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Feedback or criticism?

16 May

One source of feedback that we all use, when available, is other people. We notice how other people react to what we are doing. Their reaction might be positive, negative, planned or spontaneous.

Whatever their response, or lack of it, we will draw conclusions about what that response means. We are then likely to modify our behaviour based on those conclusions, especially if we consider the other person credible. Feedback drives us to change.

We modify our behaviour based on the conclusions we draw about someone else’s behaviour. How do we know our conclusions are correct? How do we know for sure that their behaviour was in response to ours?

Maybe that smile was a sign of approval for our actions, or maybe our actions just reminded them of something funny, or maybe they were daydreaming about a joke from the pub last night and didn’t even notice what we were doing.

Unintentional

Most feedback we get from other people is unintentional: that is, they don’t have a planned outcome in mind. They just react, and we then react. It is an informal process, but nonetheless very powerful.

As a manager, you need to be conscious of this power, and to be aware of what your body language and behaviour might be saying to people, because they will use it as feedback. To improve your informal feedback to others, you should be consistent in your approach and behaviour. 

Intentional

A small proportion of the feedback we receive from other people is given by them on purpose. And this kind of personal feedback can be incredibly useful.

In an ideal world, the other person gives us valid and useful information about what we are doing with our best interests in mind. In a less-than-ideal world, we sometimes get criticism.

Criticism

We all know about criticism and the damage it can do to us – to our confidence and self esteem. But what is criticism and how is it different to feedback?

The simplest way to tell the difference is to consider whom the comments will benefit. Are they for the benefit of the giver or the receiver?

Feedback is for the benefit of the receiver. Its purpose is to help them grow and develop, and reinforce positive behaviour or actions.

On the other hand, criticism always benefits the giver. In most cases, it is done to make the giver feel in some way superior to the receiver. It is often negative and judgemental. It is in many cases subjective rather than objective and it is usually destructive.

Types of feedback

  • Purposeful feedback can be divided into two types:
  • Positive feedback
  • Constructive feedback.

Positive feedback

Positive feedback is also known as ‘praise’. This type of feedback is mainly used as a motivator. It recognises the good work that someone has done and rewards them for it.

Constructive feedback

Constructive feedback is letting someone know that they did not do something in an appropriate way, or that they did something incorrectly. The message is constructive and helps the individual to improve, rather than just being a message about what they shouldn’t do.

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