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Feedback or complaints – which makes us better?

A culture of feedback is a great thing. It gives people an opportunity to improve performance in a timely way. According to Josh Bersin, “feedback is a gift.” A culture of complaining can hurt morale and drive toxic attitudes. Complaints lead to dissatisfaction, rarely to better performance. What are the distinctions?

Feedback is general; complaints are specific. Complaints are often situational or personal. Usually they expressed in a negative way. Effective complaints will include a remedy so that a change results. A single complaint often has nothing specific to address.

Feedback is more inclusive and most often is focused on the work, although there are times when feedback is personal. Feedback related to work is most effective when one learns what they are doing well first – and then, what needs to improve. When feedback is personal to you or about someone else, there should be specific examples; negative or positive. Was this a single experience or has the situation evolved over time? Most people perceive feedback as positive; a way in which they can be more effective.

Feedback is constructive; complaints demean. When someone provides feedback, a suggestion for improvement is included if the feedback also includes a negative message. Being told that you were simply being “unhelpful” tells you nothing. The suggestion that you did not handle the customer complaints in a meaningful way provides more support in allowing improvement.

A complaint that you appear to always be negative in meetings is demeaning. Such a statement demonstrates little understanding of your situation or appreciation of who you are. What does one do with this information? Hard to tell.

Feedback is mature; complaints are insecure. A culture of feedback is what most organizations hope for. Sometimes, changes, difficult decisions, problems or other issues require timely and candid feedback. The mature organization encourages people to learn and develop their capacity to contribute. Feedback is key to making your organization more effective.

The reality of organizational life is that people do complain. Yes, some complaints are worth investigating. However, most are based on personal conflicts of a lack of confidence in the individual making the complaint. Assume that people are good and want to be better. Skip the complaint and turn your energy into providing feedback. You and the organization will be better for it.

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