Recently, as I scrolled through Facebook, I came across a post in which a young Maltese singer was introducing his first single, which I gathered he wrote and produced himself. Although the majority of people congratulated him for his achievement, one particular person commented that the music was ‘trash’, mocking his decision to pay for its promotion on Facebook. Whilst the singer replied rather graciously, considering, I found myself reflecting on the value of and need for constructive feedback, which includes criticism, as opposed to what seems to be a culture in which tearing people down and ridiculing them is acceptable, particularly online.
So, how does constructive feedback differ from destructive feedback? Apart from the manner of delivery, the crucial difference is the intent behind the feedback. Constructive feedback involves providing someone with information about their performance, behaviour or work with the intention of helping them learn and grow. This involves pointing out both positive and negative aspects of performance. Whilst constructive feedback is intended to support the other person in enhancing self-awareness, identifying areas of growth and working on any weaknesses, the intention behind rather blatant and harsh criticism is not so well-meaning. To use the earlier example, constructive feedback could have involved a more experienced musician pointing out to this singer what he enjoyed or appreciated, as well as highlighting aspects of the song which could be improved. Destructive feedback, however, is designed to crush or hurt the other person. Using this same example, I doubt that anything good or constructive could come from telling a singer that something he took the time and energy to produce is ‘trash’. In fact, such feedback could be quite devastating.
We’re all guilty of being overly critical or judgemental sometimes and this is particularly easier when we have the distance and ‘safety’ of a screen to speak to rather than a real-life person standing in front of us. As human beings, making judgements comes naturally and is our way of making sense of people, things and situations we encounter. However, after the initial, almost automatic internal judgement, we then have some crucial choices to make. Firstly, we can hold onto this judgement or we can choose to let the judgement go and take a more open, accepting stance. Secondly, we then need to make a decision as to whether or not, and how, we express our thoughts and feelings about someone or something. If you have a tendency to criticise and judge quite frequently, I’d like to invite you to reflect on the following:
Where did you learn to be critical? I notice that people who tend to be quite judgemental and critical of others usually had experiences growing up whereby they were treated harshly or in a critical manner. This could be in the form of a critical parent, teacher or other significant adult. The child would have learnt from a young age that this is how you treat people. They would also then internalise this critical voice and judge and criticise themselves. As an adult, you now have a choice as to whether you wish to continue being critical towards yourself and others or if you’d rather develop a more compassionate, patient attitude.
If you feel negatively towards someone, reflect on what it is about that person which is causing you to feel this way. What is it about their actions that make you feel anger or disdain towards them? Do they remind you of someone from your past (e.g. rejecting parent, ex partner)? Has this person achieved something you long to achieve? Could the criticism be coming from a place of resentment, insecurity or hurt?
Do you feel happy within yourself? If you feel happy and at peace within yourself, you’ll naturally feel more positive towards people and situations you encounter, making you less inclined to be negative towards others. Our treatment of others and attitude towards the world is a reflection of what’s going on inside us.
What is it you want to achieve through your criticism? There’s no question about it, there are times when we need to give negative feedback, whether it be in the workplace or in our personal lives. The way in which you deliver such feedback, whether constructive or destructive, has the power to lift a person or crush them. If you’re unhappy with someone’s behaviour, performance or attitude, chances are that constructive feedback is most likely going to lead to change and growth. Harsh criticism, on the other hand, is often met with defensiveness, anger or shutting down, making it unlikely that such feedback could be used as a catalyst for growth or change. If, on deeper reflection, you realise that the purpose of your feedback is to hurt the other person rather than help them improve, it would be wise to try to gain a better understanding of what this person and their behaviour bring up in you i.e. anger, resentment, bad memories, insecurity, etc. Once clearer, you’d then be in a better position to decide how to deliver the feedback and if it’s even necessary in the first place.
Whether you decide to give feedback or not, doing so with awareness, as well as an attitude of patience and compassion can have a tremendously positive impact not just on the receiver but on yourself. As the popular saying goes – ‘In a world full of critics, be an encourager instead’.