I love my mom. And my Mom loves Bloomington. But when she tells me I’m the smartest, most talented person in the world, I realize she might be a bit biased.

I appreciate a regular dose of motherly love as much as the next person, but it’s important to recognize that not everyone shares your mother’s undying affection. The first time a bully made fun of you on the playground, your natural reaction was probably to fight back and reject such an unfounded accusation. A simple “I know you are, but what am I?” probably sufficed.

When confronted with criticism, our instincts take over. We either pick a fight or ignore the hater altogether as a defense mechanism.

This same tendency pushes numerous business owners to ignore customer complaints. The gripes cut too deep, so we put our fingers in our ears and try to drown them out. Each complaint feels like a personal affront to our business sensibilities, and cynicism begins to set in—it starts as a dismissive attitude about grievances but can easily morph into a distrust of the entire customer-service process.

Judith and Richard Glaser, founders of the Creating WE Institute, argue that there’s a neurochemistry to conversations. The Glasers report that our bodies produce more cortisol any time we encounter fear, rejection or criticism. That rush of cortisol “shuts down the thinking center of our brains and activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors.”

Suddenly, a complaint becomes a defining judgment that informs every interaction moving forward. We remember the negative things people say, and we become more guarded when similar situations present themselves. The longer you dwell on that negative moment, the more it affects your conduct.

Even when businesses don’t feel personally attacked, a response to consumer feedback isn’t guaranteed. Some companies are dismissive, chalking up criticism as one random yokel’s opinion. Others think a response is an admission of guilt, potentially opening the floodgates for more discontent.

Whatever the reason, your silence speaks volumes.

When customers complain, you MUST respond, every time. This was a big part of my talk at Combine 2018, where I discussed the key components of my book, Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers.