Feedback or criticism?

OK I admit both of those words are loaded and there is no one agreed separate definition. And yes you could argue that criticism is just a form of feedback.. Equally you could argue that most people see “positive feedback ” as criticism in disguise.

And then of course we’ve all been told that we shouldn’t be defensive . Often  this is when we feel we are under attack, so we get told to act inhumanly whilst being treated in an inhumane way ( or perhaps the lazy common human way)


The thing is, I think there is a difference and it is an important one. It is intent with effort.

So here are my personal  thoughts on the two words:

Feedback can come in many guises many of which are noticeably supportive, from a smile, a conversation, an email, a testimonial,  comment on a essay or in a meeting. It can be short or long. It can even be silence. Sometimes silence is telling. It doesn’t have to be positive, for its EFFECTS to be positive.

Criticism nearly always hurts (I’ll come back to that)

Spoken or written feedback takes consideration from the person giving it. It takes thought to decide what precisely to give feedback on, to decide why that particular thing you’ve chosen to feedback on is important and then how to do it. Even if the last bit of that process – the how to do it-  feels clumsy and painful to the recipient, the effort taken for the first  two bits acts as a useful  salve.  As the recipient you are aware somehow of the intent and the effort being made for you. Respect is being shown.

Criticism is often quite swift.

If you ask for feedback,  or if you have been asked to give feedback then there is a contract between you that gives permission to be clear and not evasive in the details. Often great mentors, chosen by YOU ( not self appointed!!!) give you this as part of living, breathing and conversing. As you do back.

If you are giving it unasked, on what basis are you giving it.?  Beware,  because it could be a criticism you are about to spout.

Also have you  REALLY given the thought to what and why you have the feedback to give.

You know when you’ve been on the receiving end of good feedback even if the content of it was full of negatives. You know because you can do something with it. It somehow opens up possibilities, even when it means “stop this because there is something else you can do.”

It’s not that I think all criticism is a bad thing. There are times when even though it is harsh, it might just be what is required to break the person out of  a pattern, or to indicate what you actually feel.  This is being authentic and there is no relationship if it is not real.  It is OK to agree to differ.  That way lies growth and exploration.

What isn’t authentic is when you hide your thoughts behind careful crafted messages that make it hard for the other person to OPENLY  appreciate what you mean. They can feel the pain, the sting, but there is nothing else solid to work with, just a sense of hurt, of insult.

In the end the power lies with the recipient, to do what they will with the feedback and/or the criticism.

We decide, we always decide ourselves in the end.

It is a funny, nearly dark, magical thing.

You know when you have been gifted something  that at first glance, on the first sting perhaps was hard to take, and aroused all maner of emotions and thoughts in your head. You know because somehow you stick with it and something else emerges.

It is reciprocal too. The more you demonstrate your willingness to give feedback, the more you encourage others to help you too.

Feedback is the lifeblood of change.



I would love to hear/read what you think about this. How you personally define the difference between them. Comments are enabled 🙂


3 thoughts on “Feedback or criticism?

  1. On one of the courses I did a few years ago now, we talked about “owning” the feedback we give. By this it was meant that we would consider the feedback we wanted to give and then make it personal to us. For example, instead of saying “you made me feel”, we would use a phrase such as “I felt”. The other thing I realised after reflecting for 24 hours on a piece of feedback I received, that felt quite cutting and hurtful, was that I can listen to feedback, but I don’t have to do anything about it. I can just accept the words and feelings of that person as valid for them, but I don’t HAVE TO take them to heart. I really like this post, thought provoking 🙂

  2. Feedback is ‘actionable’ information (which may be in the form of words, but may be a person’s anger, awe, sadness, joy, etc.).

    Criticism includes (or is entirely) a judgement – i.e. some form of assessment. That assessment is always relative to the world-view (context) of the person being critical (it can only ever be this way – we can only speak from our own context – although a careful person will share the relevant parts of their context when providing criticism intended to be helpful / useful. Hmm – when shared with context I suspect it becomes feedback!!).

    As I describe it above, criticism need not be hurtful or harmful. Commonly, however, what we commonly call criticism is some kind of harsh expression that is hurtful, harmful, or both.

    Often born out of frustration (“You never clean your room” says the parent to the teenager; “you’re always criticising me” says the teenager to the parent) common criticism (I suspect) is an attempt at control by people who don’t have access to more constructive means of dealing with the situations in which they find themselves.

    I like what you said above: “In the end the power lies with the recipient, to do what they will with the feedback and/or the criticism.” That is so true: even when criticised, the recipient can choose to hear the judgement / condemnation / disapproval / whatever in the criticism (and in so doing be the victim) or, can choose to listen for (a) the experience (sadness, pain, frustration, fear, etc.) of the speaker and (b) the ‘meat’ (actionable information), if any, present in the criticism. Of course, that is all too often easier said than done. But with training, it becomes easier (oh – would a coach be useful for that? *cheeky grin*).

  3. Pingback: Leadership: An easy silence? | loafandlearn

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s