success.
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