7 Keys to Giving Constructive Criticism

Regardless of how constructive criticism of another person is meant to be, most people, when criticized in any way, are put on the defensive the second they feel as though they have done something wrong. Combine this natural defensiveness with the constructive criticism being given in the context of one’s work, and the potential for the “criticized” person to be left feeling beaten up increases dramatically. To minimize this potential and maximize the effectiveness of any difficult communication, it is helpful to think about what is being said not as criticism, but rather full and complete communication! Full and complete communication leaves no room for reading between any proverbial lines, and it provides the space to speak what is on our minds in a respectful and constructive way. Constructive criticism, how it is received, and its overall effectiveness can hinge on that one single factor.

Keys to Giving Constructive Criticism:

  1. Before addressing the issue for which you want to give “constructive” criticism, ask permission to speak straight about what you see. Establish a good time to talk privately, and when talking privately say, for example, “I noticed that you had a difficult time with that transaction, and I’d like to help you refine your technique. Is it okay with you if I show you how you could improve your process?” By asking permission, you dismantle the automatic defensive reaction that we all have to criticism and open the door to full and complete communication.
  2. After you have established permission to speak to the heart of the issue, address what you see from your own experiences. For example: “I remember when I was working on a similar project several years ago and this same thing happened to me. This is how I handled it…” By creating this type of relatedness, you come across in the manner that your criticism is intended, and that is constructively versus critically!
  3. When providing constructive criticism, full and complete communication requires you to speak so that others can actually understand what it is that you are communicating. In other words, speak into the listening of others. We have all been victim of enough miscommunication to know that every individual listens and filters what is being said in different ways. Therefore, as the person giving criticism or communicating in any way, it is your responsibility to make sure that you communicate in such a way that the intended receiver actually understands what it is that’s being communicated.
  4. Once you have spoken the information that you had permission to share, be open to discussing further what you are communicating. Encourage questions and go so far as to ask the receiver to tell you, in their own words, what they got out of what you said. In doing so, you have the opportunity to make sure that what you said was not misinterpreted in any way.
  5. Don’t leave people feeling made wrong. Emphasize that mistakes or the need to tweak how we approach something are part of how we learn, and what is important is that they learn from the constructive criticism in order to avoid the same mistake in the future.
  6. Provide the person you are communicating with another opportunity to speak regarding what they got from your input. Your goal is to always communicate fully and completely, leaving no room for misinterpretation, reading between the lines, or leaving people in a place where they don’t understand the intent of the original communication.
  7. Finally, always acknowledge and thank the person you are talking with for allowing you to contribute to them.

Ultimately, criticism is nothing more than an opportunity to learn and grow inside of our jobs, relationships, and in the world as a whole, which is not always easy to see. So, whether criticism is seen as a critical or constructive is ultimately up to the person on the receiving end. However, as someone giving criticism, you have the opportunity to set the stage and ensure that what you have to say is given and taken in the best light possible.