How To Give and Take Constructive Criticism (With Examples)

Updated July 31, 2023

Giving and receiving constructive criticism can be difficult. Whether you're performing an annual review or implementing an employee improvement plan, offering effective criticism can be crucial to the growth and development of your team. And when you apply a variety of strategies for delivering constructive criticism, your employees can benefit from actionable feedback.

In this article, we discuss what constructive criticism is, its many benefits, what to say and what not to say when giving criticism and actionable advice for both delivering and receiving constructive criticism.

What is constructive criticism?

Constructive criticism is feedback that provides specific, actionable suggestions. Rather than providing general advice, constructive criticism gives specific recommendations on how to make positive improvements. Constructive criticism is clear, to the point and easy to put into action.

What are the benefits of constructive criticism?

Constructive criticism can be a part of implementing improvement strategies to help employees set and achieve their work goals. It can also create a positive atmosphere where the staff is comfortable asking questions, requesting assistance and offering their own feedback and ideas. Ultimately, constructive criticism can provide ways for your employees to better understand your expectations and how to meet and even exceed them.

Related: A Guide To Giving Constructive Criticism

5 tips for giving constructive criticism

Delivering constructive criticism can be an effective starting point for implementing improvement plans, setting objectives for developing skills and increasing overall growth in the workplace. Consider the following strategies for giving direct and actionable feedback:

  • Consider using the sandwich method.

  • Use the “I” language strategy.

  • Focus on the action or behavior.

  • Include specific positive praise.

  • Provide actionable feedback.

  • Use empathy

Consider using the sandwich method

The sandwich method delivers constructive criticism in between specific praise statements. With this strategy, an evaluation or employee review is opened with praise for what an employee has done well before discussing which aspects of their performance need improvement. The critique is then concluded with another specific praise.

Using the sandwich strategy can be an effective way to deliver actionable feedback to your employees. Consider approaching your employee review or meeting with the sandwich strategy by opening your conversation with praise about a success, high work ethic or met objective. Focus on offering productive advice and plans for improvement and offer your assistance before closing your conversation.

Tip: Consider writing out your feedback by listing what your positive praise will be, the area of improvement you will focus on and another specific praise for something done well or above expectations.

What to say: “The opening of the presentation gave a clear overview of what KPIs you plan on covering this quarter. However, the supporting outline of how the KPIs would be tracked seemed to be missing some key information like the target objectives and strategies that would be applied. If you revise your outline to include one to two specific objectives that the team will set and what strategies they will use to monitor progress, it would help to flesh out your project plan. The overall structure of your argument is strong, though, and by including the information we discussed, I feel like it would be a stronger presentation.”

What not to say: “The supporting outline of how the KPIs would be tracked seemed to be missing key information so it was confusing. The overall structure of your argument was strong but it wasn’t convincing because of the missing information.”

Use the “I” language strategy

Using phrases like “I think,” “I feel” and “I’d suggest” makes sure that the person receiving the feedback understands that the criticism is about the situation or behavior rather than about them as a person. It also reinforces your point of view, letting the other person know how you see the situation. This will make it easier for the other person to separate the criticism from himself and see where you are coming from.

When you use “I” statements to deliver constructive criticism, you can make sure the chances for miscommunication are eliminated. Focusing on how actions, results or product outputs affect your role and how it fits into the company can impact your staff because “I” language offers a way to open communication more effectively than leaving yourself out of the conversation.

Tip: When using “I” language, focus on how your employee’s performance has affected your job responsibilities, both positively and negatively. Make sure to include opportunities for improvement and offer your mentorship.

What to say: “I loved your idea for a new product implementation, however, I felt like the plan outline would be clearer if there were some concrete examples of the strategies we would use to carry out production.”

What not to say: “Your plan outline has to have some concrete examples of the strategies we would use.”

Read more: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

Focus on the action or behavior

When delivering constructive criticism it is important to focus on the specific action, outcome or behavior that you would like to see improve. For example, if one of your employees is not meeting call quotas for daily or weekly objectives, you would focus on what plan of action could be taken to help your employees increase their productivity and meet their quotas.

Similarly, when focusing on the action and improvement you would like to see occur, consider using non-specific language such as “the numbers,” “the performance” or “the project” rather than “your numbers,” “your performance” and “your project.” While it is always important for employees to accept accountability, consistently delivering criticism that emphasizes “you” rather than the situation can sometimes lead to less morale and productivity overall.

Tip: Consider writing out the specific items or actions that you would like to address and see improve before delivering your constructive criticism.

What to say: “Your presentation went well, however, it could have included more supporting evidence for your request to increase your department’s budget for new hires.

What not to say: “Your presentation did not convince me to increase your department’s budget for new hires.” 

Include specific positive praise

Offer specific praise for an employee’s productivity, performance, ability to exceed expectations or another success or achievement that was done well. This allows your employees to focus on the tasks and responsibilities that they perform satisfactorily or above standards. Then, they can apply those strengths to plans of improvement you may implement for weaker skills or performance. Additionally, praising your employees often and when merited can increase employee morale and motivation.

Tip: Consider focusing on two exceptional actions for every one critique you deliver when implementing constructive criticism.

Example: “The speech was exceptionally strong and well written. However, I felt like it could have been more effective had there been more emotion in it. You spoke very well and steady, especially through your introduction and closing, though with more emotion and tone the audience would have been more engaged.”

What not to say: “Your speech had no emotion. I found it hard to pay attention and my mind kept wandering.”

Related: The Importance of Positive Feedback and How to Deliver It to Others

Provide actionable feedback

When implementing constructive criticism, it is important to offer feedback that your employees can put into action immediately to achieve new objectives and improve their performance, productivity, skills or other areas. Consider discussing strategies that both you and the employee can use to work toward improvement

For instance, if employee productivity is low, you could create a daily checklist or spreadsheet to outline urgent tasks, important tasks and nice-to-have tasks. Then, employees can be held accountable for moving through their task lists and making sure expectations are met by initialing, writing checkmarks and having managers monitor the improvement. Likewise, you may consider setting incentives for meeting quotas or exceeding standards.

Tip: Focus on one improvement area at a time and work with employees to put development plans into action.

What to say: “Although tasks are being completed, the quality is suffering because of rushed work. Let’s figure out how we can improve quality while still meeting company expectations. How would you feel if we typed out an improvement plan detailing your mandatory and extra tasks? That way we can monitor how you are moving through your daily tasks. If it is a question of time management, then the outline can allow us to identify that and make a separate plan for that.”

What not to say: “Just because we’ve moved up your deadlines doesn’t mean the quality of your work can suffer. You need to figure out how to deliver the same quality work on a shorter deadline.”

Use empathy

An important key to constructive criticism is empathizing with the person who is receiving the feedback. Put yourself in their position and think about how you would want to hear the criticism and what specific words would be most helpful to you.

Tip: Consider what would be helpful to the other person.

What to say: “I thought your presentation today included a lot of important metrics that I hadn’t considered before and it helped me understand our company’s financial health in a new way. But I was confused by two of the new metrics you introduced in the revenue projection and it would help me to see the exact formulas you used so I can understand the role these metrics are playing in our revised budget.”

What not to say: “Your presentation was confusing and you introduced a lot of new numbers that didn’t make sense to me so I can’t trust your final projections.”

Read more: Empathic Skills: Definitions and Examples

Constructive criticism vs destructive criticism

There are key differences between criticism that helps someone improve and criticism that is only discouraging. Here are some main points to remember:

  • Constructive criticism encourages someone to learn and grow.

  • Destructive criticism discourages someone and makes them feel inadequate.

  • Constructive criticism is specific and includes action plans.

  • Destructive criticism is vague and confusing.

  • Constructive criticism is delivered in a respective, empathetic manager.

  • Destructive criticism often includes harsh and confusing language.

How to receive constructive criticism

It’s important to show colleagues and supervisors that you are open to learning new things and doing things in a different way. Being able to graciously accept criticism will make other people feel comfortable in giving you feedback and will help you grow in your career. Keep these things in mind when receiving feedback:

  • Don’t take criticism personally

  • Don’t get defensive

  • Listen to what the other person is saying

  • Don’t interrupt the person speaking

  • Ask questions if you’re unclear about something that was said

  • Use empathy to hear the other person’s point of view

Read more: Steps To Handle Criticism at Work

Frequently asked questions

What are the four most important parts of constructive criticism?

There are four important parts to providing constructive criticism. They are the following:

  • Demonstrate the behavior you want others to emulate

  • Use real, specific examples of what you want to improve

  • Describe how and why you have a specific reaction to the unwanted behavior

  • Give the recipient the opportunity to respond to each part of the process since they may have a different viewpoint than you

What are the consequences of constructive criticism?

Sometimes, any criticism is unwelcome, and the other person may not listen to you. You may find a better time to offer criticism, especially if it can help them. Communicating what you need from others can help build trust and enable them to work toward meeting your requests at work.

Is constructive criticism necessary?

If you work with others or lead a team, constructive criticism is necessary for professional growth and development. It can help you develop better communication skills and maintain a positive, growth-oriented mindset. It can also help others find things to improve about their work processes, creating cumulative growth that can cause a large-scale positive change within the organization.


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