Constructive Feedback and Destructive Criticism

Feedback – a reaction or response to a particular behaviour, process or activity (constructive).

Criticism – the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything (destructive).

A fist making the 'thumb's up' gesture and the shadow reflecting a 'thumbs down'Feedback is a gift – a gift that we can give to our people every day. In fact, it is our responsibility to provide our people with feedback at every opportunity. Feedback is constructive and is the cheapest and most powerful, yet most underused, leadership tool that we have at our disposal.

Criticism, however, is destructive. Criticism is fault-finding and censuring. It makes people defensive, demotivates them and rarely (if ever) brings about positive behavioural change. In fact, some studies suggest that criticism deceases the performance of the individuals receiving it.

Feedback helps our teams get and stay on track, it serves as a measure of their progress towards their goals and motivates them to continue to grow and get better. It is essential in every business – yet it is one of those tasks that most of us dread or shy away from.

A little while ago I was discussing one of our processes with a member of my team. He had recently taken over the role from someone else and picked up and refined an existing process. The process was not working well, some of the steps were confusing and convoluted, and information was being lost. In my mind I had two choices. I could criticise his approach by telling him what I didn’t like about his adjustments to the process. Or I could engage him in a conversation and seek his opinion on how things were progressing, what was working well and what would he like to improve.

In this case, I chose option two – feedback. I simply raised the opportunity to discuss the process and quickly learnt that he shared the same concerns; he was also unhappy with the process flow, thinking it was time consuming and somewhat convoluted. We continued our conversation and discussed the steps in the process that were working well and those that he thought he could improve. After the meeting he successfully adjusted the process and addressed all of the concerns we both had.

This is an example of a feedback process as described in a recent article by Jesse Lyn Stoner. The article, ‘Criticism, Boundaries and Useful Feedback’, explores the nuances of feedback versus criticism. The key point to take away from this article is that feedback is meant to benefit the receiver, and should always be framed to achieve this end. You should be specific, clear and direct feedback towards behaviours and processes that the individual has control over – there is no point providing feedback to someone over something that is out of their control.

So next time you go to give feedback, think about what you’re going to say and why you’re going to say it. Ensure that your feedback is constructive and results in a positive outcome, and stay away from criticism at all costs: feedback is an opportunity for all involved to learn and grow. And remember feedback is a gift – a gift that we as leaders must pass on to our people at every opportunity.

Happy leading!