How To Give Constructive Criticism

Updated September 27, 2023

Constructive criticism is an essential part of an effective workplace. Providing accurate and actionable constructive criticism motivates individuals to make positive changes in their behavior. There are a few things to consider in order to give constructive criticism that employees or coworkers will receive. In this article, we will discuss what constructive criticism is and how to give it effectively.

What is constructive criticism?

Constructive criticism is a set of instructions or specific recommendations given to someone to help them make a positive change. When you provide constructive criticism to employees, your focus should be to tell them what they can do better rather than telling them what they did wrong.

Read more: Understanding Constructive Criticism: Definition, Tips and Examples

How to give constructive criticism

If you need to provide constructive criticism to someone you work with, consider reviewing good ways to communicate feedback before you talk to them. Here are 12 steps that will help you deliver constructive criticism:

  1. Consider your timing.

  2. Focus on the situation instead of the person.

  3. Start with what is working.

  4. Keep it private.

  5. Use illustrations.

  6. Give specific suggestions for improvement.

  7. Avoid making assumptions.

  8. Set positive goals.

  9. Make it a conversation.

  10. Use "I" statements.

  11. Discuss impact.

  12. Maintain communication.

1. Consider your timing

Try planning to give constructive criticism at a time that is convenient for the person receiving criticism. People are more likely to be receptive to your criticism when you are thoughtful about their schedules. It may be best to consider giving constructive criticism when an employee's workload is lessened and they are not dealing with multiple pending deadlines

For example, you may consider waiting a day or a few hours to provide constructive criticism to an employee after they've given a presentation in a meeting. The employee is more likely to be relaxed and less defensive if the criticism isn't given immediately following a presentation they gave or a project they recently submitted.

2. Focus on the situation instead of the person

Try to help the individual you are providing constructive criticism to feel encouraged instead of attacked. To do this, try to focus on the situation instead of what the person did incorrectly. For instance, you may talk about a presentation they gave and say, "I think your presentation could use more visual elements such as graphs and charts to help you communicate how the data impacts our company."

3. Start with what is working

Tell your employee or colleague what worked well with something they did before you provide them suggestions on how they may improve. This helps keep the feedback positive and honest.

Related: How To Deal With Critics and Accept Criticism

4. Keep it private

Try giving constructive criticism in private so you have time to explain your feedback and your reasons for providing the feedback. Private constructive criticism may also help your employees or colleagues feel more comfortable and less singled out.

5. Use illustrations

When you make a point when giving constructive criticism, try using inspiring stories or personal anecdotes to help you illustrate your point to the individual. Using illustrations may help the person focus less on their mistakes, and it provides them with an idea of how they may do better in the future.

6. Give specific suggestions for improvement

The person you provide criticism to should be aware of how they can improve. Let them know exactly what they should do to improve using specific examples. For example, if a coworker isn't known to clean up after themselves in the break room, you may say, "Could you help more with maintaining the cleanliness of the break room by wiping the table after you eat? I don't want the upkeep to fall on one person since the whole team uses the break room."

Related: How To Take Constructive Criticism and Use It To Improve

7. Avoid making assumptions

The best way to avoid assumptions while providing someone with constructive criticism is to use only the facts you know about the subject and the person, leaving opinions out of it.

8. Set positive goals

An employee's performance is likely to improve when you communicate positive goals you'd like to see them achieve in the future instead of focusing on what they did in the past. This provides your employee with a positive challenge or opportunity to improve themselves which focuses on competition rather than threats.

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

9. Make it a conversation

Try to use open communication when you provide constructive criticism by allowing the individual to respond to what you are saying or ask questions. You may learn something about the person that helps you to adapt your criticism and advice further into the conversation. Constructive criticism is most effective when it is tailored to the person you give it to rather than a standard set of rules.

10. Use "I" statements

Using "I" statements such as "I feel" or "I think" helps to lessen accusatory statements in constructive criticism. This helps the recipient of your criticism to be more receptive to what you are saying.

11. Discuss impact

Effective constructive criticism discusses the impact a person's behavior or performance has on the company or other coworkers. Let the individual know why you are giving them constructive criticism and then follow it up with an action.

Related: Growing Your Career: Learning From Negative Feedback

12. Maintain communication

Once you provide constructive criticism, make sure to follow up with the individual to see how they have improved. Let them know if there is anything else you may do to help or any questions you may answer. This encourages the employee to follow through on the criticism you gave and may result in positive changes.

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Tips for giving constructive criticism

Here are a few tips you may consider to give constructive criticism:

  • Be kind. Many people have a difficult time accepting criticism, so try to think about how you can state your comments in the kindest way possible to remain respectful.

  • Lead by example. Try to make sure you are following your own advice before you provide someone with constructive criticism. This makes it easier for employees to trust you and to accept your feedback.

  • Ask questions. Provide your employees with suggestions, but ultimately let them make their own decisions. Try using phrases such as, "Do you think that would work?" or "What do you think?". This helps the employee become a part of the problem-solving, which may lead to better solutions.

  • Be empathetic. The employee or coworker you provide constructive criticism to may not understand what they are doing wrong. Try to understand that there may be a reason for the way they behave, perform or act to avoid taking it personally.

  • Agree on a goal. Ask your employee or colleague to agree on a shared goal such as finishing a project or increasing sales and then use that goal as a driving factor for your constructive criticism.

Related: How To Deal With Critics and Accept Criticism

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