I recently read an article on how to provide negative feedback to improve employee performance and I thought "how can feedback that improves be negative -- isn't that a contradiction?". So I googled ‘negative feedback’ and found a list of articles and advise on how to give someone constructive criticism or negative feedback to help them improve something.
What I find most interesting and somewhat contradictory is the notion that feedback which improves my skill is negative. Consider the Olympic athlete whose coach provides constant feedback (much of which, in this context, would be negative) on how to get better ultimately resulting in a gold medal. The fact that the coach had to explain to the athlete what they were doing wrong, so they could correct it and become great or world-class does not sound like negative feedback to me. It actually sounds positive! If I am competing for a gold medal (or anything for that matter) I want to be the best (win) and any feedback that helps me achieve my goal is positive.
I don't consider feedback itself as either positive or negative but rather as information that either reinforces what I am doing is working or information that allows me to grow -- and yes learn. Learning implies that we don’t know and must be open to feedback. Attaching a negative value to providing feedback, i.e constructive criticism, [to improve performance] reduces the likelihood that an 'opportunity-for-growth-or-learning-conversation' will be as effective as it could be and may actually be an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience – which does not enhance learning or support capability building.
Therefore if we simply reframe it, from ‘let me tell you what you did wrong/ how you messed up’ to let me help you be more effective and successful in realizing your intended goals’ the same conversation becomes positive-- effective.