Understanding the psychology of criticism can help you give better feedback and better deal with negative reviews. No matter what we do or how well we do it, some criticism is eventually going to come our way. In this post, we’ll explore how to give and receive feedback at work in the best ways possible, along with some of the psychology behind handling critical feedback (in both directions). And when we receive criticism, our brain tries to protect us from the threat it perceives to our place in the social order of things. Another unique thing about criticism is that we often don’t remember it quite clearly.
But although criticism is more likely to be remember incorrectly, we don’t often forget it. So now that we know what a delicate enterprise criticism can be, how can we go about offering it up in the right spirit to get the best results? The most important step is to make sure that your potential feedback is coming from the right place.
After entering the conversation with the best intentions, a next guideline is to separate behavior or actions from the person you’re speaking to. Starting off your feedback with a few questions can help the other person feel like an equal part in the conversation as you discuss the challenge together. In fact, the more of the conversation you can frame positively, the more likely your recipient is to be in the right frame of mind to make the change you’re looking for. In his exploration of the next phase of working together, Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux explores some of the world’s most highly evolved workplaces. Many of these organizations use the Rosenberg Nonviolent Communication method, pictured here, to deliver feedback. This method provides a simple and predictable framework that takes some of the volatility out of giving and receiving feedback. You can begin by preparing some open-ended questions for those who know you well and can speak with confidence about your work.
Stanford Professor Nass says that most people can take in only one critical comment at a time. So if you need some time to reflect on multiple points of feedback, don’t be afraid to say so.
While some of us have a hard time hearing negative feedback, there are those who thrive on it. But lately, the idea of embracing failure has emerged, and it’s a great mindset for making the most of feedback. As with many of the things we do at Buffer, the way we give and receive feedback is a continuous work in progress as we experiment, learn and grow. Previously, the feedback process was more or less formalized in a process we call the mastermind. These days, masterminds happen weekly between peers and we’ve moved away from the formalized feedback section altogether as we strive for a more holacratic, less top-down way of working together.
But feedback is still an important part of the Buffer journey, and it is offered and received freely by any of us at any time it is applicable.
Since feedback often can be sensitive and personal, it tends to be one of the only elements we exempt from our policy of radical transparency.
Buffer’s 10 core values are our guide to offering and receiving feedback with joy instead of anxiety. Looking at our value of positivity through a lens of feedback, I see lots of great instruction on offering constructive criticism, including focusing on the situation instead of the person and offering as much appreciation as feedback.

Since we each take on this goal of positivity, it’s very easy to assume the best of the person offering their feedback to you and that their intent is positive. Additionally, our value of gratitude means that we each focus on being thankful for the feedback as an opportunity to improve in a particular area. Finally, our value of self-improvement means we have a framework for taking feedback and acting on it in a way that moves us forward.
I’m sure our ideas will evolve even further on this idea (in fact, during the time it took me to write this we opened up a whole new discussion on feedback and resolving issues). I’d love to hear your best tips for giving and receiving feedback in the best spirit, or to learn how you handle feedback at your workplace!
February 26, 2014 By Kathleen Quiring 2 Comments If you're new here, you may want to subscribe via Email or.RSS feed.
I’m blessed to live in a time and part of the world where physical violence is not widespread.
But I am aware that violence comes in many forms, and we are not immune to it all, even when physical violence is not a threat.
In a world of turmoil, hate, and violence of every kind, I have decided that I want to be an agent of peace.
In order to be an agent of peace, I realize that peacefulness has to permeate every aspect of my being. I personally believe I need to Prince of Peace to help guide and shape me, so I seek his influence in my life through prayer.
I recently came across Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, which has proven a wonderful resource in my quest for peaceful interactions. Rosenberg offers a model for communicating in the midst of conflict that replaces defending, withdrawing, or attacking (which he calls “life-alienating” communication). Instead, Nonviolent communication (or NVC) reframes how we express ourselves by focusing on what we’re feeling or needing instead of diagnosing and judging. This model of communicating can be used in any relationships or interactions: within your family, with your coworkers, with strangers you meet on the street, even people on the Internet.
So, for example, if you see your kid leaving her empty cup in the living room as she walks out, instead of making a judgment or a demand, you might say something like, “Honey, when I see you leave your dirty dishes in the living room [observation], I feel really frustrated [feelings] because I’m needing some order in this house [needs].
But look: the first example involved no attacks on your daughter’s character, didn’t make you out to be a martyr, and made it easy for her to know how she might remedy the problem.
But at least I’m aware there’s a better way, and sometimes I am able to take a moment, think it through, and express myself peacefully. There are lots of ways you can mix things up to still express the four parts of nonviolent communication; but for now I have found this template helpful for getting me in the habit of thinking and speaking this way, until it becomes more natural. NVC Response: “I’m noticing that lately you only touch me when L’s not around [observation]. NVC Response: “When the author says X [observing], I feel concerned [feelings], because as a member of the Body of Christ I want all people to feel loved and welcome in our midst [need]. I open up my two-year-old’s sensory table for her to play in, and she immediately throws a couple of handfuls of sand onto the clean floor. If you’re interested in learning how to practice NVC, I highly recommend reading the whole book. I discovered this formula several years ago when working on a writing project, and it has infected my brain. Hearing potentially negative things about yourself is probably not your favorite activity, and most of us would rather avoid the awkwardness that comes with telling someone else how they could improve. One of the fundamental skills of life is being able to give and receive advice, feedback and even criticism.

I’ll also share with you some of the methods in which we offer and receive feedback at Buffer to try and make the experience less scary and more loving.
But because our brains see criticism as such a primal threat, it’s actually much lower on the pyramid, in the belonging or safety spectrums. Our brains have evolved separate, more sensitive brain circuits to handle negative information and events, and they process the bad stuff more thoroughly than positive things. In the sandwich, you begin with praise, address the problem, and follow up with more praise. One of the cultural elements common to all of them is the the ability to treat feedback as a gift rather than a curse. For example, we’re more likely to blame failure on external factors than our own shortcomings. It most often takes the form of one-on-one Hipchat messages, emails or Sqwiggle conversations. It still exists; but in present-day Canada, most of us live in relative safety from physical harm. I thought I’d briefly share some of the main points on the book, and a template that I’ve found helpful in guiding my communication.
Since she’s much less likely to resent the request, she might even be more likely to help out! I still spit out harsh words, tell people they’re wrong, and make dramatic declarations of the world’s problems all the time. Your sentence begins to lose its nonviolent quality when you start to focus on what the other person is doing wrong.
When you do that, I feel annoyed [feelings] because I would like regular old affection, too, that’s not necessarily going to lead to more. I fear that agreeing with this author creates the appearance of a united front, barring gay people from community with us [more feelings]. She's a recent brewer of kombucha, goes barefoot eight months out of the year, and owns a disconcerting number of garden gnomes. Ashkanasy also pointed to other jobs that would better match the skills of his soon-to-be-ex employee. It’s much harder to do and takes way more effort, but it makes life so much more pleasant for everyone.
I wonder if we can talk about this issue in a way that invites all people to participate without fear of judgment? But already, I’ve found that conflicts often resolve much more peacefully when I remember to use some of these tools. That promise of belonging helped relieve her anxiety about being cast out of the group she already knew.
Long-term students of yoga and Buddhism, the authors here blend the yoga principle of satya (truth) and the Buddhist precept of right speech with Marshall Rosenberg's groundbreaking techniques of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in a fresh formula for promoting peace at home, at work, and in the world.
No one ever helps out around here!” (Okay, that might still be just as many words, but it flows off the tongue so much easier, am I right?).

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