The Two Main Flavors of Feedback: Mean vs. Kind

Life is full of choices. Every day people must choose either this or that – not both.

Some choices are simple – some complex. Some choices are black-and-white, while others are gray.

In the workplace, feedback (the constructive sort) and kindness are often positioned as opposites – as a black-and-white choice. We can be kind and not give feedback OR we can be unkind and give feedback.

When this type of thinking takes root, feedback gets confused with punishment in the same way that kindness gets confused with weakness. The end result is that feedback and kindness get written off because most people don’t like to do things associated with punishment and weakness – especially in the workplace. However, we can’t sweep feedback into the back storage closet and miss out on the benefits of constructive feedback simply because of these muddled perceptions.

When finding ourselves in a position to potentially give feedback, there are two decisions to make up front: 1) to give or not give feedback and 2) to give mean or kind feedback.

First, let’s unpack the choice to give or not give feedback.

Do give feedback if:

  • You care about the person’s success
  • You want to help the person grow and develop
  • You have examples of observable, specific behaviors
  • The feedback is factual
  • You are open and willing to hear the other person’s perspective

Do not give feedback if:

  • You don’t care about the person’s success
  • You don’t care if they grow or develop
  • You only have examples of abstractive, vague qualities
  • The feedback is based on assumptions and judgments
  • You are closed-off and unwilling to hear the other person’s perspective

Second, let’s explore the choice to give mean feedback or kind feedback:

Mean feedback:

  • Resembles a character assassination
  • Attacks a person’s being
  • Breeds separation, fear and disengagement

Kind feedback:

  • Focuses on a person’s behavior
  • Addresses something he or she has done (or not done)
  • Generates connection, trust and loyalty

In my opinion, the choice to give kind feedback is anything but weak. It takes courage. It requires strength. It demands a genuine interest in helping others. It’s a gift rather than a punishment.

While I believe everyone benefits from giving and receiving kind feedback, the workplace would change dramatically (and for the better) if kind feedback became the norm.

Say your piece:

What’s your experience with giving and receiving kind feedback at work?