How to Give Constructive Criticism

by Christine Chadwick

The art of constructive criticism is to provide a critique to help the other person improve, without making them feel attacked. There are several things you need to take into consideration when providing critical feedback, such as the time and place. You should focus on the situation and actionable advice and not send mixed messages. You also want to be sure to follow-up on the meeting down the road.

Timing is everything

You don't want to provide criticism when you are tired, hungry, or angry. This will not get anyone far and will only result in hurt feelings. You need to ensure that you are mentally and emotionally in a good place to address the other person. Also, you don't want to meet with the person in front of other people; you want to be sure to do it in private so both of you feel comfortable and at ease.

Focus on the situation and not the person

When you are providing constructive criticism, you need to separate the situation from the person. This is important because this cannot be something that is personal. Instead, you need to focus on the action, behaviour, or problem at hand. Avoid personal attacks on the person by refraining from telling the person he or she is lazy or stupid. When talking to the other individual, you want to use passive voice instead of active voice. For instance, instead of saying "you gave a horrible presentation this morning," you want to say something like "the presentation you gave this morning was not your best," and then follow through with suggestions for improvement. The reason for using passive voice is that it takes the attention away from the person directly and focuses on the subject at hand.

Focus on actionable results

The whole goal of providing feedback to another person is to help him or her improve a specific behaviour, so you'll want to address specific things that the person can do to improve the matter at hand. You cannot create expectations that are outside of his or her control because that puts the person in a position where he or she may feel helpless about attacking the problem.

Avoid sending mixed messages

It is important when giving feedback to be sincere and avoid sending out any mixed messages. One way to avoid sending out mixed messages is to refrain from using the word "but." For instance, you don't want to say "you have worked hard this week, but..." You also want to refrain from using similar words such as "although" and "however." Although it is important to note that the person also did good work, contradictory words like 'however' or 'but' can muddle the real message.

Follow-up is important

You want to be sure you follow up with the person so you can track how he or she is progressing. When following up, you want to go over the steps the person has taken toward the goals you both discussed. It is also important that you praise any improvements he or she has made toward the goals.

It is important to note that not everyone will accept your feedback with an open mind. You may receive some backlash from the other person in addition to harsh words or personal attacks. Try not to take this personally if it happens and approach the subject with sensitivity.