Entrepreneurs need to listen to constructive criticism, but ignore negative vibes and complainers at all costs. If you are a complainer, and you are thinking of becoming an entrepreneur, think again. The world of an entrepreneur is tough, unpredictable, and fraught with risk. Most importantly, the buck stops with you, so there is no room for excuses and negativity.
Even listening often to negative team members and partners will reinforce negative thinking and behavior, and turn your normally positive perspective toxic. I’ve seen it too often in real life, and it was reinforced to me recently when I read a new book by Trevor Blake, “Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life.”
Trevor is a highly successful serial entrepreneur and success coach who has studied this phenomenon for many years, including the latest findings in neuroscience. Reviewing dozens of autobiographies of great entrepreneurs, including Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, and Andrew Carnegie, it seems that all had an unshakable belief in their ability to control their lives, with no excuses.
Here he offers, with some startup adaptation from me, ways that every entrepreneur needs to defend themselves against negativity – yours and others – so you can rewire your brain and boost the occurrence of positive thoughts and behaviors:
1. Become self-aware. When you feel an excuse coming on, no matter how trivial, stop yourself. You can’t delete the thought, but you can revise it before saying it aloud. So instead of saying, “I’ll never get the funding I need in this economy,” you might say, “Let’s try this new crowdfunding approach, since our solution value is so easy to understand.”
2. Redirect the conversation. When you participate in negative dialog with a complainer, you’ll walk away feeling depleted. If he says, “I hate demanding customers,” counter his negative thoughts with a positive image: “At least we have customers – how many of our competitors wish they had the backlog that we do?”
3. Smother a negative thought with a positive image. If a negative thought pops into your mind, immediately input a different image. This is the process of “neurogenesis” – creating new pathways in your brain that lead to positive behaviors. So if you think “I’m working late again,” replace this with a pleasant image of the restful weekend ahead.
4. Don’t try too hard to convert others. When trapped in a blatant complaint session with members of your team, simply choose silence. Let their words bounce off you while you think of something pleasant. If you try to stop them, you may end up alienating yourself and becoming a target. Let your positive results do the work in time.
5. Distance yourself when possible. When you hear insiders criticizing your startup, excuse yourself and take a break somewhere quiet. Think of something pleasant before returning. You have to take this seriously, because negative people can and will pull you into the quicksand.
6. Wear an invisible “mentality shield.” Imagine that an invisible shield like a glass cloak made of positive energy lightly covers your whole body. You can see perfectly well through it but it protects you from others’ negative words and emotions. This technique is used by professional athletes to deflect the negative energy of a hostile crowd.
7. Create a private retreat. When you are stuck with a cohort who is spewing vitriol, you should mentally retreat to a private, special place where you plan to enjoy the successful fruits of your entrepreneurial labor. Concentrate on your vision of making the world a better place.
8. Transfer responsibility. On occasions when you’re pressed against a wall while someone rants about all the injustices in their role, throw the responsibility back at them by saying, “So what do you intend to do about it?” If they just want to vent rather than find a solution, this tactic will stop them in their tracks.
9. Forgive your lapses. Everyone complains sometimes. Your computer crashes. Deadlines pile up. It’s human to vent once in a while. Be kind to yourself and start afresh. The less frequently you complain, the more time will pass between lapses into negativity. This is how rewiring the brain works.
Trying to live with complainers in your startup is not only unpleasant, but it’s bad for your own well-being, and bad for everyone’s performance. New research shows that if they keep hearing negative messages, your team behavior will change to fit these new perceptions, and not in a good way. You can’t survive with that kind of help in today’s competitive environment.
CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc.; Callaman Ventures Board Member and Executive in Residence; Advisory Board Member for multiple startups.