Wright Foundation | March 27, 2018

Being a Better Critic:
How to Give Constructive Feedback

How often are you presented with the opportunity to give truly honest feedback?

Are you facing some hard truths you need to share with someone? What about hearing critiques, yourself? Giving and receiving constructive feedback is often challenging, even for experienced leaders, but when done right, feedback is extremely empowering. Are you ready to get as well as give?

When asked this question you might stretch back into the recess of your mind, to think of a time you were asked for feedback. Maybe it was a time at work when you were asked to offer direction on a project. Perhaps it was during a social interaction when a friend asked for advice.

If you have a hard time thinking of the last time you were presented with an opportunity to give feedback, you aren’t offering enough critical feedback to those around you. Most of us face several opportunities a day where offering our feedback could make a profound difference.

Think of the company meeting where you hold back or wait until you’re invited to take the floor, even though you disagree with what’s being presented. I’ve seen companies go under, with the writing on the wall, because everyone was too afraid to read it aloud to leadership.

Why We Fear Giving Feedback

If we want to make a difference in our world, be more successful and do MORE, we have to stop fearing feedback—giving AND getting.

Here at the Wright Graduate University, we’re huge fans of feedback. Our graduate students are regularly encouraged to share hard truths with their fellow classmates. In our offices, we regularly offer up critical feedback in our staff meetings—to everyone—leadership included.

Why? Because constructive feedback is vital for growth! Feedback is a critical part of engaging with others. We encourage students to seek out feedback, on their work, their behavior, their strengths, and weaknesses.

Is it scary? Hell yes, it’s scary! Giving and getting constructive criticism and feedback is pretty damned terrifying. But it’s also a necessary part of growth—both for the giver and receiver. It empowers others to share with you and opens a window for you to feel empowered to share with them as well. It opens a relationship of reciprocity.

Why does the truth frighten us? Well that’s a loaded question, isn’t it? The truth scares us because it forces us to change.

Sharing the truth scares us because we’re being vulnerable. We’re requesting something of someone else—we’re urging him or her to change. We’re offering our assessment of their work, their behavior or their situation. This puts us in a position where we might need to face some fears.

Most of what we do and don’t do is motivated by fear. We all experience loss aversion. We worry we’re risking the good to achieve the great. Remember good is the enemy of great because it causes us to settle. Greatness, instead, requires risk.

Greatness doesn’t require us to gamble everything in frantic lunges toward the finish line, but it does require us to push ourselves, which is risky business. It requires us to let down our guard and defenses. It requires us to harness our fear and use it as a catalyst for something better.

If you’re comfortable you aren’t growing. Growth isn’t easy.

It doesn’t feel natural. It’s not about keeping everything status quo. We have to stretch and fight our unconscious mind telling us to go back to a place of comfort. We have to be willing to shake the situation up. We have to change.

Not only will pushing past our fear by sharing honest feedback, allow us to become better leaders but also it will allow us to become better allies. It will help us identify and bring out the best in others and ourselves.

How to Be a Better Ally

We all want to be a better friend to others. We strive to tell them what they want to hear and raise them up.  We think of friends as the people we hang out with. The truth of the matter is many of us are pretty good at being friends. We may even have many pals—we laugh, enjoy spending time together and have a good time. Friendship is often not what we’re lacking.

If we want to grow and reach our full potential we don’t need to be more popular. What we really need is to connect with more allies. See, friends, tell you what you want to hear. They compliment you, build you up and make you laugh. Allies, though—they’re more powerful. You allies see you for who you are and what you can become. They push you forward. They call you out when you aren’t living up to your potential. When you’re underperforming a friend might say, “Aw, that’s okay,” but an ally will force you to work through the garbage holding you back.

Allies can be friends, of course, and friends can be allies. Allies may also be mentors, coaches, bosses, team members, your partner or other influencers in your life who push you to discover and bring out your best.

Allies are authentic. They’re honest and they aren’t afraid to give real, honest constructive feedback. Allies don’t sit around and wait for you to invite their assessment. They assess your vision right along with you, help you examine your path and drive you forward.

Positive Effects of Constructive Feedback

Feedback results in profound positive effects and breakthroughs. How many of us have had a conversation with an ally resulting in an epiphany, an a-ha moment, or a sudden realization?

The key comes from the type of feedback: constructive feedback versus destructive criticism. Productive, constructive feedback is a truthful, responsible critical appraisal. Constructive feedback is forthright and straightforward. Those allies who offer constructive feedback hold our vision in mind and share feedback about how to move toward the vision, as well as any impediments they see. Constructive feedback is empowering.

On the other hand, constructive feedback isn’t about tearing someone down. It’s not about dumping on someone, catty, demeaning or attacking. It’s not about beating around the bush, offering circular logic or sugarcoating your message. It’s also not an opportunity to chastise or humiliate someone. It’s an honest way to empower someone to do better, achieve more, and realize their potential.

Giving and receiving critical feedback to others whether in the workplace or in your social circle, will make you a better advocate and ally.

Many of us have experienced gratitude when someone has told it to us straight or given us the kick in the pants we needed to get going. I’ll bet you can think of a few of those moments you’ve experienced.

We build up the delivery and receipt of feedback in our minds to be something frightening and intimidating. Really, it’s just a wonderful opportunity for expanded guidance and motivation. Often, after we’ve shared our assessment with someone else, both of us feel unburdened and uplifted. If we share honestly and authentically, then feedback is a productive tool to help us on our journey.

Constructive feedback—giving and receiving—makes us stronger, more visionary leaders. Listen to feedback with an open mind and heart. If it’s given to help you strengthen your resolve and steer you on your path, it’s a valuable gift.

The next time you’re faced with an opportunity to give feedback, don’t wait for an invitation. If you’ve got an opinion share it! If you know your feedback will push your team toward greater success and vision realization, don’t hold back! By sharing your constructive feedback, you’ll discover greater power and untapped potential. Share constructive feedback and unlock the leader within.

For more on how you can grow your leadership potential and personal power, visit us at www.wrightfoundation.org. Join us for an upcoming networking event. Explore more exciting materials and courses available for download on our website. They’re offered at a special introductory price, so don’t miss out on this wonderful opportunity. Go forth and ignite your world!

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash.