Handling Criticisms as a Founder: Weathering Criticism and Using it as a Tool for Growth

For some people, criticisms equal failure. For some, getting criticised for getting something wrong is an attack on their their personality and their abilities. But come to think of it, what is life without criticism, whether constructive, caustic, or empty? What is life without feedback from people that want to see you succeed and even those that don’t? What is life without growth? Stagnant. Boring. Bland. Life without criticism is life without growth, because then it would be nigh impossible to know what to improve at.

Some criticism is good and helpful, some is not. Some criticism is just that, criticism, while some is harmful and hurtful. How, as a founder of a company trying to find its feet and place in the world, do you weather criticism and use it as a tool for growth?

During a New Statesman interview in January 1939, Winston Churchill said of criticism that it “may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop."

As a newborn baby grows, initially it feeds on milk, but then it starts to develop teeth and starts to feed on other foods apart from milk. That process of developing teeth, called teething, is painful, but it is necessary; all human babies go through it. But this is not the only form of pain this human baby goes through, there are countless others, some needful, others, not so much; but they are necessary to its form as a human. It is the same with running a company; its very existence means that it will go through pain; so, the founder must then decide what to do with the pain. Do they ignore it and act like it doesn’t exist? Or do they pay attention and listen to what the pain is telling them?

Companies that will stand the chance of success are those whose founders understand the place of pain, or criticism, embrace it, listen to it, and learn what they can from it so they grow.

How does a founder weather criticism and learn from it?

Learn to separate the music from the noise
Not all criticism is useful, some of it is just vitriolic and should be ignored, even if it contains elements of truth. Vitriolic criticism will drain your energy as a founder. Only pay attention to constructive criticism, which usually comes with possible actions steps that you sense can help improve your company’s operations or product. Constructive criticism is even more valuable than praise, because praise does nothing beyond boost your morale, it doesn’t show you how you can be better.

Realise that you can’t develop a tough skin without cuts and piercings
That said, choosing to ignore vitriolic criticism does not mean it won’t stop coming, if anything, you will get more of it than you get constructive criticism. As Chuck Palahniuk once said, “It's easy to attack and destroy an act of creation. It's a lot more difficult to perform one.” People criticise because it is easy to do, it doesn’t take much to see something and knock it down. As a founder, you must realise this and come to terms with it.

Building a company is like going to battle. You will get attacked, you will receive cuts and be pierced, no matter how good you think your armour is. But all those cuts and piercings are a small price to pay for victory. If you truly want to build a successful company, then you need to develop tough skin by getting used to attacks from people.

In conclusion, when Arianna Huffington started the Huffington Post, she said it came alive to “mixed reviews, including some very negative ones, like the reviewer who called the site the equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar, and Heaven’s Gate rolled into one.’” Today, the Huffington Post, now HuffPo, is one of the most popular websites in the world. . In 2011 AOL bought the company for more than $300 million,with Arianna reportedly getting at least $21 million out of the deal.

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