How To Give Constructive Criticism in the Workplace (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Constructive criticism is an essential part of an efficient workplace because it helps people learn and improve. Providing accurate and actionable criticism motivates individuals to make positive changes in their behaviour. Taking specific steps can help you give constructive criticism that employees or co-workers may receive and respond to productively. In this article, we explain what constructive criticism is, show how to give constructive criticism effectively and provide tips for providing it to your colleagues or team members.

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What is constructive criticism?

Constructive criticism is an approach to giving people feedback that involves identifying a specific issue, providing helpful suggestions to resolve it and supporting the person's progress towards improvement. Constructive criticism differs from criticism because instead of just critiquing a person's work, you provide them with actionable steps that help them change their behaviour positively. When offering constructive criticism, employees often provide colleagues with specific examples they can use to make changes, such as personal anecdotes, a set of instructions or resource recommendations that offer helpful information.

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Why is constructive criticism important?

Constructive criticism is important because it helps make business processes more efficient by encouraging employees and help in performing their duties effectively. It enables employees to recognise what they do well and identify areas where they can improve, and feedback from other colleagues or managers can help them overcome challenges that prevent them from reaching their goals. Benefits of constructive criticism may include:

  • Personal development

  • Bonds between colleagues

  • Job satisfaction

  • Positive company culture

  • Organisational growth

How to give constructive criticism

Here are some steps you can take to give constructive criticism that benefits the recipient and can help you improve communication and efficiency within your team:

1. Consider your timing

Try planning to give constructive criticism at a time that is convenient for the person receiving criticism. People are more likely to be receptive to your criticism when you consider and respect their schedules. It may be best to consider giving constructive criticism when an employee has a light workload and they're not dealing with multiple pending deadlines.

2. Focus on the situation instead of the person

Try to help the individual you're providing constructive criticism to feel encouraged by your conversation. To do this, try to focus on the situation instead of what the person did incorrectly. For instance, you may talk about a presentation they gave and say, "I think your presentation could use more visual elements, such as graphs and charts, to help you communicate how the data affects our company."

3. Start with what is working

Before you explain to your colleague where they could use improvement, consider starting by telling them what they do well. This may make them more receptive to your feedback because it helps minimise discouragement. It can also increase trust between you and your colleague because they can see your willingness to be honest in a helpful way. When people feel you sincerely want to help them, they're often more open to feedback.

4. Keep it private

Providing constructive criticism involves indicating areas in which your colleague has difficulties or fails to meet expectations. They may find it embarrassing if you offer feedback in front of others, but you can avoid this and keep the interaction positive by discussing the issue with them in private. Take the time to sit down with them and explain the issue and your suggestions fully so they feel supported and not discouraged.

5. Use illustrations

Giving specific examples to your colleague when providing constructive criticism can prevent them from feeling set apart from the team. You might provide relatable examples using anonymous stories about others at the company who overcame the same obstacles or tell them about a similar situation you were in and how you made improvements. This allows your colleague to feel confident about the future instead of focusing on their mistakes.

6. Give specific suggestions for improvement

Try to make sure the person you provide criticism to knows how they can improve. Let them know exactly what they can do to improve using specific examples. For example, if a co-worker often leaves a mess in the break room, you may say, "Could you help more with maintaining the cleanliness of the break room by wiping the table after you eat? I don't want the upkeep to fall on one person since the whole team uses the break room."

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7. Avoid making assumptions

When you offer constructive criticism, try to avoid giving your opinion. Your feedback can focus on a specific issue related to the employee's job duties as opposed to your feelings about how they do their job. Make it an open conversation, provide facts and details about the issue, and emphasise your desire to help them learn and improve. You might also provide them with resources and encourage them to contact you for more help to avoid making it feel personal.

8. Set positive goals

After speaking with them about the issue, help your colleague set positive goals that encourage them to perform better. Explain why you approached them about the concern and discuss the possible benefits of making improvements, such as company growth or the potential for a promotion in the future. Enabling your colleague to feel confident about taking on a challenge may motivate them to succeed and help you foster a positive, helpful relationship with them.

9. Make it a conversation

Try to use open communication when you provide constructive criticism by allowing the individual to respond to what you're saying or ask questions. You may learn something about the person who helps you to adapt your criticism and advice further into the conversation. Constructive criticism is most effective when you tailor it to the person you give it to.

10. Be mindful of your body language

When you approach a colleague to offer constructive criticism, begin the conversation on the same physical level as them. For example, instead of standing over them at their desk, sit in a chair next to them and greet them in a friendly manner. Take care to avoid body language that can make you appear aggressive or uninterested in what they have to say, such as crossing your arms or clenching your fists, and instead lean forward, smile and make eye contact when speaking to them.

11. Discuss the effects

When considering whether to give a colleague constructive criticism, determine why you feel it's important. Ask yourself what negative impacts their current behaviour could have and what you would suggest they do to fix it. Then, when you make helpful suggestions to your colleague, explain the positive impacts they could have on their professional development, their team and the company.

12. Maintain communication

After your conversation, encourage your colleague to contact you if they have questions or need more assistance or recommendations from you. Knowing they can call or email you may provide them with the motivation and support they need to make improvements. You can also contact your colleague occasionally to see how they feel about the progress they've made and ask them to share any personal successes that have resulted from their efforts.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

Tips for giving constructive criticism

Here are a few tips you may consider when giving constructive criticism:

  • Be kind: Many people have a difficult time hearing criticism, so try to think about how you can state your comments in the kindest way possible to remain respectful.

  • Lead by example: Try to make sure you're following your own advice before you provide someone with constructive criticism. This makes it easier for employees to trust you and to accept your feedback.

  • Ask questions: Provide your team members with suggestions, but ultimately let them make their own decisions. Try using phrases such as, "Do you think that would work?" or "What do you think?" to help them become a part of the problem-solving, which may lead to better solutions.

  • Be empathetic: The co-worker you provide constructive criticism to may not understand what they're doing wrong. Try to understand that there may be a reason for the way they behave, perform or act to avoid taking it personally.

  • Agree on a goal: Ask your colleague to agree on a shared goal such as finishing a project or increasing sales, and then use that goal as a driving factor for your constructive criticism.

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