How To Give Constructive Criticism (With Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Knowing how to give constructive criticism is an important skill to have in any workplace. It's a necessary skill because it motivates others to improve, which can improve workplace culture and performance across a team. In this article, we explore how to offer constructive feedback and help you learn how to give constructive criticism without making it awkward.

How to give constructive criticism

In order to learn how to give constructive criticism, it's important to understand what this actually entails. When you offer someone constructive criticism, you don't focus on what they have done wrong. Instead, you provide them with instructions or recommendations on how they can improve. The aim is to encourage them to make a positive change in their behaviour. While there exists no single best way to give constructive criticism, these six guidelines can help you understand how to offer feedback in a way that actually works:

1. Time it correctly

When you choose to give constructive criticism is almost as important as how you choose to do it. It's vital to time your delivery correctly because you want to ensure that the other person is receptive to your feedback. They are most likely to do so when you take their schedules into account.

For example, if you know an employee or coworker has a stressful workload and numerous upcoming deadlines, consider waiting until their schedule is less busy before offering them your constructive criticism. Additionally, if the person has just given a presentation, wait a few hours for them to relax before giving them constructive feedback. This can make the difference between them rejecting or receiving your evaluation.

2. Applaud their efforts

Before focusing on the person's faults, it's advisable to first recognise their strengths. Before giving suggestions on ways they can improve, tell the person what worked well. The important thing is to keep it genuine and authentic.

A method of providing constructive criticism is to employ the 'feedback sandwich' method. This sandwiches your criticism between positive feedback. First, begin by applauding the person's strengths. Follow this with the constructive criticism you wish to give. Then, finish it off by reiterating the positive. Remember to remain honest throughout the conversation, so the other person feels your feedback is genuine.

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3. Keep it positive

Employ positive language throughout the conversation to make the delivery of your constructive criticism a little easier. This also makes the other person more likely to listen to you. For example, instead of saying a coworker doesn't speak up enough, tell them instead that you would love to hear their opinion more often. This slight alteration in your tone makes a significant difference in how the other person receives what you're saying.

Likewise, focus on positive goals the person can achieve in the future rather than what they did wrong in the past. Providing your employee or coworker with positive challenges is more likely to improve their job performance. For example, if you want to encourage their involvement during staff meetings, tell them you're excited to hear what contributions they are going to make in the future, rather than simply telling them they never participate during meetings.

4. Provide specific suggestions

When giving constructive criticism, remember to provide specific suggestions for improvement. If your feedback is too general, the other person doesn't know how to improve because they won't know exactly what they did wrong. This can leave them feeling dejected and is unlikely to have any positive impact on their performance.

Likewise, the delivery is important when providing your employee or coworker with ideas on how they can improve. Make sure your feedback is in the form of suggestions and not orders. Taking a collaborative approach rather than forcing someone to follow orders is likely to produce better results.

5. Avoid making it feel like a personal attack

It's important to keep the other person from feeling personally attacked. Try giving constructive criticism in private. This allows you the time to explain your feedback and keeps the employee or colleague from feeling singled out. Furthermore, using 'I' statements such as 'I think' prevents your tone from sounding accusatory.

Another strategy you can use is to focus on the situation rather than the person. This helps the individual feel encouraged. For example, instead of saying the person did something wrong during their presentation, focus instead on what aspects of the presentation they can improve on and explain your reasons.

6. Follow up

Make sure to maintain communication with the recipient of your feedback to see if they improve. Following up with the individual and ensuring that they feel comfortable coming to you with any questions or requests they may have encourages the employee to follow through. Making the other person feel supported and responsible can result in positive changes.

Related: 8 Positive Feedback Examples for Employee Performance

What is a good example of constructive criticism?

Knowing how to properly phrase constructive criticism is essential to maintaining positive work relationships. You can use these examples to learn how to give constructive feedback:

Constructive criticism about poor attendance

When an employee starts showing up to work late or missing meetings, it's important to bring this to their attention as soon as possible. This is an example of constructive criticism you can give when you wish to improve someone's poor attendance:

'I really value the input you give during meetings because you often make some great points. However, I can't help but notice that for the past three staff meetings, you've arrived late. I would really like for you to arrive on time if possible so we don't miss out on your ideas.'

Constructive feedback about poor time management

If you've noticed that an employee has issues managing their time you can use this example of constructive criticism as inspiration when correcting their behaviour:

'Thank you for the exemplary work you did on the software design last week, it was fantastic. However, I've noticed that your enthusiasm makes you focus on only one project at a time and makes you put off other tasks. While I love how enthusiastic you are, it's important to meet all your deadlines. How about we take a look at your time management strategies? I think it could really help your efficiency, what do you think?'

Constructive feedback about communication skills

You can use this example of constructive criticism when you wish to improve an employee's communication skills:

'I appreciate all the effort you've been putting into your work lately. I would love it if you could keep me updated on your projects because it helps me coordinate with our stakeholders. Please don't be afraid of coming to me with any questions you may have.'

Related: How To Improve Communication Skills (With Definition and Examples)

Constructive criticism concerning poor attention to detail

You can use this example as inspiration when offering constructive criticism about an employee's poor attention to detail:

'I love how you're able to see the bigger picture in the work we do. However, I've noticed you sometimes forget to include some of the smaller details, like X and Y. While these details are small, it's important we remember them. Otherwise, the other team can't meet their own deadlines because they spend time correcting these oversights. For the next project, I'd like to try and create a detailed checklist with you so we can have an overview of exactly what tasks need attention and then we'll reassess afterwards. How does that sound?'

Constructive feedback concerning a negative attitude

Here's an example of constructive criticism you can give when an employee has a negative attitude:

'I really appreciate that you're able to consistently turn in work of high quality. However, I've noticed that you don't seem as enthusiastic or involved anymore. How are you feeling? Is there anything I can do to help you have a better experience here?'

Constructive criticism concerning office gossip

Rumours can lead to a toxic work environment. Therefore, it's necessary to stop them before they become too widespread. This is an example of constructive criticism concerning office gossip:

'I really value the contributions you make to this office. I know there are some rumours flying around about X and Y. In the future, I'd appreciate it if you bring your concerns directly to me. That way, we can resolve any issues you may have in an efficient and professional manner. How does that sound?'

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definition and Examples

Tips for giving constructive criticism

Follow these tips to give constructive criticism without making it awkward:

  • Show empathy: It's often difficult for people to receive constructive criticism. When giving feedback, remember to be kind. Realise that they may not understand what they are doing wrong and avoid taking their reaction personally.

  • Set the tone: By being the person who initiates the conversation, you can also set the mood. Avoid appearing uncomfortable or angry by having a relaxed, open body language and tone of voice. This prevents the recipient from feeling awkward.

  • Be direct: While it's important to avoid being blunt or come off as aggressive, being direct in your constructive feedback is important. Trying to hide your criticism in the form of passive aggressiveness or through subtle hints is unhelpful and inadvisable. Instead, be straightforward and initiate an honest dialogue that prevents the other person from feeling insulted or confused.

  • Follow your own advice: Before you give anyone constructive criticism, make sure you are following your own advice. Leading by example encourages others to accept and trust your feedback.

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