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5 tips for delivering constructive criticism effectively

Brandi Gratis

Brandi Gratis

January 23, 2017

A necessary part of work communication is the ability to deliver criticism effectively. While constructive criticism can be difficult for people to hear, and some are particularly sensitive to it, there are plenty of ways to ensure that you’re delivering your message in both a kind and straightforward manner.

Some signs that may need to improve your communication skills around constructive criticism include:

  • Your suggestions are regularly ignored.
  • People respond defensively/aggressively to your critiques.
  • You avoid giving constructive criticism altogether because you fear the outcome.

Here are our tips for delivering criticism effectively.

1. Be specific; use examples.

A tried and true piece of advice is to avoid words like “always” and “never” when presenting feedback. Instead, focus on specific events or actions and provide real-world examples.

By shifting the conversation away from inherent individual traits towards real-world circumstances and actions, you open up the conversation for brainstorming concrete solutions. Which brings us to our next point:

2. Provide actionable advice.

No one likes to hear that they’re not doing such a great job without hope for redemption. If you’ve recognized a consistent issue with someone, and taken it seriously enough to want to address it with them, my guess is you have a piece of advice or two about how to fix the issue.

Share what you would do to improve the situation (without ordering them to do it), and give the other person the chance to reflect on what you’ve said and come up with their own solution.

3. Focus on the situation, not the person.

One way of ensuring that your language and tone don’t trend towards accusatory is to focus on the situation instead of the person.

In a case where you’re especially frustrated, or you may not particularly like the person you’re delivering feedback to, one trick for preventing yourself from being too curt (or coming across as a jerk) is to pretend that the person is someone you deeply respect.

Think about it: When you’re talking to someone you respect about an improvement that should be made, you tend not to question their character, work habits, or loyalty, and instead focus concretely on the individual situation where you saw room for improvement.

A change in mindset like this, especially as a manager, makes you more likely to invest energy in fixing the problem. And sometimes, all someone needs is a little focused-guidance.

4. Provide praise for the things they are doing right.

We’re more open to criticism when we also hear praise. Naturally, we want to look at our mistakes and shortcomings as challenges that we can tackle. If the only feedback we ever hear is negative, chances are we’re going to feel pretty worthless, and probably less motivated to make positive changes.

5. Acknowledge positive change when it happens.

If someone does fix an issue that you addressed with them, don’t be afraid to show praise. This will only encourage your employees to continue to improve their work.

The Feedback Sandwich

This three-part framework for delivering constructive criticism is ubiquitous in business, and it goes like this:

Acknowledge Strengths: Start off by acknowledging and praising the strengths of the individual or how they approach a particular part of their work
Discuss What and How to Improve: Then, discuss what circumstances need to improve, how they are holding them back, and what actionable steps they can take.
Wrap Up: End by (A) reiterating the positive comments you gave at the beginning and (B) voicing the positive results you think they can achieve if the criticism is followed through.

Final Thoughts

What are your favorite tricks for delivering criticism to your employees and peers at work? Share it with us on Twitter!


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