When someone provides you with feedback, how do you handle it? Do you take it seriously and make an effort to incorporate it into what you're doing? Or do you more often than not blow it off?

Feedback is a touchy subject for brands, business owners and entrepreneurs. Everyone has an opinion and on the internet there is no shortage of individuals who want to share theirs with you. Depending on how feedback is provided and how much of it you receive, dealing with feedback can be overwhelming, depressing and even angering.

In a guest post on the CenterNetworks blog, entrepreneur Matt Douglas makes some interesting points about this in a post entitled "Your Startup Sucks". It basically lists all of the (mostly negative) things entrepreneurs are likely to hear when introducing their ideas and creations to the world. These comments, with minimal modification, can just as easily apply to established businesses and major brands.

What to do when faced with criticism and skepticism? Douglas writes:

Don’t look for outside validation. Don’t listen to those who doubt. F$*! them. Keep going. If you believe you can do it, that’s the only thing that matters.

There's something to this. In today's world it's easy to be cynical and difficult to be constructive. So it's no surprise that brands, business owners and entrepreneurs are frequently faced with negativity. But the feedback they receive from consumers, critics, customers, investors and anyone else with a heartbeat is often extremely valuable, no matter how disappointing that feedback might be.

Like most things in life, using feedback to your advantage is an exercise in separating the wheat from the chaff. So when dealing with feedback, here are some of things to consider:

Who the source is. Not all opinions are created equal and not all should be treated equal. The guy off the street who tells you that your idea is "crap" may not be worth listening to, but what if a customer tells you the same thing? Bottom line: trust, expertise and experience are all critical factors in deciding whether a particular piece of feedback is worthy of consideration. These are subjective but I do think there is one hard and fast rule: the opinions of paying customers (or potential customers you attempt to sell to) should be treated like gold, even if the feedback feels like lead.

The tone in which feedback is provided. Someone who criticizes your idea, product or business may have entirely logical justifications. But feedback is only useful if it provides a pathway to improvement. Therefore feedback that is provided in a constructive manner is worth 100 times as much to you as feedback that is provided insultingly.

Quantitative versus qualitative. There are substantial differences between quantitative feedback and qualitative feedback. Generally, quantitative feedback is easier to analyze and can be a good guide for high-level decision making. But qualitative feedback often provides the all-important details that are required for implementation.

The consistency of feedback. If someone tells you that your website sucks, you probably shouldn't rush out to redesign it. But what do you do if you receive dozens of complaints telling you basically the same thing (e.g. that your interface is a nightmare to navigate)? Where there's smoke, there's usually fire. So if feedback is consistent across multiple sources, you'd probably do well to consider that you're being told the truth. It's not always fun but it could save you big time in the long run.

How realistic the feedback is. Sometimes when you've decided to go down a certain path, you reach the point where the only option, win or lose, is to "keep going". When sorting through feedback, it's important to keep in mind that there is always going to be feedback that you just can't put to use no matter how good it is. So a smart question to ask when evaluating a piece of feedback is "Can I realistically incorporate this feedback into what I'm doing?" If the answer is no, you might need to move on.

What you're doing with the feedback. If you're proactively seeking feedback, make sure you're asking for actionable feedback that you're likely to use. As mentioned, there's no shortage of individuals willing to provide feedback. And when you collect feedback that you can put to good use in ways that will be seen by those providing it, your chances of finding willing subjects to provide quality, valuable feedback again in the future goes up significantly.

What matters most to you. You can't please everyone. Dealing with feedback inherently requires you to put some things before others. What are your goals? Who are your most important stakeholders? At all times, common sense dictates that you should focus on feedback closely related to your goals and that is most relevant to your key stakeholders.

Dealing with feedback often isn't fun. It rarely offers you everything you want to hear and then some. It often comes in a package that even the most thick-skinned of us would cry over. But feedback is to business what food is to the body. Without it, you just can't grow. The key is knowing what and how to consume.

Photo credit: nate steiner via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 2 October, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (6)

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that post was shi.... only joking haha

feedback is always good, even negative feedback (if its from the right person such as a customer) is good. it helps you improve and grow. get a thick skin and reject the stuff you dont beleive in, and action the stuff you know is true.

almost 9 years ago


Arthur Fink

First, listen to the feedback.  Don't be in a hurry to respond -- either internally, or with a verbal or quickly written response.

The points above are solid -- if you are holding the feedback as a possibly precious object that needs to be understood.

Then ask how could I experience the truth of that feedback?  Somebody might say that I'm scattered.  I "know" that I'm not -- that I really have a long but coherent set of interests and talents.  But wait . . . somebody who doesn't know me might see the range of things that I address and quickly dismiss me as a scattered dilettante.  In this process I'm not necessarily agreeing with the feedback, but am identifying with a content that gave birth to it.

Finally, ask what would this feedback lead me to do, and am I prepared to do that?  In the example above, it might lead me to write a short piece about how my several professional interests complement and inform each other ... telling the world what I already believe that I know.  (Indeed, that was the concept that gave birth to my blog, http://www.ArthurFink.Wordpress.com.)

Whatever you do, don't get threated, hurt, or aggrevated by feedback that you believe in unfair, ungrounded, or unkind.  This is easier said than done.

almost 9 years ago


Nick Stamoulis

Feedback can be a touch subject depending on how it is given. Unless one asks for feedback people should keep it to themselves unless it is highly valuable information.

almost 9 years ago


duncan thompson

Feedback from customers is a cultural thing too in our experience. We find generally feedback from customers in the US is always polite, respectful of entrepreneurship as its starting point. The fact the the US understands entrepreneurship and that negative comment kills creativity seems to affect the tone of feedback that US customers post at least about us. There is another culture I'm not going to say which one (!) which is usually incredibly rude, feedback is insulting irrespective of the service you have provided because culturally their understanding of the relationship between them and you (they are the customer you are the servant) is different.

almost 9 years ago


PHP Programming

Thanks for the details.If the feedback is worthy enough,then i try to incorporate it into what i am doing.It was nice reading this account.I know different people will have different take on this issue..nevertheless this post helped me form a picture of the scenario.

almost 9 years ago


Tom Albrighton, Digital and SEO copywriter at ABC Copywriting

I agree with all the points except the one on tone. Angry feedback from a customer could be very valuable and important to act on. Conversely, careful, constructive feedback could be tainted by the respondent's tactful desire to avoid causing offence, or second-guess what you want to hear.

When people are angry, you can normally be fairly confident that they're being honest - in that moment, at least.

You can't disregard feedback just because it doesn't offer you a path to improvement. Feedback is feedback; customer opinions are their opinions. It's for you to work out what the path to improvement is.

almost 9 years ago

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