Responsibility Answers: Is Giving Negative Feedback Blaming?

“Check your feedback and ask, are you coming from a place of making the other person either good or bad or right or wrong? Then you’re giving criticism, not feedback.”

Responsibility Answers

Is Giving Negative Feedback Blaming?

Thank you to Ed, for an excellent question. Ed writes “If I give someone negative feedback, is that laying blame?”

We’re presented with many opportunities to give feedback, so this is an excellent opportunity to practice Responsibility. First of all, Ed, if it feels blame-y or shame-y, it probably is. If the receiver of the feedback feels blamed by your feedback, there’s a good chance that it isn’t really feedback – it’s probably criticism.

What’s the difference between feedback and criticism? We’re going to get into that. I’m going to give you tips that I use to give Responsible feedback. There are three important aspects of giving Responsible feedback: get permission, show up with pre-approval, and give feedback instead of criticism.

Let’s start with feedback versus criticism.

The idea of feedback actually comes from information science. It has to do with sending a tiny signal back to the origin of the information, the person, that allows them to make a change or stay status quo.

Criticism comes from judgment about the person or what they did. Criticism always comes from good, bad, right, and wrong. You and I have grown up in a critical society, so we’re really good at criticizing. We’re good at being judgmental.

So simply check your feedback and ask, are you coming from a place of making the other person either good or bad or right or wrong? Are you coming from a place of making what the other person did good or bad or right or wrong? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then you’re giving criticism, not feedback.

Instead, simply tell the other person how what they did landed on you.

What did you like about it? What did you not like? What surprised you? What did you learn? What did you appreciate? What didn’t land well on you?

You can do this from truthfulness with compassion. Even negative feedback can be received well because you’re not making it about the other person. You’re making it about how what they did landed on you and went through your filters.

My next guideline is to get permission. 

One of the things that we learned in our studies of Responsibility is that unwanted help is received as abuse.

Imagine a parent or an adult leaning over a six-year-old at the table and cutting up their meat and their vegetables for them and the six-year-old goes, “Get out of here.” If it didn’t start with, “Honey, can I cut your meat and vegetables for you,” it was unwanted help. It’s received as abuse.

If you want to give feedback, get permission.

There are many ways to get permission. You can have ongoing permission, you can get permission in the moment. If someone asks you for feedback, you can say, “Are you absolutely sure, and specifically, what do you want me to look at? I’d be happy to.”

My last guideline is to do it with pre-approval.

In fact, in most of the guidance that you give to others, do it with pre-approval. Pre-approval of them as a human, pre-approval knowing that they are always doing the best they know, given the circumstances and their mental state.

That means you can trust them to take advantage of the information that you have to give them. When you give pre-approval, you also create much higher levels of safety for them, making it easier for them to receive what you offer.

So here’s an example of giving Responsible feedback. 

Let’s say someone gave a presentation, asked you to attend, and give them feedback. Beautiful. Number one, are you showing up with pre-approval?

Remember that humans are always doing their best given their level of consciousness at that moment, in that situation. So you’re not there to correct them as a human being. You’re there to approve of them as a human being.

Permission. Even though they asked you for permission, double-check. Are you sure? Or is there anything specifically that you want my input about?

Finally, feedback versus criticism. Instead of I thought this was good, I thought that was bad, right, wrong, you should never do this, you should always do this, that’s all opinion. And it’s all biased. Instead, a good rule of thumb is to use “I statements” so that you own your feedback to them.

Here’s some feedback that you might give.

“I thought you took on a bold challenge. I also thought that you looked really confident and in charge of yourself in the presentation. However, I didn’t follow your argument on Slides Five and Six. I’m not sure if management will buy your proposal based on those arguments.

“I may not be your target audience for those points, but if you think I am, or if you think I can help, I’d be happy to work with you a little bit to make sure that the points you’re making on those slides really drive home what it is that you want.

“Is there anything else that you’d like feedback from me on?”

So there’s an example for feedback.

In closing, feedback always honors the ability of another to make their own choices about what they do with the information you give them.

It usually comes from compassion and empathy and from your own truth told with compassion. And it rarely comes from judgments of right and wrong or good or bad, which we know is criticism.

So here’s something you can do today. 

Catch yourself thinking a critical thought about what someone else is doing. See if you can turn that into a neutral observation as if you were trying to tell them how what they did landed on you.

I thought this, I liked this, I appreciated this, I didn’t appreciate this, I found it hard to accept this.

You can use this as an exercise for yourself, or you can get permission, show up with pre-approval, and turn that observation into some feedback for them.


Send all your questions to I look forward to hearing from you.

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