Feedback Isn’t Positive or Negative

Feedback Isn’t Positive or Negative


Have you ever noticed that people tend to preface the word feedback with a qualifier such as positive or negative? The truth is feedback isn’t positive or negative. It’s feedback. Period.

The dictionary defines feedback as: information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

I might say, “I have received valuable feedback from my team.” Being valuable to me doesn’t mean that the feedback was all good news and praise, nor does it imply that it was bad. It was information that will help me make improvements.

A healthy culture where people are committed to excellence requires everyone to be open to both giving and receiving feedback. When trying to build a culture of feedback it is important to drop the qualifier. This makes the information less judgmental and more targeted at improvement.

Imagine if I walked up to you and asked, “May I give you some negative feedback?” You’d probably have visceral, defensive reaction before I even opened my mouth. If, however, I ask, “May I give you some feedback?” You may be curious and probably not as defensive. Especially if the culture fosters open giving and receiving feedback.


Changing the tone


A few years ago, I had hired an employee who came from a dysfunctional culture. When I said, “Let’s talk after lunch, I’d like to give you feedback from the meeting,” he looked terrified. Noticing this I said, “It’s all good.” I could see him visibly relax. He said, “When someone tells me they are going to give me feedback it usually isn’t good. Even if they call it constructive feedback, I expect to get bad news.”

My guess is that he hadn’t been getting feedback. He was being criticized. In the Forbes[i] article, Five Essential Differences Between Criticism and Feedback, authors Jim Ludema and Amber Johnson make a very clear, and useful distinction between the two.


It’s the leader’s job to help people get accustomed to giving and receiving feedback openly.


It’s the leader’s job to help people get accustomed to giving and receiving feedback openly and graciously. Making it positive or negative defeats the purpose. Focus on future improvements and you’ll find people accept feedback openly.

Here are some helpful pointers on giving and receiving feedback. Baird Group conducts webinars and workshops on giving and receiving feedback. For more information contact us at



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