Ask This Question Before Giving Critical Feedback

Considering the potentially negative impact of critical feedback, it’s not surprising that many people avoid giving it altogether. Or, they give it anonymously, relieving themselves of any potential discomfort instigated by the feedback.

But is such an approach helpful or harmful?

Several months ago, I listened as Tracy, an executive at an engineering firm, shared about the devastating impact of receiving critical feedback via an anonymous online evaluation filled out by her colleagues and the leadership of the company.

“I could handle the feedback,” she shared, “But I didn’t know what to do with it. As a result, I wasted time and energy beating myself up and trying to figure out how to fix it myself. It took me years to wrap my mind around what I needed to do differently.”

This week, I had a chance to experience two drastically different approaches to receiving feedback in the same day. One approach elicited a similar experience as Tracy’s, while the other one left me feeling empowered.

The difference between the two approaches was in their level of commitment to fostering a better result. Both were critical, but one clearly helped me improve, while the other one wasted my time. Here was the difference:

My first experience was an anonymous criticism, with no suggestions, ideas, or resources offered.

In my second experience, the person offering feedback did so in the following way—

  1. “Here’s what’s not working, specifically.”
  2. “Here’s why it’s not working.”
  3. “Here, let me show you what you might try doing differently.”
  4. “Okay, now you try it while I watch/listen.”
  5. “You got this part and this part right, but you’re still not quite getting this other part. Let’s try it again. Oh, and here are some resources you might find helpful.”

One strategy develops trust, strengthens engagement, and elicits dedication to improvement. The other wastes time and energy.

Before offering criticism, consider your answers to the following question—How can I help them get a better result?

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister


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