On a fairly regular basis, I get the question back, “Well, how am I supposed to address problems if I can’t be critical?”

It’s a fair question and one that a lot of us struggle to answer.

Most of us want to have good relationships with the people we influence. It is also inevitable that we need to communicate when we don’t get the anticipated results.

So, what’s the distinction between feedback and criticism?

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word criticize as:

To consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly: evaluate; to find fault with: point out the faults of

Feedback is defined as: The transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source; also: the information so transmitted

At first glance, the definitions appear similar. Here’s why they’re not — and what you can do to navigate the distinction:

Focus on Intention

While the word “evaluate” appears in both definitions, only the definition for criticize includes the words “judge” and “fault.” Only the definition for feedback includes the word “corrective.” Both effective and ineffective leaders evaluate what happened, but effective leaders have the intention to help people get better going forward.

Are you more interested in helping than blaming?

Have Heart

Effective leaders genuinely care about the individuals they are leading. When you are dealing with someone that you find particularly difficult, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I can find about this person to like?” When you find the answer to that question, you do a lot better.

Can you find things you like about the people you lead?

Look Forward

How can you drive a car when you’re always looking in the mirror? The mirror only tells you where you been, not where you’re going. Effective leaders look forward and develop people that will help everyone achieve a shared vision. They look at the lessons from the past can make the future better. While the past is the starting point of most feedback sessions, the best leaders quickly move on to their most important focus: what’s been learned and what steps do all parties take out of this going forward?

Are you talking more about the future than the past?

If you answer “yes” consistently to the three questions above, you’re doing well. If you find yourself answering “no” more often, you’re in good company with many of us who still slip into criticism. To align with feedback, take one step this week to incorporate one of these three ways.

If you or your leaders need support to make this shift, contact us about our leadership development programs, including Giving and Getting Effective Feedback.