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Feb 19, 2013



Wonderful stuff Ed! Super apropos for me.

Question: Early in the piece you equate negative feedback with criticism. Is that what you meant? I'd always thought of criticism to be in a very different category than feedback, both negative and positive. Specifically, criticism, in my mind, has no actionable elements, "You're doing it wrong", where feedback's main function is having actionable content, "you're doing it wrong and here's a way that it might be done better".

What say you?


Thanks, Tarik--I appreciate it. And I think you make an important and accurate distinction between "criticism" and "critical feedback" or "negative feedback." I often use these terms interchangeably because most people do as well in casual conversation, and I find that being more conversational myself makes it easier to connect with people. If I'm too precise in my terminology, it sounds like jargon, and that can be distancing. But your point reminds me that precision can have value, and if I'm too informal I risk losing some meaningful nuance.

I'm also reminded that "criticism" is one of John Gottman's "Four Horsemen," the behaviors that are particularly corrosive in a relationship, and he describes criticism as "Presenting a problem as though the other person has a defective personality," which is another sure way to have a highly ineffective feedback conversation.

I do want to acknowledge that when we have meaningful critical feedback to deliver, it's often accompanied by strong negative emotions. Something's gone wrong, someone has screwed up, and we're pissed. While it's essential that we manage those negative emotions in order to deliver our feedback effectively--see above--I think we're better able to do that when we 1) admit those feelings to ourselves and 2) share an appropriately filtered version of them in the feedback conversation. "Managing" our negative emotions doesn't mean "repressing" them, but rather finding ways to express them that don't trigger a threat response in others. This is why I tend not to use terms like "constructive feedback"--it's a little too sanitized and fails to convey the emotional aspect of the experience.

Thanks again--very thought-provoking!

Jeffrey Deutsch

Hello Ed,

You said that people should act as if they were likely to be wrong when thinking about the other person's intentions and motives. I respectfully suggest they'd be my experience, people can very easily misinterpret others' actions. We seem to be wired to jump to conclusions -- especially negative ones, about people we're not already inclined to favor.

What do you think?

Jeff Deutsch


Thanks, Jeff. I think we're in agreement: As a species we evolved a negativity bias, so we often tend to assume the worst. In addition, when we're emotionally aroused or triggered in some way, our ability to take in and process information accurately is diminished. Put those two dynamics together, and it's easy to see how we can misinterpret someone's motive for providing disconfirming or critical feedback. This is why I think it's so important for us to work on making feedback less stressful.

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