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Five Essential Differences Between Criticism And Feedback

Source | | Jim Ludema and Amber Johnson

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’re familiar with the idea of a “howler.” In the wizarding world, irate parents can send a magical letter that screams their frustration. You don’t want to open it in front of your friends; if you do, you’ll hear Mom or Dad’s angry voice shouting its disappointment.

I’ll never forget the day I (Amber) received my first professional howler. It was just a few months into my first “real” job, as the editor of an organization’s magazine. I left a conspicuous typo in the latest issue in a caption underneath the photo of a VIP. One or our senior execs sent me an ALL CAPS email, making it clear to me (and my boss, whom he copied) that I was the village idiot.

That experience comes to mind each time we teach a session on giving feedback. Howlers are textbook examples of how not to share your concerns with a team member. But how do you give feedback the right way?

If you want to give great feedback, the kind of feedback that is heard, appreciated, and taken to heart, then you have to leave the howler behind. Howlers aren’t actually feedback at all: they’re criticism. Criticism is rarely productive; feedback, on the other hand, is the breakfast of champions. Here’s the difference:

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