“My job is to say when something sucks rather than sugarcoat it,” Steve Jobs wrote in Motivating Thoughts of Steve Jobs. True to his words, the Apple founder was well-known for providing harsh, even scathing, criticism. For instance, it wasn’t uncommon for him to proclaim someone’s work “sucked” in front of everyone, following this with a private, more personal attack.
As one Apple employee revealed to Business Insider, “We have to work every other weekend all the time no matter what . . . And then you meet with him, and he craps on all of it. He might like one or two ideas, and usually, he wants you to redo those one or two ideas. And so that whole next week, you’re redoing those one or two ideas plus coming up with new ones. That’s all year, all the time, every two weeks.”
This type of negative feedback cycle is draining and contributes to work burnout. While criticism, even if harsh, can sometimes push team members to do their best work and have professional breakthroughs, it also causes emotional damage, shame, and insecurity if given incorrectly. As a leader, it is never okay to create a toxic work environment where people give unnecessarily thoughtless or cruel feedback. Building this kind of business culture can have lasting negative impacts in the long run.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at constructive criticism and how to deliver (and receive) it in a way that creates an atmosphere of trust and kindness, not fear and shame. We’ll discuss:
- What constructive criticism is
- Examples of constructive vs. destructive criticism
- Why giving constructive feedback matters for your business
- Top tips for providing criticism constructively
- Actions to avoid when providing constructive criticism
What Is Constructive Criticism?
Constructive criticism is about finding something good and positive to soften the blow to the real critique of what really went on.paula abdul
Constructive criticism is feedback intended to help improve, guide, motivate, or praise someone or something. It is delivered in a friendly, open, conversational manner and includes examples, references, and actionable steps towards improvement.
Delivered during an employee review or other private professional setting, constructive criticism alerts employees to opportunities for growth and creates new patterns of thought. It also helps team members pivot in certain ways or better understand company expectations. This, in turn, creates a more positive, productive, and open work environment.
Constructive vs. Destructive
Your value does not decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.Unknown
Hostile, harsh, derogatory, or unactionable feedback is not constructive; that’s destructive. Masked as constructive, destructive criticism has a negative tone and its intention is usually to attack, undermine, or humiliate another.
Examples of Destructive Criticism
- Destructive: “Your presentation was terrible. What happened?”
- Constructive: “I think if you had added more expert references and images to your presentation, the information would have been more impactful.”
- Destructive: “Your numbers were meager this quarter. Maybe this isn’t the right job for you.”
- Constructive: “You did well last quarter, but I noticed your numbers dipped a bit this one. Is there anything I can do to help support you?”
- Destructive: “You blew it with our biggest client. What were you thinking?”
- Constructive: “I know Client X was challenging to work with. Let’s brainstorm some ways we can improve our processes.”
- Destructive: “This new menu is terrible. Are you sure you went to culinary school?”
- Constructive: “People are raving about the soup. But I think the restaurant would stand out if we included some bowls and wraps on the menu.”
- Destructive: “Why haven’t you resolved that issue yet? Can you even be trusted to work remotely?”
- Constructive: “Great work on resolving that problem with Company X. I noticed Company Y still has a ticket open. Is there anything I can do to help resolve that?”
The Benefits of Giving Constructive Criticism
- Increases excellence and quality: A large part of being a leader is guiding your team to reach new levels of growth and development. Constructively giving feedback can improve the quality of a person’s work and the business’s overall service or product.
- Cultivates trust: Relating with your team members, listening to them, and understanding where they are coming from increases levels of trust and develops stronger relationships with employees.
- Facilitates new patterns of thought and behavior: When team members feel as though they are heard and understood, they’ll respond positively to critical feedback, feel motivated to make changes, and strive for improvement.
- Establishes feelings of safety: Giving feedback in a positive, encouraging way nurtures a safe work culture where people talk openly and candidly about problems and ways to improve. It normalizes these discussions, rather than making them something to be feared. As such, communicating in this way establishes an environment of psychological safety, which is paramount for the well-being of your employees and the success of your business.
5 Strategies for Providing Constructive Criticism
Providing criticism is relatively easy, but there are some general “right ways” to do it so that it’s received positively and constructively. To master this type of feedback, discover the top strategies for delivering constructive criticism below.
1. Use “I” Statements
Starting phrases and thoughts with “you” can make someone feel attacked or accused of something, which causes them to raise their defenses. Therefore, beginning the conversation with “I” statements disarms the recipient and allows them to be receptive to the following information.
- “I thought your presentation was well-received, but adding images will engage the audience even more.”
- “Your idea is great! I think if you added XYZ, it would take it to the next level.”
2. Make It Conversational
Giving constructive criticism should feel like a conversation. Once feedback is expressed, allow the other person to respond and express their own thoughts. They may agree or disagree with the feedback, and either is okay. This is a chance to discuss it and arrive at a solution together, not dictate and demand.
- “I like how you’re leading the team, but I think we need clearer protocol. What do you think?”
- “I feel this marketing plan is strong, but I have some concerns about the execution. What are your thoughts?”
3. Give Actionable Feedback
Criticism without actionable next steps isn’t constructive. The purpose of providing constructive feedback is to implore others to improve, pivot, and strengthen. What should they do in the short term or long term to change their behavior? What is the best way to achieve the desired result?
- “I think we need stronger team protocols. Let’s evaluate the protocols in place and identify the weakest areas.”
- “I like how the team works together, but I want to see more collaboration. Let’s start having weekly huddles and allow team members to present new ideas during that time.”
4. Ask How You Can Improve
Before delivering constructive criticism, turn inward and acknowledge what you could do better. For instance, maybe you could be more transparent with your expectations or communicate concerns sooner. Taking accountability before giving constructive criticism to another creates a bond and allows the other person to feel comfortable also taking accountability. Maintain a friendly tone and body language while delivering the feedback, and this will create an optimal environment for delivering and receiving criticism.
- “I know I wasn’t very clear about how I wanted that project done. I think you did a great job with it. However, let’s improve it.”
- “I realize we don’t meet very often, and that’s on me. Moving forward, I think we should meet more regularly so we can prevent a dip in your numbers next quarter. What are your thoughts?”
5. Point Out Positives First
Lean into giving 360-degree feedback by providing positive comments first. Note what is going well and recognize areas the team member is thriving in. There may be areas of criticism and concern, but be careful not to throw the “baby out with the bathwater.” If there’s an opportunity for praise, give that first.
- “Great job on the team orientation meetings. You’re really good with new hires. I have some ideas on things we can strengthen during the onboarding process, though.”
- “I think what you and John are working on is going to be great for the company. You have superior collaboration skills. But I’m not clear on how you plan on producing the results we need. Can you elaborate a bit more?”
How to Receive Constructive Criticism
Work hard, be patient, and be a sponge while learning your business. Learn how to take criticism. Follow your gut instincts and don’t compromise.simon cowell
To create an optimal workplace culture, receiving constructive criticism well is just as important as delivering it. It’s tempting to put up defenses and argue what’s said of us. After all, receiving criticism is personal. But while we want to believe we’re doing our best, we must remember that there is always room for improvement. Use the tips below to ensure you handle criticism well.
- Listen before responding: Hear what the other person has to say before interjecting. Listen to understand, not to respond or argue.
- Ask questions without challenging: If feedback is unclear, ask questions to gain more insight without refuting or undermining what’s said.
- Avoid reacting impulsively: Criticism can evoke complex emotions, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a breath and think deeply before responding.
- Remind yourself it can help you: The criticism is about your role, not you personally. Any feedback received can only help you improve and grow in your position. Remind yourself of that.
- Express gratitude: The other person has taken the time to meet with you to provide feedback they think you need in order to grow and improve. Thank them for that.
Constructive Criticism: What Not To Do
Delivering constructive criticism the right way means remaining fair, positive, and balanced. Too much negativity and harsh criticism can be toxic and deflating; too much positivity and fluff will stunt growth.
- Surprising an employee with feedback: This can be overwhelming and create frustration. Always let someone know in advance that you have criticism you’d like to share.
- Sharing feedback about another publicly: Embarrassment and shame can result if an employee receives criticism, even if it’s constructive, in front of colleagues. Be sure to share your feedback privately.
- Being insincere or overly optimistic: You may have positive comments to share, but be sure not to shower someone with too many compliments to dance around the issue. Be positive, but be direct by practicing radical candor.
It’s important to remember that giving constructive criticism isn’t about proving a point. It’s about providing an opportunity for growth and development, not just for the individual employee but for the company.
Continue improving your communication skills with Communication is Key and 7 People Management Skills Every Leader Needs.