8 Tips On How To Give & Take Constructive Criticism At Work

Most people don’t like criticism, especially in the workplace. Have you ever been on the receiving end of it? Do you remember your physical reactions? Did you stop listening to them? Maybe you became angry and defensive or even hurled back criticism. 

It’s human nature to reject that type of negative, destructive criticism. But when it comes to positive, constructive criticism, there are benefits to listening and remaining open-minded. 

As a manager, you want your team members to improve continuously. So, how you deliver constructive criticism to them can either lead to your employee shutting down or provide them with an opportunity to grow. Easier said than done, right?

This article will explore constructive criticism and eight tips for giving and receiving it. When constructive criticism is crafted and delivered well, and the other person receives it in a positive light, it can strengthen morale and fortify your company’s commitment to a learning culture.

What is Constructive Criticism?

Constructive criticism is clear, positive feedback that’s specific, well-timed, and actionable. If you’ve noticed that an employee who is usually on the ball is suddenly underperforming, you don’t want to criticize in the traditional sense. Instead, you’d want to pull them aside, point out what they are doing well, disclose what aspects of their job could be improved upon, and then provide them with solutions and resources to get back on track.

Benefits of Constructive Criticism

Unlike its negative, destructive counterpart, there are numerous benefits to giving and receiving constructive criticism:

  • Hones listening skills
  • Improves empathy
  • Encourages introspection and reflection
  • Helps inspire and motivate growth
  • Creates learning opportunities
  • Builds stronger workplace relationships
  • Reinforces your company’s commitment to learning and growth

To reap as many benefits as possible, you’ll need to learn the art of giving constructive criticism. Let’s explore the tips you’ll want to consider before you do.

Tips For Giving & Receiving Constructive Criticism

4 Tips For Giving Constructive Criticism

Follow these four tips to improve your communication with employees when giving constructive criticism.

1. Stick to the Facts

If your employee is underperforming or not reaching a significant milestone, you’ll need to discuss it with them so they can improve. That starts with articulating the issue in a clear and detailed way. Rather than focusing on what you were hoping they would have done or how the employee’s actions could affect X, Y, or Z other issues, you’ll want to stick to the facts.

For constructive criticism to be effective, it must be detailed and specific. Otherwise, how would your employee fully understand the issue or what they need to do to improve it?

2. Be Mindful of the Timing

As they say, “timing is everything.” That couldn’t be more true when delivering constructive criticism. You’ll need to tune into the employee. For instance, if you’ve noticed their morale has been low, it might be a good idea to pull them aside and address that first. Show them you care and listen to what’s going on with them. 

Doing this will show them you genuinely care and clear the air before delivering constructive criticism later. That way, they’ll more likely be open to receiving it. Here are a few other factors to consider to get your timing just right:

  • Day of the Week – Aim to deliver constructive criticism mid-week. Mondays are difficult for many of us, and when Friday rolls around, most are excited for the weekend. Providing constructive criticism mid-week can give them time to reflect and ask questions.
  • Time of the Year – The holiday season is fast approaching. Avoid offering constructive criticism right before everyone takes off to celebrate. Instead, shoot for weeks before that point, allowing the employee to reflect and engage you in conversation. Or, wait until after the new year when you both return rested and ready for a fresh start.
  • Consider the Employee’s Workload – If your employee is behind on their regular workload, and you sense they’re feeling overwhelmed, hold off on providing constructive criticism. That’s because when you deliver it, you want them to be receptive to what you’re saying, not distracted by other things they need to do.

3. Offer Actionable Feedback & Sandwich the “Criticism”

Once you’re ready to talk with your employee, you must ensure you’re offering actionable feedback. That means providing feedback that allows them to learn and achieve actual results. Think about it this way–they can fix what they don’t understand, right? Constructive criticism that contains actionable feedback can be the teachable moment they may need.

That leads us to how you deliver that feedback–which is just as important as the feedback itself. We prefer the sandwich method. In general, start with a positive statement, then offer constructive criticism before ending with another positive point. 

By sandwiching the criticism between two positive points, you invite them in and create a safe space by opening on a positive note. Once you’ve delivered the criticism, you’re leaving the employee with an affirmation rather than a critique. You’ll remind the employee that you value their improvement and growth.

4. Give Necessary Support

For constructive criticism to lead to improvement, you need to equip your employee with the necessary support and resources to resolve the problem. But how do you determine the best course of action?

We recommend parsing the issues/problems your employee is struggling with to unveil the most appropriate solution tailored for them. For instance, if their problem-solving skills are lacking, you could allow them to work with their team on improving them.

Or, let’s say you’ve noticed a team-wide issue with motivation and a lack of effective communication skills. You could plan an activity like Squad Game that would allow everyone to work through those issues and show them the company is committed to their individual and collective growth.

4 Tips For Receiving Constructive Criticism

No matter your rank in the company, you’ll likely be on the receiving end of constructive criticism one way or another. If you find yourself in that position, remember to think of it as an opportunity to grow. Let’s explore our top four tips to remember if you end up on the receiving end.

Let Constructive Criticism Sink In

Even the most polished constructive criticism can make any recipient have a knee-jerk reaction. After all, that’s human nature. Resist the urge to respond right away. You might do so out of emotion instead of logic. 

Plus, if you’re focusing on your response instead of listening to the feedback, you might miss an opportunity to fully understand the root of the issue that led to the feedback in the first place. We recommend keeping an open mind. Listen to the feedback and avoid tuning out. And then reflect on what they said before responding.

Don’t Take it Personally

Remember, constructive criticism isn’t about your value as a person. Instead, it’s about acknowledging a new perspective on your work that can help you grow and level up in your role.

After listening to the constructive criticism, we recommend reflecting on it by asking yourself any one or all of the following questions:

  • Do I fully understand the scope of the issues on the table, or was the feedback confusing?
  • What can I do immediately to address those issues? What can I do long-term to resolve them?
  • What might be preventing me from resolving those issues? And what can I do about those barriers?
  • What support or resources will I need to resolve those issues?

Remember the Benefits of Feedback

Nobody’s perfect, which means there’s always room to improve, no matter your position in the company. That’s how employees advance and businesses grow. Changing your mindset about receiving constructive criticism can make you more open to it—and its ultimate goal–to help you improve.

Take a look at the following benefits of welcoming constructive criticism:

  • It provides you with a different perspective on your work.
  • It gives you a learning opportunity and space to improve and grow.
  • It shows you the deliverer is invested in your improvement and values your growth.

Ask Questions and Keep the Conversation Going

Just because you’re receiving constructive criticism doesn’t mean it’s a one-way conversation. Instead, once you’ve had time to reflect on what was said, you’ll want to ask questions. Maybe their feedback was unclear. If so, ask them to explain or offer a specific example of what they mean. Perhaps you’re not sure how to fix the issues they addressed. Ask them for the appropriate support and resources to get back on track.

It’s important to remember that your commitment to growth is an ongoing process. So, keep the conversation going and discuss ways you can continue evolving.

Ready to Commit to Your Team’s Continuous Improvement?

Whether you’re doling out constructive criticism or find yourself on the receiving end, it may be challenging to deliver [or remain open to it]. Remember that the end goal of effective constructive criticism is to build trust and a safe space for an employee to grow.

You’ll want to provide them with the resources and opportunities to do just that. Whether you choose individually tailored support or more of a collective, company-wide growth opportunity, keep in mind that taking strides to improve communication can help your team reach their full potential.

Anna Webber

Team Contributor

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