Giving and Receiving Criticism Using the FISH! Philosophy

Published On: May 24, 2023Categories: Blog

Learning to give and receive criticism professionally and effectively is hands-down one of the most important professional skills anybody can learn, but also hands-down one of the hardest. Hearing we’ve done something wrong is a huge emotional trigger for most people, and conversely, most of us who pride ourselves on being generally nice and respectful people get huge anxiety at the thought of providing critical feedback to someone else.

Criticism is an unavoidable part of life, whether in work, relationships, friendships, and family dynamics, and for good reason: constructive feedback is how we learn and improve ourselves and can lead to personal growth rather than emotional or professional stagnation.

However, it must be handled carefully. Because of these difficult emotional dynamics, just about all of us have seen feedback handled ineffectively: the receiver may shut down or explode emotionally without internalizing or learning the lessons they need, or the giver may ping-pong back and forth between being overly aggressive or blunt and hurting someone’s feelings and being overly timid or vague in a way that lets people off the hook.

So how can you use the FISH! Philosophy skills you’re already practicing to help you approach criticism in the healthiest way possible, both as someone giving criticism as well as receiving it?

Build a culture and foundation of feedback 

If the only time you give feedback to your team is when something is wrong or when you have something critical to correct, odds are that feedback isn’t being taken to heart as much as it could. By only offering criticism, your team is learning that any time you say “can we talk?” they need to brace themselves for emotional turmoil.

And this bluntness can also undercut your point: if your team sees that the only feedback you give is negative, they’ll start to see you as a negative person and discount the learning opportunities these discussions can provide. After all, how easy is it to dismiss constructive feedback when you think of the person giving it as a curmudgeon or a “negative Nancy?”

It’s been observed that the most effective workplace teams have an average of 5 positive comments to every 1 piece of negative feedback–they’ve developed a foundation of building each other up, which means the occasional bit of constructive criticism is taken as sincere, genuine, and useful.

So how does this tie back to the FISH! Philosophy? Well, the core pillars of FISH! are how you create these foundations. When you have a workplace culture that practices Being There for each other emotionally, feedback is more likely to be taken to heart. And when you consistently find ways to Make Their Day with your team via compliments, affirmations, and small moments of joy, you put them at ease because they know you’re not only approaching them with negative feedback.

 Know your objective before providing feedback

 A lot of ineffective criticism stems from the giver not identifying what their goal is for the interaction. They see someone doing something differently than they themselves would, and automatically assume that the action needs to be corrected rather than considering if it’s simply different rather than worse. But if you really think about your objective, it’s probably not “make someone feel bad” but rather “improve the efficiency of the team” or “help this person be their best self,” and with these goals in mind, you may want to consider engaging differently.

It sounds strange, but approaching critical feedback with a sense of Play can be greatly effective: Rather than simply assuming we know best, approach your interaction with an open mind and ask open-ended questions like “what happened?,” “what did you want to happen?,” and “what could be done differently next time?”

When people are expecting to be chewed out, this conversational approach can make them feel more comfortable, less on-edge, and more willing to share their real feelings and consider how they can do things differently in the future.

Focus on strengths, not weaknesses 

What’s the difference between constructive feedback and simple negative criticism? For one, the former empowers the receiver to do better by considering their actions, while the latter tends to make people feel small and demoralized.

If you find that people are consistently reacting poorly to your professional feedback, one of the easiest ways to improve the interactions is to focus on the strengths of the person in question, rather than perceived weaknesses. A Harvard Business Review study found that when corrective conversations were framed in the negative (eg: “how can you fix this problem?”), peoples’ brains went into fight-or-flight mode as they were put on the defensive. But when the issue was reframed in a more strengths-focused orientation (eg: “what are your goals, and how can you do your best to achieve them?” activated the parts of the brain associated with relaxation and creativity.

But this doesn’t always come naturally to us–which means it’s a perfect opportunity to Choose Your Attitude. If you make a conscious effort to go into these conversations with a focus on strengths, goals, and positivity rather than simply calling out negatives, you’re likely to see immediate positive results.

Receive criticism with self awareness and acceptance

So far, we’ve spent all our words on advice for giving critical feedback effectively. But for many (if not most) of us, receiving criticism in a healthy way is just as difficult, if not moreso. And the truth is, receiving negative feedback is never easy. At its core, it involves someone telling us that something we’ve done is not good enough or needs to be improved, and that hurts. But it doesn’t need to be derailing, and by framing criticism appropriately, you can use it to improve yourself and your life.

When you receive critical feedback, this is your chance to Choose Your Attitude to make the most of the situation. You can default to a defensive attitude that gets angry, gets sad, and leads you to dismissing otherwise potentially helpful feedback, or you can be more intentional and choose an attitude of self awareness and acceptance.

With the latter, you acknowledge that this feedback is coming whether you like it or not, and allows you to engage in the situation with a confidence in yourself and your strengths that serves as a scaffolding to support you while you reflect on areas of self-improvement.

By Choosing Your Attitude, you learn to accept feedback as an inevitable part of life and frame it as an opportunity to learn and practice being your best self, which can turn otherwise awkward or uncomfortable situations into real, genuine learning experiences.

Ideas to Reflect On:

  • As a team leader, how do people most commonly respond when you present them with constructive criticism? Are these responses what you hope?
  • Does your work culture have a norm of sharing feedback openly and frequently, and does that feedback include not just constructive criticism, but praise as well?
  • When someone presents you with constructive feedback, how do you respond? How can you more deliberately choose an attitude of awareness and acceptance?

Whether you work in business, education, or healthcare, FISH! offers accessible, intuitive solutions to empower your workers, bring your team together, and avoid the symptoms of impending burnout. We invite you to contact us today at 800.695.4534 or to speak with our cultural specialists, who will help you find the right FISH! Philosophy solutions that will nurture your organizational culture and motivate your team!

Want to Implement FISH! in your organization?

Are you a leader?  Do you train others?  Do you want others to be leaders?

Charthouse Learning, the creator of the world-famous, award-winning, FISH! film is offering an in-person, 2-day workshop, interactive Train-the-Trainer lead by our Senior Trainer.

During our time together you’ll learn how to:

  • Share the motivation and foundation of FISH!
  • Introduce the FISH! film with the four practices.
  • Present the invitation to apply the practices in everyday interaction with others.
  • Build a sustainability and reinforcement program to transform the culture.
  • Pick up tips from other FISH! Philosophers and develop a strategy to embed the practices into the DNA of your culture.
  • Create an energized organization that is the “first choice” for employees, faculty, staff, leaders, and customers.

Plus, you will learn how to create a workplace where people choose to “be and bring” their best self everywhere, every day.

At the FISH! Train the Trainer you will:

  • Dive Deep: Discover The FISH! Philosophy – full of “A-ha!” takeaways and perspective-shifting realizations.
  • Transform: Make the four FISH! practices – Play, Be There, Make Their Day and Choose Your Attitude – an essential part of your professional and personal skill set.
  • Discover: Learn practical ways to apply the FISH! practices to improve teamwork, service, leadership, retention and performance.
  • Develop: Brainstorm strategies to embed The FISH! Philosophy into the DNA of your culture, strengthening your mission, vision and values.
  • Collaborate: Learn and laugh with like-minded folks from across the globe.

Click Here for More FISH! Train the Trainer Information

FISH! Executive Briefing

You have probably heard about the Culture Shift in the news. Organizations are struggling to find talent, employee morale is low, retention is a common goal and customers are dissatisfied with buying experiences.

These are all symptoms of an underlying challenge leadership is faced with every day, regardless of the industry. You can look for temporary relief or an overall, long-term cure.

Join us for a 60-minute webinar on the world-famous, award-winning FISH! practices.

Click Here for More FISH! Executive Briefing Information


Whether you work in business, education, or healthcare, FISH! offers accessible, intuitive solutions to empower your workers, bring your team together, and introduce Play into your organization. We invite you to contact us today at 800.695.4534 or to speak with our cultural specialists, who will help you find the right FISH! Philosophy solutions that will nurture your organizational culture and motivate your team!

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