By: Patricia Bagby

One of the most difficult skills to learn in communications is how to handle critical feedback—whether we are giving it or receiving it. When we understand it and use it, critical feedback becomes constructive feedback.

Many supervisors have told me they find critical feedback difficult to handle. That is understandable. You make all kinds of decisions, judgments about the people you manage, just as your managers make decisions about you. These judgments can be informal and even unconscious. Critical feedback can make the difference between success and failure in our lives. It provides us with information on what is working and what is not. Critical feedback is an indispensable part of our lives; it can empower us to communicate more openly and improves many facets of our daily lives.

Many of us define critical feedback as Webster does in the dictionary: “the act of criticizing unfavorably.” We often think of critical feedback as something negative, but critical feedback may also be defined as “evaluating or analyzing with knowledge and decorum. In this perception it is a tool for achieving positive results.

A good part of our self image is based on how others view us. When we feel that someone sees us as anything other than in a positive light, we may feel devastated. Critical feedback implies that we could be wrong. What could be more personal and threatening? It takes an open mind to be able to listen to an opposing view.

In today’s environment our ability to adapt, change, and grow as a result of critical feedback is paramount. When we cannot, we risk stagnation and it inhibits our chances to move forward, change, grow, and develop.

The Simmons/Bright study on critical feedback found that we resent receiving critical feedback most from our in-laws, mates, and subordinates. We handle it best from teachers, friends, fathers, or bosses. We consider it most important to take corrective action when criticized by our bosses and mates and least important to take corrective action when criticized by our in-laws and siblings. We are most hurt by critical feedback that questions our integrity and our job performance. The difficulty we face in handling critical back lies in the fact that the feedback is at least partially true. Even if the feedback is poorly given, it forces us to examine our behavior and draw conclusions.

When we give critical feedback it is important that it be given constructively. Constructive feedback is aimed at promoting improvement or development of the person to whom you are providing the feedback. This kind of open feedback can relieve stress, and stop people from guessing at expectations and evaluations. Because honesty promotes trust and paves the way to understanding, constructive feedback can improve interpersonal relationships.

In his book What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women, Dr. James Dobson wrote:

“The right to criticize must be earned, even if the advice is constructive in nature. Before you are entitled to tinker with another person’s self-esteem, you are obligated first to demonstrate your respect for him/her as a person. When a relationship of confidence has been carefully constructed, you will have earned the right to discuss a potentially threatening topic. Your motives will have been thereby certified.”

That is excellent advice—for professional and personal relationships.

© PBBD Enterprises Patricia Bagby, CEO of PBBD Enterprises, is a highly regarded Consultant, Trainer, Trainer, Key Note Speaker and Professional Development Coach. Ms. Bagby provides practical solutions for all aspects of human capital management and employment law regulations. E-mail: