Tips on how to give constructive criticism

Use these strategies to keep the conversation positive and productive.

Analyse the ‘why’ behind your actions
Before you step up to give some criticism, think about the reasons behind your behaviour. Why do you wish to provide criticism? Examine your motives. Are you doing it to exert your authority or prove your superiority? The reasons behind your criticism are as important as the criticism itself. Remember, this is an opportunity to address a specific behaviour/problem and work together to bring about change. So go ahead only if you’re viewing the discussion in a similar light.

Discuss the behaviour, not the person
When providing criticism it is important to mention the behaviour under discussion, rather than target their personality. For example, if you’re discussing their presentations style, mention what they could do to make it more engaging, like adding more visuals, interesting anecdotes, etc. Avoid saying “You’re terrible at making a presentation”. You can reference specific behaviours or instances if you’re trying to address a negative attitude. For example, a hostile tone, not giving others a chance to speak, disengaging when others are talking, etc. When referencing negative behaviours, it’s important to mention the kind of behaviours you do want so that they are clear about what is expected.

Highlight opportunities and set new goals
Rather than going into the past and listing out all their faults, missed opportunities and goals missed, focus on the change and what can be done in the future. Go from accusatory “you” statements, to “how”. Discuss how you can help the person navigate the problems and learn from them. Highlight what you consider opportunities for their growth. Remember to take into consideration their goals when discussing these opportunities and the steps to be taken.

Suggest, don’t give orders
When discussing the way ahead, frame your suggestions as questions. For example, ask them what they think about the situation and how would they like to proceed. After suggesting a proactive step, ask “Do you think this could work?”. Asking for their opinion makes it a collaborative exercise and encourages them to think creatively about a problem. It also gives them a sense of control, that they are making their own decisions. It’s key to make it a two-way conversation. If you were to present the way ahead as a series of orders then you will bruise their pride and encourage rebellion instead of cooperation.

Be respectful
Your tone of voice, body language and words used are very important as they can decide how your criticism is received. Stick to the facts and maintain a neutral tone of voice. Most people struggle with accepting criticism, so show respect, empathy, and positivity. Maintain the other person’s dignity by not making it personal and discuss the problem objectively, without emotion. Avoid sentences that start with “you never”, “you always”, or “you don’t”. If you’re struggling with how to approach the problem, consider how you would like to be treated if the situation was reversed.

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