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Feedback or Criticism?

When we interact with others, we are prone to give or receive judgments of various types. Sometimes judgments received may be positive. They either boost our self confidence, or verify that we are on the right track in our behavior or attitude. And don’t these just sound like music to the heart and ears? At other times, judgments by others may be negatively perceived. They might irritate us either because they are not true; thus, put us on the defensive, or because they strip away our having some positive self image. Wouldn’t we all need less to hear of these?

In some instances, we may have to deal with someone who keeps criticizing our actions, beliefs, or attitudes. For no apparent reason, and despite all our efforts to reflect a positive standing, we find ourselves being showered with negativity. As a result, we find ourselves taking precautions to shun meeting that person. “Why would I willingly put myself under attack?” one might rationalize. “I’d rather be with those who make me feel good about myself”, one would reason, right? Being criticized on one incident is enough to make us doubt ourselves, so why do we have to tolerate continuous negative evaluations?

Scientific research supports the idea that those who engage in criticism have, in fact, low self-esteem that they try to uplift by degrading others. Rest assured then, that once it’s the case, you are not at fault. Try to understand the insecurity that person is projecting; and smile back. Attempt to find good qualities s/he holds and give in return only praise about these assets. You just may succeed in giving him/her the reassurance needed.

Now, imagine that you caught yourself criticizing someone else. You might ask yourself: “Why am I doing this? What purposes would it serve?” You might have all the good intentions in the world that all you are doing is providing feedback. Perhaps your aim is directed on improving certain aspects or casting some light on a different perspective. You might have a genuine care, but it would look as if you were superior, or merely degrading the other person. Some would assume they have the right to give such feedback being the other person’s boss, parent, or have any other hierarchical role. Even then, one should be aware that there’s a fine line between criticism and effective feedback.

Feedback has a different lure. It is put in positive terms. It is more humble and is phrased in terms of other possibilities. Unless you want to maintain your own belief that you know better, ask permission to give your feedback. Start up with a positive note on aspects to be discussed, then, highlight your opinion in a question form. Effective feedback provides alternatives and possibilities; Criticism locks one in a doubt loop. Feedback induces the receiver to ponder about ways to fine-tune; Criticism prompts one to shut-down and ruminate about shortcomings.

So next time you have the urge to give your own evaluation, aren’t you better off making sure it is not threatening to the other’s positive sense of self. Why not wrap your tone of voice with all sorts of sensitive considerations? I bet it would guarantee both an open heart and all ears to your message. Says who you know better? Even if your role dictates more knowledge, why not make it a two way communication process by listening to what is said in return? It could just be that you are the one who needs feedback….

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