If you’ve ever been consoled by others when you’ve been subject to criticism, a common phrase you’ll hear tossed around is to “take with a grain of salt.”  If you’re curious to find the full origins of the meaning of that phrase, click here, but the essence of that advice is that we should either ignore the criticism or place little value on its importance.  In actuality, the phrase means to use “a grain of salt” to make helpful—though unpalatable—tinctures easier to swallow.

For your start-up, taking the real meaning of the phrase and all of its meanings can be vital for adjusting the course of your business and handling criticism in the most effective ways possible.  Continue reading to discover different strategies and points to consider to keep your start-up from being negatively affected by criticism.

Handling Criticism Proactively

One approach to handling criticism is to first thank the critic for their time and interest.  If they do offer their contact information, inform them that you’ll be in touch after considering their information.  Try to determine if the problem is a systematic problem versus just an isolated case.  In actuality, having this information makes your more aware of how your customers view your business—an invaluable piece of market research and UX/UI research (http://bizwall.net/blog/blog/2010/08/02/what-do-the-acronyms-ui-or-ux-stand-for-the-difference-between-user-interface-and-user-experience-in-web-design/).  Turn lemons into lemonade by  addressing the issue.  After making any changes, inform the critic of your conclusions and solutions to their problem.  Lastly, sincerely thank them for their contribution publicly and allow them some credit for their fix.  With this approach, you’re able not only convince one customer of your personal touch, but also show the priority of your customers in your business model.  Essentially, their idea was worth its salt (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/worth-ones-salt.html).

Sticks and Stones

It’s an unfortunate fact that some of your customers and outside observers wish to inflict negativity on other people, often because of their own failures and shortcomings.  Some people like to project their own negativity, especially when it seems other people are close to achieving or are enjoying success, looking for ways to undermine. Misery does, in fact, love company—just maybe not YOUR company.

If you find that someone is making a personal attack on you rather than your business, the high road and apologize for any misunderstanding.  Be a consistent professional and don’t relegate yourself to the depths of name-calling, slander, and general cattiness.  While you don’t want stoke the flames of their discontent, handle the situation with tact.  Ask them if there’s any specific reason why they’re dissatisfied with your business and can offer constructive criticism.  You may be surprised that they can offer helpful information once they’ve calmed down.

Know that if and when your start-up idea does begin to take off, the amount of detractors will only increase and their criticism while become more sophisticated.  Consider this difficult period in the phase of your start-up as an introductory class to critics of the future.  Refine your answers and strengthen weak areas to make your start-up less susceptible to critique.  Or, just throw salt over your shoulder and keep the criticism-devils at bay. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1385380/Why-throw-salt-shoulder-superstitions-answered.html)

I Told You So

Sometimes, customers may offer redundant complaints that your start-up has already addressed via FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions), how-to’s, tutorials, and so forth.  While you may be tempted to say, “hey, I told you so,” save that feeling in private, instead leading them to the conclusion of their complaints via your content.  Consider how easy it is for a newbie customer to find these solutions; you may have accidentally obscured the source of where to find information like this, so pay attention to how your customers may resolve their own complaints before they make a public show of it.   If you haven’t taken the time to create content that addresses how your customers can resolve their inquiries before they get out of hand, make sure to create a page of FAQ’s directly quoting your customers (within reason) and show easy and effective solutions to their problems.

Keep Your Chin Up

If you feel that your start-up is receiving too much criticism, be sure to take some time away from your business and reassess your start-up and your own personal well-being.  Fight off the urge to take it personally, instead remaining motivated.  If you’re looking for ways to keep your enthusiasm, take a look at our article, “Staying Motivated During the Start-Up Phase”.

Face Time

While the days of the duel are thankfully over, take any persistent criticism that cannot be resolved and add a personal touch: offer to meet them face-to-face.  Online trolls tend to scatter when they risk skin in the real world, but someone who would be willing to meet you in-person has more invested and at stake.  Just as you would online, listen fully to their criticisms and offer an unconditional guarantee to resolve their problems.  Very often, just like the proverbial elephant with a thorn in its hoof, seek to find what is at root of their behavior.  For example, a service business that receives a criticism from a customer may alert you to rogue employees.  You may be surprised to realize that your start-up has unforeseen effects and this person is alerting you to a very real and impending danger to your business’ long-term growth.

Seek Criticism

It’s crucial to have a balanced opinion of what success is.  Just as dangerous as criticism, hearing constant enthusiasm that’s not tempered with real-world concerns can lead your business running under the facade of a well-oiled machine when in fact it may be bursting at the seams.  Don’t seek yes-men for critical looks at your start-up’s business model—seek to encourage an open-discussion among your key employees, constantly surveying for dissatisfaction, inefficiency, and so forth.  Don’t kill the messenger, but instead, reward those who hone your start-up.