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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Jun 26, 2020


It’s often easy to see feedback as criticism. As a result, we can be tempted to ignore it or react negatively. This week we look at turning criticism into feedback and growth.



Hello and welcome to episode 83 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we look at turning criticism into feedback and growth.

Very early in my career, my boss at the time called me into his office. While I can’t remember the exact words, I vividly remember the impact. In effect he said “Andrew - you’re smart and doing good work. But you can use your critical thinking to be very critical. Rather than just spotting what’s wrong, you would benefit from being more positive and trying to improve things yourself”. I remember feeling hurt, disappointed, upset, confronted and discouraged. And I remember reflecting in the coming days that he was absolutely right. It was amongst the most helpful feedback I have ever received. 

“I have some feedback for you” - be honest, what’s your immediate response to those words? What’s going on in your body? Are you feeling excited about someone giving you feedback? Probably not. More likely you are heading towards a threat response.

Our instinctive reaction is often to see feedback as criticism. But what is the difference between feedback and criticism? The difference is the perceived intent. If you think people are seeking to help you, it will feel like feedback. If you think people are seeking to hurt you, it will feel like criticism. It took me a few days, but I recognised that my boss was trying to help me. He saw potential in me, and astutely identified exactly what was holding me back. In fact over 20 years and numerous career moves later, that same ex-boss continues to provide excellent feedback and advice. I’m glad I was able to convert what I initially saw as criticism into feedback and growth.

As argued by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, feedback is often self-centred and poorly structured. Rather than bringing out the best in others, it’s often an attempt to transfer advice from one person to another. It’s better to think of feedback as an input in the development journey. Feedback isn’t about telling someone what to do, rather it’s about allowing them to see their impact more clearly so they can better align that with their intent. Often times the impact we have is vastly different to our intent.

Feedback is not always packaged well. As a result it can be tempting to just dismiss the feedback. On the receiving end it’s easy to think that it is just their perception of events. But their perception is also their reality. To us our perception IS our reality. It’s how we see the world. 

When we take on more of a growth mindset, we take feedback and even criticism as an opportunity to learn, grow and adapt. We look for the reality in the perception.

Here are five tips for receiving feedback, and five tips for providing feedback. 

On the receiving end of feedback:

  1. Assume positive intent or, if you can’t do that, separate the feedback from the intent. People rarely provide feedback to hurt you, after all giving feedback is hard and risky. But even if you think the feedback is meant to hurt or limit you, change your perspective to see it as data. 

  2. Seek further information. Ask the person for an example that relates to the feedback. This will help you to understand what you actually did and the impact it had. Help the person to make the impact you had even clearer. Make sure you express this as a desire to understand rather than to question their feedback.

  3. Listen for the core of truth. Even if you’re unsure that the intent is positive, there’s probably some truth in the feedback. Sift through the feedback to find the truth.

  4. Let the person providing the feedback know the impact their feedback has had upon you. Don’t let people guess at the impact. 

  5. Seek further feedback. Even if it hurts and is hard, ask for and actively seek out additional feedback. It’s the best way to grow and change our impact.

And when we’re providing feedback:

  1. Share your positive intent. Now, this isn’t about a feedback sandwich approach - it’s not about inserting negative feedback between two positive pieces of feedback. It’s about enveloping your feedback in positive intent. Ensure that people walk away knowing that you’re on their side and want to help them become even more effective.

  2. Seek their perspective and response. Don’t just drop the feedback and walk away. It’s important to gain their perspective about the situation. 

  3. Invite a follow up meeting. While you’ve planned to provide the feedback, they haven’t had that same chance. Make sure they do have an opportunity to think about that and have some additional time with you.

  4. Dial up the positive feedback. We don’t provide enough positive feedback. Think of it like a bank account - the more positive and encouraging feedback you provide, the greater the balance you have to draw on when you need to provide more challenging feedback.

  5. Model an appetite for feedback. It’s not reasonable to wander around throwing feedback at everyone if you’re not open to receiving feedback yourself. Actively seek out feedback about specific areas.

Each of us can help turn criticism into feedback and growth. I hope you found the content helpful today in doing exactly that. We run webinars on a pretty regular basis here at Leadership Today on a range of topics, and so on the website at you will find a bunch of pre-recorded webinars that we’ve done and also an upcoming webinar that you can register for. I look forward to seeing you on one of those webinars and also to speaking with you again next week. Have a great week.



The Feedback Fallacy by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
Harvard Business Review March–April 2019

And a response to the article worth reading: