Feedback vs. Criticism

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My Mom was fond of saying, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it”. But what happens when you have to say something, well, that isn’t all roses? As an entrepreneur, you have to speak up and address problems and unwanted behaviors from clients and team members. But how do you do it in the most constructive way possible? I believe that key detail is knowing the difference between feedback and criticism.

Criticism (noun) –  the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.

Feedback (noun) –  information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

The main difference is that feedback is used as a basis for improvement. Feedback is constructive, whereas criticism’s sole purpose is judgment and fault-finding. It’s not solution-based. If you know me or read my last blog post Lynnisms, then you know that one of my personal mottos is “No excuses, only solutions”. Before I open my mouth to give feedback to a client or team member, I try my best to pause and ask myself one important question.

What is my intention?

If my intention is to help or improve a situation, then I know it’s safe to proceed. If it’s to cause harm and make someone feel bad, then I know need to check myself.

Ok, I’ll give you a little story as an example. I’m shopping with a girlfriend, we’re trying on dresses in the fitting room and she calls me over to her stall. “Does this dress make my butt look big?” she asks. I take a look. I can see clearly that the cut of the dress isn’t flattering on her figure. It does make her butt look big.

In this moment, I have an opportunity to respond in a constructive way. Sure, I can tell her, “yes, it looks terrible on you. Your butt is huge and you should probably lose some weight.” But what purpose would that serve, other than to make her feel awful? I could be dishonest and tell her it looks fine. But what kind of friend would I be?

However, if I take the feedback route, I can do something different. I might say, “you’re right, that dress isn’t the most flattering on you. Can I help you find something that is more your style?” I can spend an extra 15 minutes with my friend and pick out a few other options that I think will look better on her. There’s the solution.

As an entrepreneur and coach, I’ve given my share of feedback over the years. Whether it’s to a friend, client, or team member, telling people how it is can be tough but also rewarding when you do it right. Being the list loving person that I am, I’ve outlined my feedback process in 7 steps below. Let’s be honest, I don’t always use it perfectly, but things tend to go a hell of a lot smoother when I employ the following tactics!

  1. Pause. This can be the hardest thing to do when people are pulling some irritating shit. I like to take time to see the issue clearly and ride out the emotional storm. I call a trusted support person to vent or write about it.
  2. Ask for permission. In some cases, it may not be my role or paygrade to give unsolicited feedback. If this is the case, I like to ask permission before proceeding. Was that question rhetorical? Or are they just speaking/processing out loud? We tend to be so quick to jump, to respond. Am I listening to understand or listening to respond?
  3. Look for my part. Do I have a part in the problem that I need to own? Did I provide inadequate training or communicate poorly?
  4. Identify the desired goal or outcome. What is the result, outcome, or expectation that I’m looking for that is not being met? Is it realistic?
  5. Look for the solution. What changes can be made to achieve the goal? What tools, supports, and resources would be helpful?
  6. Check for willingness. Ah, the willingness to change. If it’s not there, it’s not happening. I check in with team members, clients, and myself to make sure that there is open-mindedness and willingness to make changes to achieve the desired results.
  7. Be conscious of body language and tone. I like to be aware of what I’m communicating physically as well as verbally. I avoid finger-pointing, raising my voice, crossing my arms, or putting my hands on my hips. I try to soften my posture and my face. When I refrain from the offensive, I find that more times than not, my counterpart doesn’t go on the defensive. I am careful, however, to not stray too far to the other side and appear apologetic. Make eye contact. Be firm, but kind.

Now, I’m going to flip the script. Like you, I’ve been on the receiving end of criticism and feedback. Some has been constructive and well thought out. Some has not. I’m human, and like most humans it can be a natural reflex to get defensive when I’m being called on my shit. The instinct to curl myself into a tight, spiky ball like a scared porcupine can be quite strong.

Something that helps me in this moment is the mantra “don’t take it personal”. Even if the criticizer is being mean and rude that is about them, not me. I can use the steps I outlined above in a situation like this, too. I can pause and then come back to the discussion. I can honestly evaluate my part and accept fault. I can work with the other person to find a solution to the problem. Above all, I remind myself “no excuses”. Making excuses for myself or others doesn’t help me grow.

Which brings me to my final point. Giving feedback instead of criticism is all about growth and development. As the saying goes, “grow, or go”. It’s been my experience as a business coach that businesses and their owners tend to flourish when they have a positive attitude toward change and new ideas – both in their business and in themselves.

Just sayin!

What’s some feedback you’ve been given lately? How has it benefited you and your business? How do you handle giving feedback to others? I’d love to hear about your experience. Connect with me here.

About Lynn

People and possibilities. These are the two words that motivate Lynn Howard, owner of Asentiv Hawaii. She lives by the motto “No excuses, only solutions.” As a business coach, her passion is to inspire others to achieve their own success by believing in themselves and

taking action to overcome adversity. She is blessed with a delightfully snarky sense of humor, which provides comic relief when doing difficult ECC work with clients. An adventurous spirit, she loves to travel and has visited Indonesia, Bahrain, Thailand, Peru, and Columbia. She is based in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.