Johnny Mercer hit on something when he wrote “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative” for the classic tune. But the lyrics might be easier sung than done.
With a bitterly divided Congress, constant reminders of differences between red and blue states and never-ending attacks on our country’s leaders, negativity has become the norm in the United States. And while it is endemic to politics, negativity can also permeate the business world.
Entrepreneurs, particularly those pioneering a new product or service, are perhaps most susceptible to negative comments from family, friends, even peers. Their disparaging comments about your ideas can range from shooting them down to mocking them and citing statistics about how slim your chances are of succeeding.
Listen to the Voices of Experience
Luckily there are others out there who have been through the experience of building a business and their words can inspire confidence. I consider myself among this group. Accentuating the positive is one of the guiding principles of this website as I try to share information that will assist others with personal growth as well as business development. If I had listened to naysayers, I might never have founded my company Breakaway Solutions.
I can relate to the words of Steve Chou, founder of the website My Wife Quit Her Job.
“Anytime you start your own business or take any risks for that matter, you’ll inevitably meet people who will doubt you. These people often mean well, but their negative comments can be a devastating blow to your self-esteem and your entrepreneurial spirit if you are not careful.
“The most important thing when dealing with the doubters is to take everything they say with a grain of salt. There are too many variables for anyone to accurately predict the success or failure probability of your small business.”
Budding entrepreneurs surrounded by detractors might also take comfort in a rather long list of captains of industry who were not deterred by negativity, even after some of their initial enterprises or concepts failed. Michael Michalko, author of the best sellers “Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques,” ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck” and Cracking Creativity: The Secrets Of Creative Genius,” offered such a list last year on The Creativity Post.
■ A newspaper editor once fired Walt Disney because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
■ The famous “secret recipe” that eventually made Harland David Sanders a household name as Colonel Sanders of KFC was rejected more than 1,000 times before a restaurant accepted it.
■ A Harvard dropout, Bill Gates failed with his first business Traf-O-Data before he founded Microsoft.
■ Henry Ford was discouraged from getting into the automobile business because, people said, he lacked the required capital and the expertise.
■ An early employer rejected F. W. Woolworth’s ideas for marketing dry goods—the same ideas that later made Woolworth one of the most successful retailers in the United States.
■ Akio Morita was ridiculed for his first product, a rice cooker that burned more than it cooked rice. Morita persevered with his company, Sony, which went on to become the multibillion-dollar company it is today.
Turn a Negative Into a Positive
The best thing an entrepreneur can do is learn how to deal with negativity in a positive way. Some would say to just ignore critics so as not to be discouraged. Author Peter Bregman, who wrote “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction and Get the Right Things Done” offered a very interesting take on how to respond to negativity in a blog post he created last year for Harvard Business Review. Bregman suggests responding negatively and positively with detractors rather than against them. He explained his strategy in three easy steps:
1. Understand how they feel and validate it. This might be hard because it could feel like you’re reinforcing their negative feelings. But you’re not. You’re not agreeing with them or justifying their negativity. You’re simply showing them that you understand how they feel.
2. Find a place to agree with them. You don’t have to agree with everything they’ve said, but, if you can, agree with some of what they’re feeling. If you share some of their frustrations, let them know which.
3. Find out what they are positive about and reinforce it. This doesn’t mean trying to convince them to be positive. It means giving attention to whatever positive feelings they do show—and chances are they will have shown some because it’s unusual to find people who are purely negative.
Perhaps the bottom line, however, is to persevere no matter what sort of obstacles you encounter. Who knows, you might just become the next Bill Gates.