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Whether you’re giving or receiving it, criticism can feel challenging, especially in a professional setting where you want to perform well and foster a positive environment.

Regardless, helpful and constructive criticism can be highly valuable, improve communication, and help individuals improve their performance. Additionally, almost a quarter of employees say they would leave their job if they weren’t getting enough feedback. Because of these reasons, mastering the art of giving and receiving constructive criticism is vital for a successful workplace.

While sharing criticism and feedback in the right way, and being able to accept it graciously, might seem like a difficult thing to do, knowing some tips for doing both can be valuable. Encouraging your team to share and accept criticism appropriately can have positive effects. Gaining a better understanding of the importance of constructive criticism and suggestions for handling it will make it easier to incorporate this approach into your workplace. This article discusses constructive criticism in greater detail for givers and receivers.

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What is constructive criticism?

Constructive criticism is a manner of giving feedback that gives the receiver actionable ways to improve. The tone of this type of criticism is positive and supportive, even when you’re suggesting things the other person could do better. Giving this type of feedback often involves stating what the other person is doing well and sharing your ideas of how they might improve. This feedback is based on objective facts instead of opinions and includes specific recommendations about how to develop further. It also focuses on situations and behaviors rather than on the other person as an individual.

Constructive criticism uses errors or concerns as an opportunity to learn and make progress. It’s both specific and clear. This type of criticism also helps the other person to feel supported as they make changes and gives them a space to ask questions or raise concerns of their own.

Why is constructive criticism a good thing?

There are multiple reasons why giving and receiving constructive criticism is a good thing in the workplace. Many employees thrive on receiving regular feedback, whether that’s recognizing their achievements or recommending how they can improve. Studies have found that regular feedback and constructive criticism can lower turnover by 14.9%, so it’s certainly worth implementing if you want to improve employee retention.

As well as the act of providing feedback itself helping retain staff, the other effects that constructive criticism has might also contribute to this figure. Constructive criticism can help build trust between employees and leaders and make the employer’s expectations clearer. When staff can give their feedback and constructive criticism to senior leaders, this can also significantly impact building trust and making employees feel more valued. These attributes have a significant effect on turnover.

Giving constructive criticism is a tool for helping employees identify areas for improvement and supporting them in making changes. This creates more learning opportunities and helps to improve employee performance, which can also increase efficiency. Employees performing well and trusting their employers are more likely to have positive morale. Ultimately this can create a happier workforce and a positive corporate culture.

The difference between constructive and destructive criticism

Constructive and destructive criticism involves raising areas where the other person could improve. However, how this information is presented is where the difference lies and makes a big difference in how valuable the feedback is. Constructive criticism aims to encourage and support the other person. It’s clear, direct, and rooted in facts. Giving constructive criticism means indicating how to make improvements and demonstrating a desire to support the other person. This makes it much easier for the person receiving the feedback to follow through then and make meaningful changes that lead to improvements.

On the other hand, destructive criticism makes it much more challenging for the recipient to progress. This criticism focuses only on negative issues and might sometimes feel like a personal attack. This feedback doesn’t recognize what the other person might already be doing well or encourage them to move forward. The feedback may be unclear to the other person, and they might not understand how to change. Destructive feedback might not allow the other person to ask clarifying questions, and the answers may be vague if they do. Unlike constructive feedback, this type of criticism can damage morale and make it more difficult for the other person to perform effectively in their job. Regular destructive feedback can create a negative company culture, lower morale, and decrease employee retention.

Advice for giving constructive criticism

If you need to give constructive criticism to someone else at work, getting some suggestions for how to do it can be helpful. Once you know some tips for giving feedback constructively, you can plan what to say in advance and what suggestions to make. This will often make it easier to share your feedback at the time. You can try using these strategies next time you’re giving feedback.

Have empathy

When you’re preparing to give constructive criticism and discuss your criticism, it’s essential to be empathetic toward the other person. Thinking about their perspective helps you understand how it might feel to receive your comments, which can help you deliver them more constructively. Giving your feedback in an empathetic way also helps to show that you want to support and encourage the other person, which can give them more confidence to make changes and progress further. The other person may share information that has contributed to their behavior, for example, a lack of understanding or challenging circumstances outside of work. Reacting with empathy can help you to support them appropriately.

Be specific

When your feedback is specific and detailed, it helps to communicate your point effectively. This makes it clear to the receiver what the concerns are and what they can do about it. It’s also helpful to give the other person a chance to ask clarifying questions if they need to, so there’s no doubt about the meaning of your feedback. A clear understanding of the issue benefits you and the other person because it allows them to resolve it more quickly.

Focus on facts

It’s essential to base your feedback on facts rather than your opinions or assumptions. If you make an incorrect assumption, it might feel like a personal attack on the other person, damaging their morale and being very upsetting. There could also be further consequences if they feel unfairly targeted for personal reasons. You must keep your personal opinions out of your constructive criticism and only focus on facts you have observed.

Use the sandwich method

The sandwich method is a valuable way to give constructive criticism because it reinforces what the other person is doing well, as well as recommends ways to improve. This helps to create an overall positive tone. When you use this method, start with something the person you’re talking to is doing well in their job. You can then discuss what other areas they can improve on and make recommendations for how to do so. You can then finish with another positive comment encouraging the other person to move forward and showing that you support them.

Include clear and actionable suggestions

As well as telling the other person your concerns, it’s essential to indicate what they can do to change clearly. This might mean you must consider what changes you want to see from the other person. Telling them precisely what is wrong and what you would like them to do about it makes the expectations clear and gives the other person some helpful guidance for making improvements. Doing this makes it easier for the recipient to make changes and move forward quickly.

Some other helpful tips are:

  • Give feedback regularly or in real-time, as this is usually more effective
  • Provide constructive criticism privately and at an appropriate time
  • Focus on situations rather than the person
  • Start sentences with “I”, for example, “I have noticed that…” because this avoids making the other person feel attacked
  • Be objective
  • Break large amounts of feedback down into key points

Advice for receiving constructive criticism

While giving constructive criticism can be difficult, being the one receiving it can undoubtedly be a challenge too. You might find receiving criticism difficult if you think you’re doing well or you’re not expecting the comments. When you’re very passionate about your work, it might also feel difficult to accept criticism of your performance. Accepting feedback graciously can improve your reputation as a professional, help you develop positive relationships at work, and help you develop your performance. You can use these suggestions when you’re receiving constructive criticism.

Avoid reacting immediately

When you first start hearing constructive criticism about your performance, it might be tempting to react immediately. Despite this, it’s vital to remain calm and listen to everything being said. Without allowing the other person to express their feedback fully, you won’t understand the concerns and what they want you to do about it. Listening to everything can make things easier, especially if the person giving the feedback shows that they’re supportive of you. It’s helpful to remember what the benefits of constructive criticism are, as this might encourage you to listen.

Avoid taking comments personally

It can be easier to cope with constructive criticism if you avoid taking the comments personally. This might be easier for some people than for others. Constructive criticism should be framed around situations and behaviors rather than you as an individual. Criticism that’s delivered in this way can make it easier to avoid seeing the comments as a personal attack. If you’re not emotionally attached to the criticism, it can be easier to reflect on it and then act on recommendations.

Listen actively

Rather than simply waiting for the discussion to be over, listening actively is essential. Active listening means paying attention to the other person’s words instead of waiting for your turn to speak. Listening carefully means you’ll understand the feedback better and have a clearer idea of how to proceed. You can use body language to demonstrate that you’re paying attention to what’s being said.

Thank the other person

When the other person has finished speaking, it’s a good idea to thank them for their input. You should do this even if you disagree with their comments because this behavior communicates respect. It also indicates that you recognize that the person criticizing you is trying to support you. Behaving in this way encourages positive relationships at work.

Evaluate the criticism

Once you’ve calmed down from any initial emotional reactions, you can reflect and evaluate the feedback you’ve received. It’s advisable to wait before doing this; an immediate reaction can appear defensive. If the feedback is destructive criticism, it’s worth considering whether the comments are valid and whether you can reasonably do anything about them. If you’ve been given constructive criticism, think about what you’ve been told and whether the comments are truthful. You can then consider the suggestions made for making progress and decide how to move forward with these recommendations.

Follow up on the feedback

Once you understand what you need to do to improve, you must follow up on this. You should make efforts to start making changes as soon as possible and demonstrate that you’ve taken constructive criticism on board. You might consider organizing a follow-up meeting to discuss your progress if appropriate.

Some other helpful tips for receiving criticism are:

  • Ask questions if there’s anything about the feedback you don’t understand
  • Avoid trying to blame others or deflect responsibility
  • Control your emotions and avoid personal attacks on the other person
  • Listen without interrupting until the other person finishes speaking
  • View constructive criticism as a sign that you’re perceived as capable of growth and change
  • Be empathetic about how it may feel for the other person to share this feedback with you

You can benefit from constructive criticism

Whether you’re giving or receiving it, constructive criticism can be positive in the workplace, even if it might seem tricky to handle. Both leaders and employees benefit from having constructive criticism as a usual part of the workplace culture. By understanding how to give and receive criticism effectively and constructively, teams can become happier and more stable and improve their overall performance. Ultimately this brings benefits to the entire organization, as well as the individuals working there.