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How to Give Constructive Criticism: 6 tips For Giving Criticism the Right Way

April 3, 2023

You can't improve if you don't know where you're falling short, but a few factors often get in the way of these learning opportunities. Ego, emotions, and insensitivity oftentimes intertwine with criticism, destroying productive feedback and leaving managers and direct reports with nothing but pain, embarrassment, and anger.

There's a better way.

Constructive criticism is the antidote to modern-day feedback. It helps leaders say the right thing, at the right time, with the right intent to create beneficial change. However, delivering constructive criticism is easier said than done. It's an art that needs practice and perfecting.

Below, we'll walk through a few must-know tips for how to give constructive criticism. But first—let's get on the same page about what constructive criticism is (and isn't).

What Is Constructive Criticism?

Constructive criticism is a strategic way of delivering feedback that lifts others up (rather than tearing them down). It focuses on being candid and respectful at the same time, with the end goal of making recipients better.

While constructive criticism isn't always positive, it's delivered in a way that focuses on building the individual. Constructive criticism is all about the intent, tone, delivery, and practical feedback.

Constructive vs. Deconstructive Criticism

Understanding what constructive criticism is not can be just as valuable when learning to give feedback the right way. The opposite of constructive criticism is deconstructive criticism, and this is (unfortunately) the classic form of feedback we think about when we hear the word criticism.

Our thoughts are drawn to music and art critics who tear apart performers and artists over nitty-gritty details. And most of these critiques come down to opinions—not facts. 

Deconstructive criticism doesn't help anyone. It's typically an attack on a person and their work with little recommendation for improvement. The intent is usually to hurt, and it's rarely actionable feedback. This type of criticism tends to have poor delivery in the wrong setting and at the wrong time.

How to Give Constructive Criticism: 6 Practical Tips

The first time you intend to give constructive criticism probably won't go perfectly, and that's OK. Learning to give criticism the right way takes time, practice, and conscious effort. Below, we've outlined a few tips that'll help you on your journey to giving better feedback.

However, remember that feedback is a two-way street. You can do everything in your power to deliver feedback effectively, but it's still up to the recipient to do their part to be open to hearing, receiving, and acting on that feedback.

1. Make Your Feedback Actionable

Give the person feedback they can use. Instead of saying, "Your writing needs to improve," you could suggest the following:

  • "There's a free course on YouTube that could help improve your grammar."
  • "Writing for our company's internal blog could give you more writing experience."
  • "I could set up a meeting with our lead writer or editor to give you a few pointers."

Actionable feedback like this gives the person something they can do to improve, and you providing recommendations shows that you care (rather than just pointing out flaws).

2. Share Criticisms Privately

Don't criticise an employee or their work in public. Public settings aren't the right place to have these conversations, and it'll most likely lead to embarrassment or anger for the employee and those emotions won't help them receive the feedback, regardless of how constructive or well-meaning it is.

Instead, use one-on-one meetings to discuss areas of improvement and ways to do so.

3. Be Timely With Feedback

You don't have to wait for an employee review cycle to share constructive criticism. Instead, offer it as soon as you can when you notice an opportunity. 

If you feel like an employee needs to improve at something, set up a quick meeting with them to chat. Waiting another three months until the next review meeting will lead to poor performance for them and the company—and that's something that could be nipped in the bud with an earlier conversation.

4. Don't Make It Personal

Avoid talking about the employee's character. Focus on actions instead of personality. For example, if an employee is turning in projects late, your feedback shouldn't be accusing them that they're lazy or poor at managing projects. 

Instead, you might ask them why they're falling behind and what they think they can do to improve. You might come out of the meeting finding that they're swamped with too much work or that a core piece of technology is slowing down their workflows. 

5. Take Ownership of the Feedback

Be upfront about your feedback. Don't hide behind others with phrases like "we" or "us." Instead, use "I" statements. This means, state things you noticed or want to bring up with "I" and "me" statements.

It's hard for the employee to have a conversation with you if it's "management's problem" or an "issue with HR." Take ownership of the feedback so that the employee knows they can communicate directly rather than feeling like there's a middle person.

6. Listen

Constructive criticism comes in the form of a conversation. Speak your piece, but then listen to what the recipient has to say. It's not necessarily a time for excuses, but it is a time to be heard and understood. You might find underperformance has nothing to do with expertise or engagement, and it might have more to do with co-worker conflict or even issues outside of work.

Next Steps

Learn about how Terryberry's  360 Recognition Platform can begin to motive your team today. Schedule a demo with us and see how our online platform can make recognition easy and effective. Terryberry can also assist in designing a stellar incentives program to ignite your team's potential and fuel their drive to achieve targeted goals.



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