Mindsteps: There is nothing constructive about criticism

From the Mindsteps Newsletter
July 2, 2014

There are times when we all have to share negative feedback. But HOW you share that feedback makes all the difference. If we’re not careful, our negative feedback can quickly turn into criticism and instead of helping someone improve, we simply shut them down.

Criticism focuses on what someone did wrong. Feedback shows someone how to get it right. When you criticize the entire conversation is on what is wrong with a person and what needs to be fixed. When you provide feedback, you can still share what is not working, but then you shift the conversation to how a person can improve. And, you give them the tools and strategies so that they can get better.

Criticism focuses on the past. Feedback focuses on the future. When you criticize someone, your attention is on what they did wrong. The conversation stays stuck in the past and how to fix it. The entire conversation is backwards-facing and thus, it is hard to move forward from there. When you give someone effective feedback however, your focus is on what’s ahead and how they can use your feedback to get better the next time.

Criticism triggers survival mode. Feedback triggers hope. When someone hears criticism, they immediately seek to defend themselves. They can’t focus on what they need to do to improve because they are too busy protecting themselves from what feels like an attack. Feedback on the other hand gives people hope. Instead of ticking off all the things that are wrong, feedback shows someone exactly what they can do to get better and thus gives them hope that if they act on your feedback, they will come closer to their own personal goals.

Criticism leads to shutting down. Feedback leads to opening up to new possibilities. When someone hears criticism, it literally shuts their brain off to what comes after that criticism. It creates anxiety and defensiveness. They can only think of what they can do to rescue their self esteem and sense of worth. But when you share feedback, you inspire them to see the potential for themselves and give them new options for their future.

So how do you shift from criticism to feedback? The key difference is to focus on the other person’s goals. What are their dreams? What do they hope to accomplish? Then connect your feedback to their goals. For instance, it’s easier to help someone see that they need to follow the curriculum guide if they can see how doing so will help students become more engaged in their learning. Or, it’s easier to help a student see that he needs to stop sleeping in class if he can see how staying awake will help him better connect with his classmates and be a real part of the classroom community. When you listen, really listen to someone’s goals, you can find ways to connect your feedback to their goals and show them how your feedback actually helps them accomplish their goals. Then they can hear your negative feedback and act on it.