Give me feedback I grow, give me criticism I wither

Most people feel much happier when they feel safe from criticism from work colleagues, adult loved ones and even their kids

David Rigby
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A withering look, a scathing comment - what good do they do? The may make the deliverer happy to show who is boss, vent irritation, put people down, or win a battle, but will not do much good to the receiver. What is it about criticism that makes it so off-putting?

Criticism and complaints convey a stance that author Eric Berne used to call: “I’m OK, you’re not OK.” No one wants to feel “not OK,” so most people experience an impulse to bat away information. You cannot expect anyone to do their job well unless they:


• know and understand what is expected of them
• have the skills and ability to deliver on these expectations
• are supported by the organization in developing the capacity to meet these expectations
• are given feedback on their performance
• have the opportunity to discuss and contribute to individual and team aims and objectives

Some people think it is better to put others down so their egos will not be inflated. Others think they have to praise no matter what. If you want someone to get better at something, keep doing the same thing or even just stop, give them feedback. It can help people:

• recognize mistakes
• agree on remedies
• improveme

There are two types of feedback:

• redirection - getting someone to do something different
• reinforcement - encouraging more of the same

If the annual appraisal is the only time for giving feedback, whether good or bad, there will have been plenty of time to forget all the relevant details. Feedback is more effective if it is given immediately after a behavior or event, and if it is very specific.

A good way to practice feedback is:

• situation - when and where exactly this behavior took place
• behavior - exactly what you did
• impact - what impact it had

The first two points should not be controversial. If the impact was on the person giving the feedback, then if honest, it cannot be disputed either. There may be more than one behavior in that situation, and this can provide the opportunity to give both redirection and reinforcement.

Use examples - “you gave a really great presentation” is fine, but “you gave a really good presentation when you did this [such as great eye contact] and this [you encouraged questions and answered well] is better.

Similarly, “fewer words on each slide would’ve been better as I stopped listening to you in order to read them - how could that be better?” Rather than telling the person to shut up while people read the slides, the “how could that be better?” question encourages the feedback-receiver to answer and thus resolve the situation.

Particularly if you are giving negative feedback, it is always better to show empathy with the receiver, and if possible give the feedback sandwich.

• what is good
• what can be improved
• what is great

Do not be afraid to state what you want to happen, but better to have the receiver work it out. Effectiveness is improved when:

• it uses specific examples
• it is understandable - what does it mean to say someone “lacks judgement”?
• it is acceptable - the intention must be to help and encourage the job-holder, and it must describe actual behavior rather than general personality traits
• subjective opinions are presented as such - “I get the impression that...” - rather than as facts
• it is possible to act on the information

Criticism complains, feedback explains. Most people feel much happier when they feel safe from criticism from work colleagues, adult loved ones and even their kids. They will all feel similarly secure and comfortable with you if you practice these rules.

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