Identifying and Responding to Criticism Even When it’s Dressed to Look Like Feedback
Criticism and feedback are not synonyms. They each have very different meanings and implications and require a different approach if you’re responding in a professional capacity within the social web.
Yes, feedback can be critical and it’s possible someone will deliver criticism when you ask for feedback. This is where it gets tricky, but what matters here is that your response is appropriate.
Bear with me – I’ll get to the tactical part very soon, but in this instance, I think it’s important to note the differences in the definitions of each of these words:
|the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.
|the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.
|the act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit, dramatic production, etc.
|a critical comment, article, or essay; critique.
|any of various methods of studying texts or documents for the purpose of dating or reconstructing them, evaluating their authenticity, analyzing their content or style, etc.: historical criticism; literary criticism.
|investigation of the text, origin, etc., of literary documents, esp. Biblical ones: textual criticism.
|the furnishing of data concerning the operation or output of a machine to an automatic control device or to the machine itself, so that subsequent or ongoing operations of the machine can be altered or corrected.
|a reaction or response to a particular process or activity: He got very little feedback from his speech.
|evaluative information derived from such a reaction or response: to study the feedback from an audience survey.
|Psychology. knowledge of the results of any behavior, considered as influencing or modifying further performance. Compare biofeedback.
|Biology. a self-regulatory biological system, as in the synthesis of some hormones, in which the output or response affects the input, either positively or negatively.
See how the definition of criticism implies judgment and intellectual assessment while feedback has more to do with resonance and reaction (both literal and figurative) than with judgment?
Feedback gives information that allows us to assess the quality of our own product.
Criticism judges the quality of the product.
See the difference?
Why This is Important
If you’re looking to represent a brand or company online and engage in comment marketing or any one-on-one outreach, it’s extremely important to understand which one you’re dealing with in order to respond in a way that builds and sustains relationships.
Feedback helps customers and stakeholders feel they have a voice that can affect the quality of future experiences. Feedback can also help inform companies as to how best to grow into better, more profitable companies.
Criticism can also be helpful when you’re dealing with assessing the value of some type of product or service, but when criticism is levied against individuals in organizations, or a general manner of doing business, it’s important that it be addressed differently.
Personal criticism, or criticism that attacks a company’s way of conducting business indicates a deeper issue than the particular instance or grievance noted in the language.
If companies take criticism at face value and respond to the specific argument rather than the underlying issue, they miss the chance for real communication and relationship building at best, and devolve into angry discourse at worst.
Steps For Identifying and Responding to Criticism Online
1. Listen CAREFULLY – look for words that indicate judgment of merit – positive or negative (criticism can be positive, or neutral, too)
2. Sort Statements – Criticism is often buried in feedback and vice versa. Feedback can be taken at face value, but criticism should be addressed on par with what is actually being communicated below the surface.
3. Extract Meaning – What is really being stated here? Make sure you’re clear on what about your business is being criticized. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that seek clarification – this is perhaps a new development with social media – take advantage of this. Try your best to retrace the steps to discover this person’s pathway to judgment. Connect the dots between his/her experience and the resulting judgment.
4. Respond with Empathy – Even if the person doing the criticizing has a legitimate point, arguing specifics will only cause trouble and strengthen the firmness of the criticizer’s position. Empathize with their judgment: put yourself in their shoes and they’ll likely return the favor.
REMEMBER: Criticism always says more about the criticizer than it ever does about the criticizee. This is the nature of judgment. Our own experience provides a lens through which we view the world and everything in it.
5. Dodge Dogma – When you find the origin is a dogma that conflicts with the mission of your business, it may make sense to agree to disagree. Vegetarians will likely criticize manufacturers of meat products, those who feel strongly about environmental preservation will likely remain critical of the mining industry and so on. When dogmatic differences arise, own them. In most cases it will behoove you to be respectful of their beliefs, but don’t feel the need to placate them. Your critics with opposing dogmas will remain your critics and sharpen your appeal to others more aligned with your mission.
Don’t Just Say What You Mean, Explain
I had a realization recently about how the Internet encourages us to find information and derive meaning as an independent activity. The good part news is that this breeds a lot of diversity of thought. The bad news is we’re relying less on real definitions and instead relying on context and a general intuitive sense of what a word actually means.
If we’re confusing basic concepts in communication, what else are we confusing? Think about this the next time you talk with people about social media.
If familiar concepts like feedback and criticism can become confused, just think how different your definitions of terms related to social media or the social web in general can seem to your clients and colleagues… chances are, your definition of a blog isn’t theirs.
Your Feedback and/or Criticism Welcome Here!
Does knowing the definition of each of these words help you understand how to interpret and respond to critics, or am I simply splitting hairs?
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