Learn how to effectively dish it out… and take it too!

We won't beat around the bush. The words constructive criticism are enough to strike fear into the heart of any professional. Whether you're the one giving or receiving the feedback, having a potentially awkward conversation is never going to be the highlight of your week. However, as you know all too well, it's the key to a fine-tuned company. 

Having clear, open, and honest communication in the workplace is vital. It gives each member of staff the chance to excel and reach their full potential. In the long-term, constructive criticism benefits both the employee and the whole organisation. Chances are, you already know that. But it doesn't make having that “quick chat” any easier. 

Take a deep breath and relax. We've got you covered. In the following guide, we'll take a look at everything you need to know about giving and receiving constructive criticism the right way. Read on to learn all about the value of this specific approach and our top tips. 

What is constructive criticism?

First things first, let's kick things off with a constructive criticism definition. It means giving feedback to someone to help them improve where they are lacking. Most of the time, this type of feedback acknowledges both the positives and negatives of the situation. 

Rather than simply attacking the person who is receiving the feedback, constructive criticism highlights the ways that they can change the situation. For example, the person giving the feedback may signpost them to additional support or training opportunities.

Learning how to give proper constructive feedback strengthens your leadership skills. When you're managing a team, you need to communicate challenges to the group and look for ways to overcome them. Similarly, as a team member, you need to have the right approach when receiving constructive feedback so that you can enhance your skills. 

Constructive criticism vs. deconstructive criticism

Before we go any further, it's worth looking at a key difference. Managers often fail to see the distinction between constructive criticism and deconstructive criticism. 

As we've already covered, constructive criticism gives the person a chance to improve the situation and look for actionable solutions. 

On the other hand, deconstructive criticism puts all of the emphasis on the problem and offers no solution. It is about blaming the person receiving the criticism and not giving them any support in changing things. 

As a manager, you should be looking to offer constructive criticism whenever possible. Rather than merely drawing attention to problems in the workplace, you need to make sure that you're offering solid solutions and working with your team to overcome the issues. 

Benefits of constructive criticism

While deconstructive criticism can leave a person feeling down in the dumps, constructive criticism gives them the opportunity to grow. It should come as no surprise that there are plenty of benefits to this style of feedback. Let's take a look at a few now: 

  • Builds confidence 

If an employee is continually making mistakes, their confidence will fall through the floorboards. There's nothing worse than feeling as though you can do no right. Constructive criticism helps them to pinpoint the problem and look for solutions. Chances are, the staff member doesn't know where they're going wrong. Giving them a chance to see the errors they are making - and overcome them - will boost their confidence. 

  • Learning opportunity 

Career development is all about learning and developing. One of the wonderful things about constructive criticism is that it gives people the chance to learn. When done right,  the manager should offer viable solutions to the problem at hand. That may mean a mentoring scheme, some extra support, or even a training programme that suits them. 

  • Collaboration 

Constructive criticism should be an open dialogue between two professionals. It's all about collaborating with one another and - as such - it can help people to develop this core skill. Whether you're the one giving or receiving the feedback, the fact that you're working with someone else towards a shared goal is a positive step for your professional life.

How to give constructive criticism 

Now that you know all about the importance of this task, let's talk about how to give constructive criticism. Let's say that you've identified a snag in your ranks. 

For example, an employee may keep CC-ing the wrong people into email chains, causing potential privacy breaches. Once you're aware of the issue, you need to give them feedback. If you've never done this before, you may be quaking in your boots. Follow our tips to getting it right here:  

  • Choose the right time to offer feedback 

Timing is everything. If you have difficult news to share with a staff member, the sooner you do it, the better. You've noticed a problem - the last thing you want to do is allow it to fester in your mind. Schedule a meeting with the team member as soon as you can. That way, the incident in question will still be fresh in both of your minds when you speak. 

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. If your department is up against a deadline, you might want to put the feedback on the backburner. Trying to speak to an already frazzled employee about their flaws is never going to end well. Give them a break! 

  • Be specific about the problem

Once you've got them in the room, it's time to say what you mean and mean what you say. Your gut feeling may be to dance around things and talk about everything but the problem. 

Sure, there's nothing more British than kicking things off with a nice “Lovely weather we're having” and then musing on the latest Met Office predictions for 10 minutes. However, prolonging this conversation may mean that the issue gets lost in translation. 

Focus directly on the issue and give details wherever possible. For example, you could say “I've noticed that you have been CC-ing the whole Comms team into emails that should only be going to Directors. I'd recommend double-checking before you send them.” A statement like this one leaves no room for confusion and tackles the problem head-on.

  • Don't overcomplicate things 

Are you tempted to use the sandwich technique? You might want to say “You're a great employee. Yes, you were late with your presentation but it was high quality as always.” While there's nothing wrong with complimenting the person you're giving feedback to, make sure it doesn't weaken your overall argument. If you skew this too far towards the positive end, you might confuse them. You want the other person to focus on the issue.

Once you've outlined the issue and worked together to solve it, you can talk about the positives. For example, you might say “When you've made these changes to your approach, I can see you becoming one of the best assistants we have.” Show the employee that you're looking forward to a positive future with them by your side. 

  • Make sure you get the tone right 

We learn how to read people's voices in infancy and, in particular, which tones convey different emotions. That's a fancy way of saying that the other person will know if you've got a low-key angry tone going on. You might be annoyed that they keep messing up but you cannot allow that to come across in your voice. Before you speak to them, make sure that you are cool, calm, and collected. Take some deep breaths and balance yourself. 

  • Use sentences starting with “I”

Stop playing the blame game. If you start your feedback with an accusatory “you,” the person receiving the feedback will raise their walls. There's nothing worse than feeling as though you're being attacked and it's human nature to try to protect yourself. To get better results, you should approach the subject from your perspective, using “I” statements.

This subtle change in your language puts distance between the person and the problem. It means that they can clearly look at the issue from your point of view and, therefore, better understand it. That way, you can both look for ways to tackle the obstacle together. 

  • Give the other person space to react 

Nobody likes hearing bad news. Think about a time when you've received constructive criticism. Although it was likely necessary, it may have stung. That's perfectly okay. Show some empathy for the other person and give them a minute to react. If they need to step outside for a moment, allow them to do so. You might want to suggest that they go and get a hot drink or take a walk around the block so that they can calmly collect their thoughts.

  • Offer plausible solutions to the issue

You've outlined what the problem is. Well done! The next step is to look at plausible solutions to the problem. It's no good simply stating that there is an issue if you have no idea how to solve it. No, that lands firmly in the deconstructive criticism pile. Before you speak to the employee, you should have already mapped out the available options. 

However, this is by no means a solo mission. The best phrase you can use here is “How can we work together to overcome this problem?” Those kind words show the staff member that they are not alone in this battle – you're right there next to them. When you've asked the question, you can put forward your ideas and welcome theirs too. 

  • Talk about what the next steps are 

The hard part is over. You've spoken about the problem and worked together to identify a good solution - what happens next? Make sure that you speak about what the following steps are and how you both hope to achieve them. You might put together an action plan, for example. Finally, you can choose a date to revisit this issue and review the changes.

Examples of constructive criticism

Looking for some more inspiration? Don't panic - we've got everything that you need. If it's your first time delivering constructive feedback, you might find that words fail you. To get those creative juices flowing, here are some simple constructive criticism examples.

Example 1 

“Thank you for sending me your latest presentation. However, I was under the impression I would be getting it by Monday. I realise it was a tight turnaround but sticking to deadlines is important for all of us. How can we make sure this doesn't happen in the future?”

Example 2 

“I wanted to speak to you about your workload. Over the last month, I've noticed a slight decline in the quality of your work and I wondered if you had too much on your plate. Do we need to look at your duties or is there another reason your work is suffering?”

Example 3 

“I've noticed that you sometimes forget to find out what clients' specific service needs are. Would it be helpful if we offered you more training in this area? You're excellent at building strong relationships with clients and we want to help you to strengthen this skill.”

How to receive constructive criticism

We've covered how to give constructive criticism… but what about when you're in the hot seat? Hearing that you aren't quite hitting the mark is never going to be easy. However, if you want to move forward professionally, you're going to need to take the news on board. Here are some tips that will help you when you're receiving constructive criticism. 

  • Respond, don't react, to the criticism 

The emotions bubble up inside you and you feel as though you might explode. It's natural that you might feel angry and want to defend yourself. However, lashing out at your manager is going to get you nowhere fast. Keep calm, breathe, and don't react too quickly.

  • Listen out for the positive points 

Right now, you might be focusing on the negative points. That's natural. But if you listen closely, you may be able to hear the positives too. Your manager is opening the door to new things for you. When you make these changes, you may be able to move forward. 

Pick out the information that is going to help you to overcome the challenge and become a better employee. For example, if your manager has offered you additional training, how can you take them up on it and how will that benefit you when it comes to your career?

  • Show that you understand the problem 

Your manager wants to know that you have understood what the issue is. Reflective listening is one way to show them that you're on the same page. Listen to what they've said, digest the information, and respond by rephrasing the message back to them. This strategy lets the other person know you're taking their constructive criticism seriously. 

  • Thank the other person for the feedback

It might sound silly to thank your manager for their feedback, but they've done you a favour. By recognising that there's a problem and giving you the chance to overcome it, they have shown you a high level of respect. They could have ignored the issue and allowed you to continue to make mistakes until - in the worst-case scenario - you lost your job. They didn't do that. They chose a different route and gave you a second chance.

  • Make changes and follow up later

When the chat is over, you will have been given a task. Your manager - if they are a good manager - will have given you a target that you need to meet and a date to hit it by. That's good news for you. You have something to work towards. Now is the time to start making the appropriate changes that they covered during the meeting. You know how you work best, but you might want to break down the overall goal into smaller targets you can hit. 

Following up is essential too. Your manager may have already arranged a date when you can review any changes that you've made. But, if that's not the case, it may be worth you reaching out to them. That move shows them that you have taken the criticism well. 

The takeaway 

Constructive criticism is at the centre of any healthy workplace. For that reason, it pays to learn how to both give and receive it. While you may find this task challenging, there are ways that you can overcome and conquer it. In this guide, we've taken a look at both sides of the story. Use our expert tips when you next come up against this obstacle. 

Learning how to take constructive criticism is a quick way to level up your career. If you're ready to take the next step on the ladder, why not request a free CV review from TopCV? You'll get objective feedback and, yes, constructive criticism, to take your CV to the next level. 

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