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Playbook

Hold the Constructive Criticism, Improve Your Feedback Skills

October 3, 2017

Feedback versus criticism

Some executives use the term constructive criticism in place of the word feedback, but the reality is that criticism is criticism. By its nature, it is not constructive.

Consider, for example, a manager who tells an employee, “You are never on time. This is really irresponsible. Unless you get your act together, you’ll be gone from here.” This comment is certainly not productive. In fact, it would put cracks in the foundations of the team the manager is building.

Employees receiving such criticism are not motivated to support the goals and efforts of the person delivering it.

Feedback versus criticism

How do the two differ? Here are several ways:

  • Feedback is designed to improve a team member’s performance, whereas criticism is too often a means of unloading anger. The delivery of the comments often reflects this difference.
  • Feedback is tough talk about an issue, while criticism often is tough talk about the person.
  • Feedback is a form of coaching in which there is a search for underlying causes and solutions. Criticism is solely finger-pointing and a search for a scapegoat.

Perfecting feedback skills is comparable to perfecting coaching skills. So if you want to improve the quality of your feedback, take these simple steps:

Watch your timing. Whether your feedback is positive or negative, deliver it as close to the incident as possible.

Be specific. Discuss not only the behavior in question, but also the impact it has on work output and co-workers’ performance.

Look for the positive. Identify opportunities to offer positive feedback to employees as well.

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New managers need foundational skills—in performance management, communication, coaching, delegation, and more—to lead a team to success.
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American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.

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