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.