How To Provide Constructive Criticism In The Workplace

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 12 October 2022

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Working in a managerial position often requires you to provide constructive criticism to employees. Such criticism can help employees perform better and contribute to the growth of their organisation. But, to be effective and to prevent backfiring, you are required to follow the right approach to give criticism that is constructive in nature. In this article, we discuss the essential steps involved in offering constructive criticism in the workplace with actionable tips and examples.

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What Is Constructive Criticism?

It is the process of offering actionable feedback in a friendly manner to help an employee perform better. Constructive criticism acknowledges positive actions and even those requiring improvement. The focus is on providing specific advice and recommendations for better results.

Providing constructive criticism is an essential leadership skill. You require to do it the right way to motivate employees instead of making them lose morale. The idea is to focus on the actions rather than the person. It is required to tell employees what they can do differently in the future instead of showing them in poor light for current wrongs.

It helps to create a positive work environment where employees feel comfortable to seek assistance in achieving their work goals. It can also help employees understand your expectations better.

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How To Provide Constructive Criticism?

If you have an idea about improving someone's performance, you are required to offer constructive criticism rather than holding back your idea. Here are some essential steps and tips to follow while providing such criticism:

1. Choose an appropriate time

Feedback is effective when given immediately after the event to which it relates instead of waiting for a long time afterward because the event would be fresh in the mind of the receiver. But, you are also required to ensure that the receiver is in the right frame of mind to take criticism in a positive manner. If you are angry or upset about the event, you require giving some time to calm yourself down to enable a constructive conversation.

Decide upon an appropriate time after considering all such aspects, and arrange a meeting with the employee for the feedback. It is essential to give the employee prior notice of the meeting so that they do not feel intimidated and get some time to prepare.

2. Find an appropriate place

Find an appropriate place where you can share constructive criticism privately instead of a group setting. This would prevent the feeling of being singled out and improve the chances of the person taking criticism in a positive manner. Avoid criticising hastily in public places since this may result in destructive criticism.

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3. Understand the other person's viewpoint

When you sit down to offer constructive criticism, you require to first try to understand the other person's concerns. Look at things from their perspective and find out how their opinion about the given task differs from yours. Give the other person an opportunity to express their views. Ask yourself whether the criticism that you are going to offer would be acceptable to you if you were in the receiver's place. Proceed only if you would find the criticism acceptable.

4. Begin with positive praise

Before highlighting areas of improvement, talk about the positive aspects of the employee's actions. This would motivate the employee, help them understand their strengths and make them more receptive to feedback. You may use the sandwich method wherein constructive criticism is wrapped between praise statements. A typical sandwich strategy involves starting the review by praising the employee for a specific action, then discussing the aspects that need improvement and finally closing the review with a praising statement again.

You may want to make a note of specific feedback and praise points while preparing for the constructive criticism session.

Example: “I liked the way you covered all the important aspects of the project in your presentation. But, in slides 2 and 5 respectively, you could have included more points on the growth potential of the company and the new businesses the company is diversifying into. The images selected for the project were sharp and attractive. Overall, it was a good presentation.”

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5. Focus on actionable tasks

Focus on the specific action or behaviour in question instead of commenting on the person or their personality. Similarly, you require only talking about things that the employee can improve rather than those that are beyond their control. For example, if you are giving feedback on an employee's speech, you may talk about the content, presentation, body language and pitch, but telling them that their voice is too sharp or too husky would be pointless since they would not be able to change it.

6. Present your observation

Since your feedback would be based on your observation, you require presenting it as such rather than passing it as an absolute, infallible judgement. You may use phrases like ‘I feel', ‘I think' and ‘I would prefer' to make it clear that you are only stating your point of view, and do not mean to say that the employee's action is wrong. This minimises the chances of your feedback being taken as imposing. It also implies that you appreciate the fact that the other person can have a different take on the issue.

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7. Keep it conversational

Make the employee comfortable and keep your communication conversational. Give a patient listening to the employee when they are speaking. Ask for their opinion and viewpoint in between the conversation. This gives the other person a sense of belonging and value. It also helps you confirm that the employee is understanding your feedback in the right manner. Sometimes, you may also learn something new from what the employee has to say and can tailor your advice accordingly.

8. Be clear and precise

Ensure that the constructive criticism is clear and precise. Whether you are stating your observation, praising the employee or suggesting an improvement plan, it requires to relate to a specific action or aspect of the event being discussed. For example, instead of saying "Your presentation was good", consider stating in specific terms what you liked about the presentation. Similarly, instead of saying "The report could have been better", consider highlighting specific actions and how they could make the report better.

Clear and precise feedback given in specific terms minimises the scope for confusion and makes the criticism more constructive. You can make the criticism specific and actionable by breaking down the feedback, focusing on objective points and quoting examples for each point.

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9. Use an appreciative tone

Always perform criticism with a helpful attitude. Keeping an appreciative tone makes your message much more effective. You can appreciate the employees' work by thanking them for their contribution or congratulating them for their achievement. Consider using words like ‘we' and ‘our' instead of ‘you' and ‘your' to avoid making it a personal issue.

10. Recommend ideas for improvement

Finally, offer suggestions and recommendations on how the employee can improve their performance on the given task. Again, remember that your ideas for improvement are required to be specific and actionable. You may also ask the employee for suggestions and discuss various improvement strategies with them before finalising what you both agree to be most effective. Wherever feasible, consider explaining the logic behind your recommendation.

Your recommendation for improvement is required to give the employee a clear idea of the actions they are expected to take. For example, instead of simply saying "You are required to make the presentation shorter", consider suggesting specific ways to shorten the presentation, such as removing irrelevant details and moving the slides faster.

Example: “Quoting multiple examples for each point distracts the audience from the main message. Let us restrict ourselves to one example per point. This way, we can bring down the presentation time to 10 minutes while making the presentation more impactful.”

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Constructive Criticism Examples

Content and style of constructive criticism is required to vary with the situation and the task they relate to. Here are some examples of such criticism to help you get started:

Example 1: “I appreciate the time and effort you put in preparing the report. The content of the report was excellent. We can make it still better by paying more attention to formatting and including a conclusion at the end of the report. In terms of formatting, it is better to use a single professional font throughout, such as Arial or Times New Roman. As for the conclusion, we can summarise the main points of the report and present them under the subheading ‘Conclusion' at the end.”

Example 2: “I loved the way you delivered the speech. Your body language, eye contact, voice modulation, everything was perfect. But, I feel the audience wanted to have your view on the growth prospects of the company's stationery business in view of the closure of schools due to lockdown. Presenting some data regarding the impact of lockdown on our stationery business and how we plan to handle it would make the speech more meaningful.”

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