It’s funny what sticks in our minds. We can remember an unkind word from Marlene Breedlove in the fifth grade but have a harder time recalling something nice said last week.

The guys in the white lab coats say there is a reason for this. I’m told that a negative experience is immediately stored in our brain’s long term memory, while a positive experience needs to rattle around for more than twelve seconds before checking in to that part of the brain.

The reason for this dates back to the prehistoric days at the rock quarry so that Fred and Barney would know when a tarantula was about to sneak up on them!

“Fight or flight” is the plot of any well-written cartoon, don’tchaknow! We remember the negative stuff and we want to immediately kill the tarantula!

When we hear criticism about our station we often react in a way that is absolute. (Remember all those neurons scampering off to your long-term memory!) If someone doesn’t like a song we are tempted to pull it from the playlist. If the complaint is about an air talent it is too easy to dash off a scolding email to NEVER DO THAT AGAIN.

A very wise general manager once told me that he had so over-reacted to every complaint that he now had nothing on his station worth listening to.

Consider this.

Rather than react in absolutes where SOMETHING MUST BE DONE RIGHT THIS MINUTE, consider the complaint as if a customer in a restaurant had just asked for more salt. They are simply telling you how they would like prefer their food; not anyone else’s food – THEIR food. They are not suggesting that the restaurant should go out of business.

If you consider every element of your programming as seasoning in the context of an entire meal then it is easier to understand why some people prefer Tabasco, some ask for no onions, and others want a baked potato with nothing on it. None are absolute condemnations of the restaurant but are instead a result of the reality that those in a group still have individual tastes. If something is so distinct that people actually notice and react to it, it could be one of the most useful tools in building a unique brand.

Seth Godin shares a powerful observation: “When people care about a brand or a cause or an idea, it’s likely that have other things in common. And the caring causes them to invest attention. Once they’ve done that, they can’t help but notice that others don’t see things the way they do. We ignore the great unwashed and reserve our disdain for those like us, that care like us, but don’t see things as we do.”

The really good news is that the tribe cares. If you don’t have that, you’ve got nothing of value. In fact, the squabbling among people who care is the first sign you’re on to something.”

So next time you hear a complaint consider that just maybe they’d prefer more salt.