Criticism versus Constructive Feedback: The Art of Empowerment & Affirmation. 12 Tips On How to Provide Supportive & Affirming Constructive Feedback

Very angry businessman pointing at the camera

Criticism versus Constructive Feedback:  The Art of Empowerment & Affirmation

12 Tips On How to Provide Supportive & Affirming Constructive Feedback

Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, CSAT

“Angry and derogatory criticism is a statement

about the critic and his anger than about you.”  

Thanks to a recent piece of feedback, I feel compelled to say: There is little to no value in criticism. Criticism, versus constructive feedback, is almost always a statement about the criticizing person, who casts themselves as the benevolent judge desiring to help you. It is a stark and at times lonely reminder that a person who behaves as though they are your concerned friend, really has more interest in feeling good about themselves at the cost of hurting another’s feelings.

Remember, the person who finds fault with what you do or say and communicates it in a way that feels judgmental or shaming, is really speaking about themselves, not you. It is motivated by the darker forces of their subjective personal judgment of you and the false and fleeting sense of power and superiority they experience as a result of it.  Moreover, it may be a result of a defense mechanism known as “projection.”  Projection occurs with people who lack self-esteem and self-love, and who are self-judging, self-critical and shame-based.  Such people block their self-hating side from their consciousness, and unconsciously direct the malignant judgment to others.  Projection, or seeing in others what a person is unable to see in themselves, is also referred to as the: “If you spot it, you got it” phenomenon.

This criticizing “friend” wants you believe they have your back, but this is sadly not the truth. Making a person feel bad, guilty or ashamed for what seems like a mistake, engenders self-contempt, which promotes behavior change based upon fear of rejection. This is neither a lasting nor empowering process.

Conversely, constructive criticism engenders a connection, reinforces a friendship, is a statement about someone’s fondness for you, and a reminder that you are not alone in your life. It almost always draws you closer to a person while making you feel more valuable. It also makes the deliverer of the constructive message feel good about themselves.

Now, to throw a curve ball: criticism is also good!  It points out the other person’s truer motives, which is helpful to those who are intuitive, have good self-esteem, and are psychologically and emotionally discriminating.  If someone criticizes you, and you naturally feel worse because of it, you are given valuable information about that person, his feelings for you, and their own psychological background.

Dealing with criticism can also help you identify when your well-meaning friends or acquaintances are just plain ol’ ignorant.  Despite the lack of negative intent, the delivery of the message hurts. Often, these people were never taught how to give supportive feedback and actually believe their judgments and criticisms are empowering and helpful.  When confronted about this, they are often apologetic, and open to learning about the “art of giving constructive feedback.”  This process is a win-win scenario for almost any relationship.

Despite the lack of any value of criticism, it may still provide you with necessary feedback and an opportunity to learn about yourself.  This is especially the case if you have good self-esteem, healthy interpersonal boundaries, and have a handle on your own guilt and shame triggers.  The healthy person will glean the important data from the critical comments, analyze its potential value, and apply it to themselves in a self-affirming way.  My favorite Alcoholics Anonymous maxim describes this process the best: “take the best, and leave the rest.”

12 Tips On How to Provide Supportive & Affirming Constructive Feedback

  1. Consider that you may be emotionally triggered by the event or circumstance on which you are providing feedback.
  2. If you identify a trigger, sit on the feedback until you are in a more supportive and less activated emotional space.
  3. Always ask permission to give constructive feedback.
  4. If the permission is not granted, don’t take it personally. Wait until the moment is right and your friend’s defenses have lowered. This may be three hours or 6 months. *(spell out both or write both numerically)
  5. Begin with a positive. “The one think I really admire about you, Bob, is your courage to speak in public, but…”
  6. Declare your intent. “I care about you and don’t want you to feel isolated anymore, so with your permission, I would like to give you some feedback…”
  7. Do not use any language that communicates judgment or your opinion of right or wrong. This includes the words “should” and “shouldn’t.”
  8. Before seeking a response to your feedback, check with the person about what they heard you say. This helps clarify what you either didn’t say well or what wasn’t understood well.
  9. Self-disclose: share an event or situation that illustrates your own struggle with a similar challenge.
  10. Give specific/concrete examples of the situation on which you are providing feedback.
  11. Always seek your friend’s emotional reaction about the feedback (before, during, or after it).
  12. Consider that your feedback may not be entirely accurate or even wrong.
  13. Be open to the reversal of such constructive feedback!
Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, CSAT

Advanced Clinical Trainers Owner

Psychotherapist, Author & Professional Trainer

Author of The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us


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