Negative vs. Critical

Providing effective feedback is one of the most difficult and important things you can do as a team lead. Feedback takes two forms. First, there’s feedback that stems from great work. For example, someone on your team nailed a recent project. Second, there’s feedback that originates in a mistake or poor performance. Here a team member dropped the ball on something.

People refer to that second type of feedback as “negative.” I think that makes the task of communicating it more awkward and less effective. There’s more than a semantic difference between framing feedback as negative versus critical. Approaching it as critical feedback requires greater upfront work on your part. Ultimately, though, it will set you and your teammate up for success.

Critical feedback seeks to build someone’s skills. You’re not negating what they did. You’re critiquing it so they can improve. A true critique involves a thorough analysis of merits and faults.

That analysis is more time consuming than giving negative feedback. You have to take the extra step beyond identifying what was lacking in your teammate’s work. That identification is the first step: afterward begins the real work.

The most important piece of critical feedback is consciously and deliberately analyzing what could be done differently to improve an outcome. By doing that, you help your team member. You’re doing more than flagging poor work and walking away.

Once you’ve done that you need to take the next step. You have to look at different approaches in addition to what was already good about the existing work. Though an end result may be poor, it rarely means each and every step in the process was. When you take the extra step to clarify positive aspects you reinforce the right habits in your team.

When you clearly communicate what needs to change while succinctly stating what went well, you shift the conversation from negative to critical. You take an action that adversely impacted your team, identify it, and then clearly illustrate to your team member what must be done in the future to make the shift from poor to great. Do that enough times and you build a strong foundation for your team to grow.