Is it criticism or feedback? 3 ways to find out

We love talking about growth mindset inside of our companies, right? Growth is necessary, and yet growth can also be painful – because it’s human nature to resist change, even when it’s good for us! Giving and receiving quality feedback is a key component of this growth. Others see us often than we see ourselves. We know this, and yet, are we all truly clear on what the real differences are between providing feedback and criticizing others? Because when it comes to providing “negative” or “need to improve” feedback.. the lines quickly become blurred.

Let’s first define the terms:

Feedback: according to is a term most commonly used in electronics: “the process of returning part of the output of a circuit, system, or device to the input, either to oppose the input (negative feedback) or to aid the input (positive feedback).” and in human terms what we’re referring to as feedback is “a reaction or response to a particular process or activity.” In both cases it’s about a return of information back to the source of that information or communication. 

Criticism: “the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.” as well as “the act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging (…)”. Notice how there’s no mention here of a return of information.

This is because, in a perfect world, feedback is shared and given to someone in the spirit of being like a mirror for them, to help them to see their strong and their weaker points because they too want to better understand their offering, and to improve and grow to be better. Criticism on the other hand is a one-way street where the receiver of our judgment is subject to our unpleasant point of view. Criticism rarely invites dialogue, but it is certainly breeding ground for defensiveness and resentment.

Thankfully, there are steps that we can take to perfect feedback loops within our teams. Take a moment to check in with yourself on the following points:

1. Intention

The intention around feedback is for the other person’s growth. When we understand that others’ growth is a support and a blessing to us (not a competition to engage in) we naturally celebrate others’ successes and are able to gently point out their weaker points. This attitude stems from an abundance mindset, in other words: success is not a zero sum game. The more he wins, and she does well, the better off you are, the better off I am, the better off the whole team is.

Criticism does not share this same intention but often stems from righteousness (my Truth is better than your Truth) and from ego. To criticize others openly and actively is to create separation and divisiveness. The more we criticize the more we forget about our own humanity and weaknesses. Sure, you may be on your game today, but that’s not always the case. It is easy to criticize others and then see the same weaknesses within ourselves. What’s more, zeroing in on critique often makes us blind to seeing other people’s strengths and skills.

2. There’s a method to the delivery

We are taught to be wise in delivering our feedback. Ever heard of the sandwich method? I sure hope so. Tapering the “let’s improve this” feedback with two pieces of “this was really well done!” around it makes the landing much softer for the recipient. We are all sensitive to so-called “negative” feedback exactly because of its cousin-like relationship with criticism. Again, remember about point no. 1 and check in with yourself around your intention for providing feedback before you ever open your mouth to give it.

3. Make it a two-way street

Feedback is also different from criticism in that it often invites reciprocity. A manager can provide feedback to her direct report.. and then that employee can certainly provide feedback for the manager also. This can be a very valuable tool in learning to understand team members as well as their styles of communication and motivation. Feedback can be provided not just to critique work performance but also to reflect back on communication and management styles and encourage self-awareness: for example, a direct report can let their manager know that they communicate better when exchanging ideas via voice messages instead of text when working remotely. Feedback reciprocity can provide a safe place for managers and team members to get to know each other and their respective working styles.

Image courtesy of RescueTime Blog.

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