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Ditch this term to immediately improve your feedback.

Can I give you a little constructive criticism?

Ok, rest easy. I’m not actually going to give you constructive criticism.

I know. It was a mean trick, but I really wanted to prove a point about how your brain goes into overdrive when you hear those two words. It’s the first myth that I’m busting in my three part series Feedback Myths: What we think is helpful, but isn’t really helping.”

Myth Bust #1: Constructive criticism is still criticism.

Constructive criticism doesn’t feel good. It gives us nervous sweats and feeds the little monster inside of us that tells us we were never good enough anyways. Even if someone ASKS us if it’s ok to lay it on… it doesn’t make it feel any better.

Why? Because it’s still criticism.

But. But… It’s constructive! It’s meant to make you a better person and it helps you to improve.

Still criticism, even if you nod kindly while you’re giving it out. It feels hard to handle because the part of your brain that yelps during the scary part of a movie is the same part that reacts when you’re hearing something not-so-awesome about yourself. We don’t think. We just react.

Criticism, in all its forms, is personal and that’s why it’s the perfect way to turn a person off.

The best way to communicate areas of opportunity (or what’s going great…but that’s a subject for Myth #2) is through feedback.

Feedback is information about the past or present that influences change in the present or future.

The reason it’s so important to understand the difference between constructive criticism and feedback is because as a leader, manager or employee (or a mom, dad, brother, sister, kid soccer coach or second cousin) you’re being put in these tough positions daily:

  •      Dealing with an employee who’s always late
  •      Struggling with a team member who constantly makes your team late for deadlines
  •      Putting out fires between two staffers who can’t get along

…and so much more. And to understand how constructive criticism hits a person’s psyche as opposed to how feedback works in our brains can be the difference between a fight and conversation… resentment or appreciation.

So, what’s the difference? I laid it out for you below. Here are four ways to know you’re giving constructive criticism instead of feedback:

  1. Starting a sentence with “I think you… ”
    Immediately this commentary is going to be personal and send up the hackles. You’re swerving your communication car right off the feedback highway.
  2. Pointing out Personality or Character flaws
    Using adjectives instead of verbs is a sure fire way… Feedback is based on a specific, observable behavior that the person actually has control over and could change if needed.
  3. Ending with “just saying…”
    Just because you have a thought or opinion about something doesn’t mean it’s helpful for the other person. Feedback is rooted in a genuine interest in the person’s growth, success, or development.
  4. Focusing on the past with no concern for now or the future or speaking up with no real attachment or concern for the person or their future is criticism. It’s like hurling advice or judgement at someone from a distance and then running away. Not helpful.  

I’ve got more where that came from. Join me at my Get Real™ workshop on February 24 to bring your feedback skills to a new level. Click here for more information and sign up today.

Amber Barnes
Amber Barnes
Amber is a leadership development professional with a heart for helping leaders maximize human performance in the workplace (and beyond.) With over a decade of experience coaching, training and advising leaders, she writes to helps leaders become more effective. Amber highlights common pitfalls, effective (and human) leadership practices as well as "must-knows" for leaders.