Negative Feedback vs. Criticism

If you search for a synonym for feedback in a thesaurus, one of the equivalent terms that comes up is criticism. While these may seem like umbrella terms, negative feedback and criticism are executed and impact others in different ways. An example is how there is a difference between being assertive and being aggressive. I encourage my readers to keep an open mind and try to be receptive to what makes negative feedback and criticism different.

Negative feedback involves providing evidence, concrete information, and education regarding the results of a specific behavior to address a shortcoming. It educates, describes, or informs rather than advise, command, or attack. Negative feedback opens a doorway for discussion on the benefits of changing an undesired behavior and helps the person to become more open and receptive to changing their behavior. On the other hand, criticism involves judgement, fault-finding, and generalizing. Criticism often comes off as condescending, judgmental, or demeaning. When someone is criticized, they can feel judged, inferior, threatened, intimidated, or under attack. Criticism usually involves giving advice or commands and causes the recipient to become defensive. Those who feel defensive will tune out, refute, or not respect anything being said.

Here are some examples that might be used in a call center:

CriticismNegative Feedback
“You really need to work on not saying “um” and “uh” too much in your calls.” “I noticed “um and “uh” was frequently said throughout the call. When we say “um” and “uh” frequently in a call, the client may sense the listener is nervous or uncertain of what to say and that could impact the intervention.”
“It might be worth your while to look over this paperwork for spelling errors.” “If the paperwork isn’t checked for typos or spelling errors, it can be difficult to read. Also, when your paperwork is submitted, it is a reflection of you and the department as a whole. “
“Wow, that looks awful! Re-do it!” “Since we’re presenting these, it’s important they look neat because it’s a reflection of you and your work. I encourage you to spend more time on this and put forth more effort.”
“We need to go over policy again, you can’t do that.”“It’s important that we fully understand policy because it’s set in stone to protect you and provide optimal service to our clients “

When you look at the examples given above, it’s evident that providing negative feedback takes effort. It takes empathy, maturity, and character to sit down and think before you speak. Those who are used to being blunt or critical, it’s going to take time, thought, and self- reflection to change your own behavior. This is a change you have to be willing to make for your own personal growth. Also, it’s not all about what is said, it’s how it’s said as well. It’s important to be self-aware. Someone can say all the right things but it’s still criticism if it’s said in a condescending or judgmental tone.

Although negative feedback is more delicate and explanatory than criticism, it’s still difficult to hear. It would be naive to believe that self-reflection and change is easy. It takes a lot of character and maturity to take a step back and self-reflect. It’s essential to set your pride aside, humble yourself, and realize you may not be doing as well as you thought you were. Someone who refutes any type of self-reflection or change has stunted their personal growth and will become stagnant. This is why knowing the difference between negative feedback and criticism is essential. If someone truly desires to help others improve their performance and personal growth; they will want to increase the chances of that person being open to feedback and changing their behavior.

I hope my readers are like me and do not want to make change and self- reflection more painful than it already is. We all want to perform well. If you truly care about how you make others feel and want to help promote personal or professional growth in another person, I would encourage using negative feedback. It optimizes the chances of your viewpoints, frustrations, or instructions to be heard… Not just to help them, but to help you as well.


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