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Criticism is judgmental and accusatory. Feedback focuses on providing concrete information to motivate

Leon F. Seltzer, a clinical psychologist who has written extensively on this subject, differentiates between criticism and feedback. In a blog he writes for Psychology Today, he notes that:

¶Criticism is judgmental and accusatory. It can involve labeling, lecturing, moralizing and even ridiculing. Feedback focuses on providing concrete information to motivate the recipient to reconsider his or her behavior.

¶Criticism involves making negative assumptions about the other person's motives. Feedback reacts not to intent but the actual result of the behavior.

¶Criticism, poorly given, often includes advice, commands and ultimatums, making the person receiving it feel defensive and angry -- and undermines any benefits. Feedback, on the other hand, looks less at how the person should change, but tries to prompt a discussion about the benefits of change.

This last point is one that Darren Gurney, a high school teacher in New Rochelle, N.Y., has thought a lot about. Mr. Gurney also coaches high school and college baseball teams and runs a summer baseball camp that my sons love. He has found that one of the most effective ways to criticize a player is not to tell him what he did wrong, but ask him to analyze what he thinks he could have done better.

"In general, it seems as if criticism is very hard to take in contemporary American culture," Professor Kitayama said. "It's seen as a threat or an attack on self-esteem or as violating social rules. In Japanese culture, self-esteem is important, but more important is improving yourself."

In a large study of Japanese and American Olympic athletes, which Professor Kitayama co-wrote, Japanese athletes and commentators were twice as likely as Americans to criticize their performance or make negative comments about it.

"Americans say about four positive comments to one negative comment, while the Japanese tend to equally balance positive and negative comments," said Hazel R. Markus, a professor of psychology at Stanford and another co-author. This and other studies, she said, indicate that failure feedback is motivating for Japanese while success feedback is motivating for Americans.

For Best Results, Take the Sting Out of Criticism
Published: August 29, 2009
Criticism can teach valuable lessons, if delivered and received in a positive way. Upbringing and culture can account for great differences in one's personal language of criticism.


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