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Constructive Criticism: Meaning, Tips and Examples

Providing feedback that helps employees to do a better job is an important part of a manager’s role. However, criticising an employee in the wrong way can damage their confidence and even embarrass or upset them. When criticism is delivered poorly, you can end up lowering the morale for the entire team. 

It is possible to deliver criticism in a constructive, positive way that empowers employees to do their best work. In this article, we’ll discuss constructive criticism, including some tips for managers on providing it and some practical examples of how it works.

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What Is Constructive Criticism?

Constructive criticism is a type of feedback that offers specific and actionable advice to help employees to improve. It should be clear and direct and include the practical steps an employee can take moving forward. 

When you deliver constructive criticism to an employee, you should also highlight the things they are doing well, which puts the criticism into context. Framing criticism as an area for improvement rather than a problem helps ensure employees can take it on board without feeling attacked or hurt.  

The Benefits of Constructive Criticism

Giving feedback in the form of constructive criticism instead of just telling employees what they did wrong can have many benefits. For example, constructive criticism:

  • Builds trust: When employees receive constructive criticism from their manager, they understand that the manager wants them to succeed and isn’t attacking them personally. It also shows them that their employer trusts them to do the work needed to improve. 

  • Provides context for feedback: Constructive criticism puts any problems in the context of the otherwise good work the employee is doing. This helps them to see that they’re not doing a bad job overall — there are just certain areas where they could improve. 

  • Includes actionable advice: Criticising an employee without telling them how to do better isn’t helpful to anyone. By providing constructive criticism instead, you can show them the steps they need to take to resolve any problems. 

  • Creates a collaborative environment: When employees are comfortable giving and receiving constructive feedback, this creates a better environment for everyone to work together effectively. 

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How to Give Constructive Criticism: 5 Tips for Managers

Not sure how to start delivering effective constructive criticism to empower your employees and improve performance? Here are a few tips:  

1. Use the ‘Feedback Sandwich’ Method

When you deliver constructive criticism, you should put it into context by telling employees what they are doing well. The feedback sandwich method involves sandwiching your critique between two positives. It’s sometimes known as PIP feedback, which stands for positive-improvement-positive. 

For example, if you had improvements to offer an employee on the way they managed a project, you might say: 

You did a great job motivating the team and making sure everyone knew what they were doing at all times. 

However, I would have liked more communication with you on how the project was going, as I often didn’t receive a response to my emails and had to follow up. Next time, let’s set a schedule for check-ins throughout the project so that I can keep an eye on progress. 

That said, the project ran very smoothly, and the client was really happy with what you delivered. Well done!’

2. Be Clear and Specific 

Feedback that’s vague or includes blanket statements can be confusing and doesn’t tell employees exactly what they need to change. It can even leave them feeling attacked, as they might feel you’re criticising them in general rather than a specific aspect of their work. 

It’s important to ensure your feedback is clear and specific and to provide examples of things the employee could have done differently. Here’s an example to make things clearer:

Vague criticism: 

‘You need to manage your time better.’

Specific criticism: 

‘I would like you to take some time at the beginning of a project to create a plan for yourself that outlines what needs to be done by when. This should help you to make sure you don’t miss any more deadlines. If you like, I could help you to do this so that you can see how I manage my time when I have a big project on my hands.’

3. Be Aware of Timing 

It’s important to deliver constructive criticism when an employee is ready to receive it. This means being mindful of their emotions and taking them into consideration. For example, if there has been a heated discussion, it’s best to wait until everyone is calm and ready to talk. 

You might also want to consider giving real-time feedback instead of waiting for your next scheduled check-in or annual review. This way, the events will still be fresh in everyone’s minds, which will make it easier for the employee to improve their performance.

4. Focus on the Situation 

When you have constructive criticism to deliver, it’s important to focus on the situation and not the employee’s personality or motivation. It’s best to base your critiques on observable behaviours so that the employee can see it’s not about them personally. 

Another important thing to remember is that constructive criticism should be objective — which means keeping your personal opinion out of it. For example, instead of saying ‘I didn’t like the colours you used on the poster’, you could say: 

‘The colours of the text and the background on the poster could make it difficult for some people to read. Could you change them for more contrasting colours?’ 

5. Include Recommendations and Advice

Constructive criticism should always include recommendations for your employees on how they could improve their work. Instead of just telling them what they’re doing wrong — which can be disheartening — show them that you truly want them to succeed by giving them practical advice that will help them improve. 

Letting your employees know they can come to you for help if they need it can also help to build a culture of trust and collaboration. 

Examples of Constructive Criticism

Here are some examples to demonstrate how you might deliver constructive criticism to an employee:  

Example #1

Situation: Giving feedback on a presentation 

Constructive criticism: 

‘I think you did a great job with the presentation, and the examples you chose to include really helped with understanding. 

Next time, I would suggest cutting those examples to one per slide, as the presentation ran a bit long, and I found that the examples distracted from the main point in certain places. 

But overall, the presentation flowed well, and I love how you delivered the information in an engaging way.’ 

Example #2

Situation: Giving feedback to an employee who doesn’t take initiative 

Constructive criticism: 

‘I know you have a lot of knowledge about marketing, and your contributions to this part of the project were extremely valuable. Thanks! 

But I noticed you didn’t get involved with this part of the project until you were asked to — is this not something you enjoy working on? 

Going forward, I’d love it if you could take the lead on the areas of the project that you perform strongly in. Perhaps we could set up a meeting next week to discuss the types of work you’d be comfortable taking the lead on?’ 

Frequently Asked Questions About Constructive Criticism

Still have questions about constructive criticism? Here are the answers to some FAQs:  

Is Constructive Criticism Good Or Bad? 

Constructive criticism is considered to be a good thing in the workplace because it builds up employees instead of bringing them down. While its primary purpose is to point out areas for improvement, it doesn’t just focus on the problems. 

It also lets employees know what they are already doing well, which puts the criticism into context. After receiving constructive criticism, employees have all of the information they need to improve. 

What’s the Opposite of Constructive Criticism? 

The opposite of constructive criticism is destructive criticism. This type of feedback focuses purely on the problems and doesn’t provide any guidance on how to improve. Instead of building someone up and empowering them to do their best work, destructive criticism can derail confidence and lower morale across the organisation.

Simplify Employee Feedback With Personio 

Delivering constructive criticism is essential to employee feedback, as it helps everyone to improve and do their best work. 

Using Personio, you can easily set up performance cycles for specific teams or the whole organisation so that you can deliver productive, constructive criticism at the appropriate time. 

Managers and employers are automatically prompted to complete their reviews, and you can schedule performance meetings from within the platform when face-to-face feedback is needed. You can even request peer feedback about your team, and team members can give upward reviews of their managers. 

Interested? Book a free demo to see how Personio could transform the feedback culture in your organisation. 

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