Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
Welcome Feedback, Encourage Growth

Welcome Feedback, Encourage Growth

3528- image0You know the “tagline” that some people put on their emails. An example would be Texas Tech University’s, “From here, it’s possible.”

Well, I received an email from a person the other day and her tagline said, “Compliment me or criticize me, just help me get better.” I think that is a great tagline. It takes a lot of courage to criticize someone (not so much to compliment someone), and it takes a lot of courage to ask for feedback. When we ask for feedback, we make ourselves vulnerable, but it is an excellent way to grow.

This person with that tagline is asking for help—feedback.

A lot of people will not give feedback to another person. They are either concerned about hurting the other person’s feelings or, frankly, just not that interested in helping him or her improve. Or, they may criticize someone behind his or her back where it doesn’t do any good. Talking about others behind their back might feel good for a time, but it is not healthy. It hurts both parties—the one talking and the one listening. Furthermore, it does nothing for the person who actually needs the help.

How can we help someone by offering feedback? It’s possible to give feedback, even criticism, with kindness and to have a fair chance of the person taking it constructively. Before we do that, I think we always need to examine our motives. Why are we being critical?

Here are a few common reasons for being critical that I read in an article, along with some thoughts of my own to fit our situation. As you will note, not all of them are good.

To foster improvement. We are honestly trying to help the person. I remember when our boys were little, and I strictly had their best interest at heart (still do) and would have to say, “No, son, that is not how you change a tire.” This is the “good stuff.”
To see a change that we would like. It might be something related to work. For example, telling someone, “If we spend a little more time getting the patient registered properly, we don’t have denials at a later date that have to be reworked.”
To further the discussion. Criticism can be a way to get a good, intelligent discussion about something started. Often a good question works in this situation, “Do you think that it is really best to cancel an appointment and then ask the patient to call us back?”
To hurt someone. Often we just don’t like someone, and want to get at them, attack them. Criticism in this case is destructive, not healthy, and should be avoided.
To vent our frustrations. Sometimes we are just frustrated with something, or are having a bad day, and need to vent negative anger. Again, this is not good at all.
To boost our ego. While we have many experts here at Texas Tech HSC on many topics, criticism just to show how much we know about the topic is not constructive.

Some of the things that I have learned over the years (and I am far from perfect in talking with folks about changing behavior) are:

1. Don’t attack, insult, or be mean in any way
2. Talk about actions or things, not the person
3. Be specific (what are they doing wrong—use examples)
4. Most importantly, be kind. While offering criticism doesn’t come naturally to most, it is something that must be done to help others be successful.

Think of all of the students and residents we have here. Let’s call them collectively “learners.” What would their experience be if they were never offered feedback by the faculty and others? It just wouldn’t work. When feedback is offered to help the other person, they generally understand and know that even in criticism there is an interest in helping the “learner” of the criticism to grow.

And, when we are on the receiving end of criticism (as I have been many times), I have found it is best to listen carefully and then weigh the criticism for any nugget of truth it might contain. Virtually all criticism, no matter how scathing, has some element of truth to it, if we will take time to discern what we are being told.