Constructive feedback can be invaluable for your business. Mean-spirited criticism and personal potshots, however, can suck the confidence out of an entrepreneur. How can you tell one from the other?

Sometimes it's obvious when a comment is silly and needs to ignored, but as many founders soon learn, sorting the good advice from the bad isn't always so straightforward. You need to consider its source, their intentions, their level of knowledge of you and your business, as well as the fit between your vision of the world and theirs.

It's a lot to take in. This clever matrix from journalist Ann Friedman might be able to help. She presented the handy visual at MoxieCon in Chicago and subsequently posted it on her website. It thoughtfully groups those dealing out criticism along two axes — one is how well the person knows you; the other measures the rationality of their comments. The results sort those with negative advice on offer into four quadrants.


“These are smart people who know something about your field. They are taking a hard look at your work and are not loving it. You'll probably want to listen to what they have to say,” Friedman explains of the first group.


Another group you should listen to. “These people are invested in you and are also giving you negative but rational feedback because they want you to improve.”


Perhaps the trickiest group to identify. “These people really know how to hurt you, because they know you personally or know your work pretty well. But at the end of the day, their criticism is not actually about your work--it's about you personally. And they aren't actually interested in a productive conversation that will result in you becoming better at what you do. They just wanna undermine you,” Friedman notes. Common subtypes include undermining colleagues and your own nasty, doubting internal voice.


No bonus points for guessing that you should roundly ignore any and all advice from this group of “garden-variety, often anonymous troll who wants to tear down everything about you for no rational reason.”

Check out Friedman's site for the fun visual. It just might help you develop a quick rule of thumb for how much weight to give negative feedback (and possibly also a slightly thicker skin).