Do you get angry or frustrated when someone on your team, your boss, or a neighbor or family member just doesn’t do what you know works best? Do you unleash your criticism or hold it inside to stew and expand? Do you hear criticism when someone gives you feedback?

Criticism is defined first as “the act of finding merits and demerits and judging accordingly” and second as “to find fault with.” The first sounds better than the second definition, right? Would we ever think of praise as criticism? By the first definition, we should.

Is “constructive criticism” more effective? Maybe, if that means you have peeled away your negative energy about the situation or person. When your boss states that s/he has some “constructive criticism” to share, how do you translate that phrase? Usually it makes the giver of feedback feel better before s/he drops the bomb. Constructive feedback often only means finding a nicer way to tell our negative truth.

Why Do We Wrap Our Feedback In Criticism?

We humans can communicate inside a shell of criticalness or judgmental-ness. We might not even know we are doing it. We may think we veil our feelings with a control of our language. It’s likely only our safest, closest relationships that glide through our critical tone or messaging.

Why can’t we separate our emotion from the information? My top five reasons are:

  1. We are strongly identified with some behaviors and actions. We learned over time what works, and we believe we are right.
  2. We have worked hard to perform by those standards. It hasn’t been easy, but we took the criticism and worked it into our practice.
  3. The behavior or action comes easily to us. Why can’t the other person take my direction?
  4. We see the negative consequences of performance as affecting our own success. Sometimes our emotion is more about our own interests than the other person.
  5. We come from a highly critical family/parenting that has shaped our way of thinking and speaking. And, we continue to be self-critical as part of our success strategies.

How Can We Shed Or Put Aside Our Critical Nature?

I will be the first the state that it is very hard not to be judgmental when we are invested in our standards. Therefore, we have to be very intentional in what we communicate when we feel emotionally attached. Here are three ideas for how to self-manage the negative consequences that result from communicating critically.

  1. Focus on facts and observations. A well-constructed expectation states what you want to see or hear. Unpack your initial language by asking “what do I mean by X? What would that look like?” Then, match what you observe in the other person to that set of expectations.
  2. Engage the other person in a dialogue. Way too often, we get very ready to deliver our feedback as if the other person has no additional information. Rather, it’s exactly the opposite. They have way more information than we do. Ask more questions. Put all the facts on a white board or pad in front of the two of you.
  3. Be open to some new understanding of the person or situation and to an even better way to behave or take action.

Get Started by Seeking Your Own Information, Ideas, and Insight

I’ve been helping leaders, teams and organizations build useful feedback into their culture for many years. Here is my strongest tactic for any person or team who wants to improve performance:

Ask for real feedback and work hard to uncover the information, along with any ideas and insight.

Today, I am suggesting that you can become a much better giver of feedback if you get very good at soliciting useful feedback. That feedback is only useful if you put aside your own resistance and dive into the information.