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  • Writer's picturekirstiewright

Criticism v Feedback: What's the difference?

Updated: Jan 16

Criticism and feedback sometimes get confused because they share some key characteristics. They both involve passing judgement or providing information on someone’s behaviour or performance. There are some key differences between criticism and feedback which impact how information is received and the impact those judgements have on the person at the receiving end of the judgement.

Can you remember a time when you were criticised? How did it make you feel? What thoughts came to your mind? How did the criticism impact your motivation? How did the criticism make you feel about the person who criticised you? How did you feel in your body? What did you do as a result of the criticism.

In contrast think of a time when someone gave you supportive feedback. Feedback that helped you to think of how to improve, grow and focused on your strengths. How did the feedback make you feel? What thoughts did you have about this feedback? How did the feedback impact your motivation and your hopes for the future? How did you feel in your body? What did you do as a result of this feedback.

I bet you are starting to see some key differences already. Lets explore these differences further.


Key differences between criticism and feedback


Feedback: Feedback focuses on facts and information; feedback takes into account the effort people put into their performance. Feedback demonstrates people strengths and ways to improve and learn. Feedback therefore provides a balanced view of peoples performance, looking at both the good points and what can be improved upon.

Criticism: Tends to focus on the negatives and what people got wrong without focusing on what went well or the effort put in. Criticism does not contain ways people can improve or learning points. It is purely focused on what was lacking.

criticism v feedback


Feedback: To help the person receiving feedback to understand what went well and what they could improve upon to help the person receiving the feedback to grow and build on what they have accomplished.

Criticism: The intent may be to point out weakness, to undermine someone, to vent frustration or share a negative opinion.


Feedback: Feedback is often given in a respectful way, considering the other person thoughts and feelings. The tone used is calm and supportive. The words used are supportive.


Criticism: Feedback is often delivered in an emotional way, rather than focusing on helping to support the person receiving the feedback to reach their goals. A voice is often raised when sharing criticism.


Feedback: Feedback is often focused on what actions can help the recipient of feedback to grow. What does someone need to do to improve and learn? What can someone do to learn?

Criticism: The focus is not on actions and more on what the person didn’t do. It is not focused on what steps someone can take to learn or improve.

criticism v feedback

There are key differences between criticism and feedback. Feedback is balanced, fact based and considers the thoughts and feelings of the person receiving the feedback. Feedback tries to support the person receiving the feedback to grow. It can be a really positive experience. Criticism focus on the negative, is not focused on growth and does not take into account the other persons feelings.

Why does this matter?

When we are criticised (both by ourselves and others) we feel that we are under attack. Our body releases the stress hormones. This starts the threat response in which we are focused on threat (being criticised) and not on creating our best work. We are in survival mode. A mode in which our focus is how do I survive and get through whilst working on this project rather than how do I produce my best work. This is a natural human response that happens to all of us. It makes sense if we feel under threat we focus on how to get through something. Feedback can still feel hard if we have poured our heart and soul into something but is less likely to cause this response.

Criticism can also negatively impact peoples confidence and self esteem. This can lead to people taking less creative risks, and being less likely to put ideas forward for fear of being criticised which can negatively affect work. Low self esteem can also lead to mental health difficulties including depression. Criticism can negatively impact peoples wellbeing. Feedback is therefore key in supporting peoples wellbeing and creating a safe environment where people feel able to take risks.


Criticism can limit learning opportunities. If the main way feedback is given in a work place is destructive criticism then the workplace is not focused on growth. Growth can lead to new opportunities and ideas. Criticism is not growth focused or focused on helping people learn, it is personal and focused on personal criticism. Feedback instead puts learning at the centre and promotes growth.

Criticism can affect a teams relationship. Criticism erodes trust and overtime will lead to people being suspicious of others. This can prevent teamwork and working together as it impacts communication. Communication is often key for people reaching goals. If communication fails a workplace is unlikely to reach its goals. Workplaces that prioritise competition of cooperation are more likely to experience bullying and have been found to be less productive and generate less revenue.

Criticism is a powerful demotivator. Why would you want to do your best work if criticism is what you face. When the work and achievements that people make aren't recognised motivation plummets. If what you do is going to be met with criticism why do it?

Criticism can lead to less job satisfaction which may result in higher staff turnover. Turnover costs companies a lot of money each year.

happy feedback

Therefore criticism and feedback are two different forms of passing judgements that are different both in what is said, how its said and the impact it has. Feedback is key for growth. It can be easy to shy away from giving feedback because we may fear slipping into criticism but actually feedback is not only good for people but in many different surveys has been found to be something employees want.

For support on how to give feedback to staff contact us here to enquire about workshops, project consultation and one to one therapy.

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