Constructive Criticism or Constructive Feedback?

September 2013 Newsletter

Dr. gloria wright

It’s easy to blame, shame, degrade and find fault. It’s more challenging to teach and guide – but it has a much more lasting effect. It’s common to hear: “You should have….” “You shouldn’t have….” “Why didn’t you…?” “I can’t believe you….” “What were you thinking when you…?” Makes you feel like a child and cringe just to hear these words, doesn’t it? It sure is fertile ground for breeding passive/aggressive behavior.

Constructive feedback facilitates critical thinking. It can create a safe environment to explore, grow and learn. Most accomplishments are the result of trial-and-error. If you want to stifle success, make sure no one makes a mistake. It will guarantee a setting of fear and stagnation.

Criticism tears at another’s confidence while it feeds the ego of the criticizer. A chronic faultfinder often criticizes because they have a poor self-image. They think making others look bad will make themselves look better. This, of course, is a bad case of self-deception. Others may criticize because they are blindly self-righteous or just don’t know how to be constructive in their delivery.

A common phrase is “criticize the work or the behavior, but not the person.” There is a difference. To encourage the development of critical thinking, ask open-ended questions:

  • “How can I help?”
  • “How might you do it differently?”
  • “What would it feel like to you if someone said your same words to you?”
  • “Let’s brainstorm some alternatives and see what we come up with.”
  • “Have you ever thought about…?”
  • “Would you like some of my ideas/suggestions?”

The tenets of tough love may say it best. Be tough. Be demanding. Enforce the established deadlines. Keep your high expectations. But do it with respect and the true intent of being helpful. It makes a difference.

Often we’re not sure which is the tougher role-offering feedback positively or being on the receiving end. Here are some things you can do when receiving feedback:

  • Ask yourself why does feedback have to be “bad”? Why not constructive, interesting, and enlightening?
  • Investigate if there are patterns in the feedback that may necessitate modification of my behavior? Can this be a positive challenge rather than a negative one?
  • Remember having a “blemish phobia” is anxiety producing and demoralizing. Maybe it’s just “getting” the perceptions of others. You have to first receive and accept input and then decide if you need/want to build clear behavioral objectives for yourself.
  • Whatever your goals, ask your team to spot for you (let you know when and how you’re missing/hitting your objectives).
  • Don’t take the feedback personally; yet use it for personal reflection.
  • Stand strong in being true to yourself AND deeply and constructively hear what others are saying to you.
  • Let the feedback be a helping hand; not a sledge hammer.
  • Realize it is pushing up against the beliefs you have about yourself. Look for the grain of truth. Look at what you believe about yourself.
  • React to the feedback with grace, maturity, sadness, anger or whatever and land on your feet, balanced and clear-headed to act on the input.

Afterwards, stop and see and feel how you have developed to this point. If the feedback is truly constructive it is encouraging you to conquer another rung on the ladder. May be a bit of a reach, but feasible to get to the next step – especially with partners who have your best interest at heart.