Constructive criticism: explained examples & how to give & receive it

Constructive criticism: explained examples & how to give & receive it
Jobstreet content teamupdated on 15 August, 2023
Share

You aced the project and got the feedback: “Your presentation was excellent. But…”

This is constructive criticism.

In Singapore and the rest of Asia, criticising is tricky. We stick to the status quo due to hierarchy and for the sake of harmony. To overcome this cultural challenge, it's important to educate people on the meaning of constructive criticism and how it can lead to growth and improvement within a team or organisation.

By 2025, 27% of the workforce in OECD countries will be from Gen Z. Singapore's recruiters should keep up. These workers are eager to be part of a workplace that listens to their ideas and insights. They speak up and demand to be listened to. And constructive feedback will not intimidate them.

What is constructive criticism?

Constructive criticism is a type of feedback that gives specific and actionable advice to help employees to improve. The goal is to help make the employee’s performance better at work. It criticises thebehaviour, not theperson.Positive feedback can be a great motivator. It helps to highlight our strengths and build our confidence. Constructive feedback can be just as valuable.

Constructive criticism vs destructive criticism

Constructive criticism is clear and actionable advice. The behaviour needs to change to improve performance.

Destructive criticism is compulsive and attacks the person.

Situation: A colleague ended a virtual call overtime.

Constructive criticism:“During the Zoom, we went to overtime. I suggest that you wrap up earlier before the time ends.”

Destructive criticism:“Can't you read time? Are you blind?”

Constructive feedback

Constructive criticism means criticism intended to change behaviour. It provides concrete details that an employee can take action on.

Characteristics of constructive criticism:

  • Factual
  • Addresses the behaviour, not the personality
  • Not focused on what's wrong but meant to modify behaviours

Destructive criticism

Destructive criticism does not intend to change behaviour; it merely comments.

Characteristics of destructive criticism:

  • Harsh
  • Focuses on the person
  • Finds fault without the intention to correct them

Benefits of constructive criticism

Delivering constructive criticism is a necessary skill. Here's why.

Importance of constructive criticism in personal and professional growth

In a survey by Harvard Business Review, 72% of employees said they preferred that their managers give them corrective feedback.

Feedback identifies areas where employees can develop, so they imbibe a growth mindset.

Common misconceptions about constructive criticism:

  • All feedback is OK
  • Employees are feedback-averse
  • Only managers give feedback
  • Feedback is unimportant

Let's clear up some misconceptions:

First, define your relationship. Are you boss-employee, employee-boss or peer-peer? Now craft your feedback wisely. We feel good about ourselves when we hear positive criticism. But take care with constructive criticism. Your colleague may react negatively (ex: defensive or angry).

Feedback is linked to our training and development, performance evaluation, and even our pay raise and promotion.

How constructive criticism helps individuals improve their skills and performance

It's good practice for a manager and employee to discuss feedback. The manager can assess the employee's strengths and weaknesses and improve their performance. It's advisable to have this feedback meeting as regularly as possible.

First, list your achievements. Tell the manager what you can do. Update each other to check on your progress. Be accountable for your actions.

How constructive criticism helps teams and organisations achieve their goals

Constructive criticism offers solutions to address employees' strengths and weaknesses. By giving them directions on how to tackle their jobs, they can fulfil their expectations of them.

The role of constructive criticism in fostering a culture of continuous improvement

Mentoring also occurs when you provide feedback. A feedback loop can ease and improve employee performance. How?

  • Seek employee feedback
  • Analyse employee satisfaction
  • Turn feedback into action
  • Repeat the feedback loop

Elements of constructive criticism

What makes up constructive criticism?

Constructive criticism focuses on providing feedback that is helpful and encourages growth, rather than criticism that is negative and unproductive.

The importance of timing and context

It helps when you contextualise your feedback. Elaborate on why you're giving it. Insert details relevant to whom you're speaking to. Meet face-to-face during business hours. CEO Jack Zenger of the firm Zenger/Folkman says to practise: “It helps to have a plan, have a track to follow.”

The use of specific and objective language

Set a timeline and objectives. Provide practical advice, not ambiguous comments. In Research: Vague Feedback Is Holding Women Back ,200 performance reviews found that women received 57% more vague praise than men.

Instead of “Good job”, you say, “I enjoyed listening in on your focus group discussion. You explained well why we should include constructive criticism in our skills training. You backed it up with real-world studies too."

The need for empathy and respect

Deliver constructive criticism with the utmost care and respect. How would you react to your own feedback? Did it make you upset? Was it describing the person more than the behaviour? Then edit.

The role of active listening and open-mindedness

Being open to feedback is a best practice in communication. An organisation that listens to their employees sheds light on their work situation. And with it, they can take appropriate action.

Situation: A colleague wants to add a token of appreciation for your client.

Say this: “I read in your email that you have gift ideas for our client. I thought a monogrammed fountain pen would be great. What do you have in mind?”

How to give constructive criticism

Two colleagues sharing feedback

Now that we know what constructive criticism is, let's apply it to real workplace situations.

Establish trust and rapport

Managers and employees who work well together will build trust and rapport. Immerse yourself in each other's work to learn more about your current work situation.

Use the 'feedback sandwich' method

Constructive criticism is at the centre of two pieces of positive feedback.

For example:

Positive: “The report was compelling with accurate data and fascinating insight.”

Constructive: “I would have preferred that you used our brand's colours.”

Positive: “Besides that, you did outstandingly!”

The role of nonverbal communication

Nonverbal cues punctuate your constructive criticism. These are your:

  • Facial expression
  • Eye contact
  • Voice
  • Breath
  • Attention

Match these with your feedback when you speak to the other person.

How to provide actionable feedback

Use this formula: “Situation – Behaviour – Impact – Next”.

  • Refer to a situation
  • Describe the behaviour
  • Describe the impact
  • Offer advice on the next steps to take

Let your colleague know when the behaviour occurred. Bring up what they did exactly. Give explicit information. How did your colleague's action affect you or the team? And then share your desired outcome.

Examples:

Situation: An employee interrupts a presenter.

Behaviour: “I saw you interrupt a teammate presenting twice.”

Impact: “He was unable to finish. I was disappointed.”

Next: “I suggest you don't interject. Email your comments instead.”

Situation: A colleague is sleeping at their workstation.

Behaviour: “I spotted you sleeping on your desk for the entire production floor to see.”

Impact: “I got a reprimanding email from the Director.”

Next: “Are you tired? We have a sleeping room for employees. Next time, rest there.”

Tips for giving constructive criticism

Before you begin, make a plan.

Start with positive feedback

Jumpstart with positive criticism. Mention what the employee did that made an impression on you. Then follow it up with suggestions on how they can proceed.

For example, “You always provide me with the minutes quickly and without embellishments! I always look forward to how well-written they are.”

Use “I” statements

Use “I” instead of “you”. “You” feels like an attack and triggers a colleague's defence mechanism.

“You had no right to talk to the client before me” is harsher than “I would rather reach out to the client, so you don't have to. I appreciate your initiative.”

Be specific and clear

Use the formula Situation – Behaviour – Impact – Next.

Situation: A colleague was five minutes late to a client meeting.

Try this: “By being late to the meeting, you gave the impression that we don't value our client's time. I suggest you apologise to our client in person.”

Focus on behaviour, not personality

Destructive criticism is petty and, at times, threatening. Avoid it at all costs.

Situation:A colleague plays music at a high volume

This is constructive criticism: “I heard you listening to music loudly. Could you use your earphones?”

This is destructive criticism: “Turn the volume down right now or else.”

Provide examples

Constructive criticism is actionable advice. List examples.

Situation:An employee missed an in-house event they were supposed to host.

Tell them: “I missed you at our event yesterday. We have another one tomorrow, so set a calendar notification on your phone. I will call you an hour before the event to remind you. Are you having trouble managing your time? Let's talk. I'll send you a meeting invite.”

Situation: A colleague made a rude remark to a co-worker.

Try this:“A couple of hours ago, I heard you say something inappropriate to Adam. You did it too last time, but I let it pass. I feel it's best that you go to Adam's workstation before the day ends and give him a sincere apology.”

Be empathetic

“Emotional intelligence” was first coined by psychologist Daniel Goleman. Empathy is how you sense and relate to other people's feelings.

Situation: A colleague didn't hit their monthly sales targets.

Say this:“I heard your sales dipped a few points. You still reached your quota and that's an amazing feat!”

Ask for feedback

Normalise asking for specific feedback. Avoid “Yes” or “No” questions.

Instead of: “Do you have feedback for me?”

Ask: “What's one thing that you would like me to do to ensure our project will be successful?”

Use appropriate body language

Use positive body language while giving your feedback. Give a firm handshake or nod when you agree with what the speaker is saying.

End on a positive note

Say the positive comment last so that it will be the last thing they remember, rather than the negative criticism.

For example, “There are a few more details to iron out at your seminar. Check in with your suppliers. I like how well-directed your stage production is!”

Follow up

After the feedback session, check if there is any change in their behaviour. Ensure that the colleague has done what you suggested they do.

Tips for receiving constructive criticism

Receiving feedback is not the same as giving it. You will have to dig deep to accept constructive criticism. Here's how.

The importance of being open to feedback

Being open to criticism is an asset. It means that you are willing to listen. Even your boss receives feedback from their own boss and peers. Your work is linked to everyone else's, and what you do affects them too.

How to manage emotional reactions

Work is personal. Any comment on our work could feel offensive. But if you are leading a team at work, take a firm stance. Keep your face and tone neutral.

The role of active listening and clarifying questions

Assess the feedback in your head first, and then ask for clarifications:

  • Did the feedback suggest solutions? Or did it list down problems?
  • What's the intention of the person giving the feedback?
  • How do you want to address their feedback?

How to use feedback to improve performance

The article Find the Coaching in Criticism says that “those who explicitly seek critical feedback tend to get higher performance ratings.” When you learn someone's comments on how you work, you can make changes. You become aware of whether you're failing or progressing. You keep what works and self-correct as needed.

Example:

How do you respond to constructive criticism? Tip: always say “Thank you.” Acknowledge the feedback.

Try these examples:

Situation: You were unable to sign a document to implement a project.

Say this: “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I was unaware that my actions had slowed down the work process. I will take this opportunity to fix the situation.”

Situation: An employee told you that you play favourites.

Consider this: “Thank you. I appreciate you coming to me about this concern. There are reasons why I did, and it's not what you assume. Let's meet tomorrow to discuss them.”

Things to avoid when receiving constructive feedback

A woman giving constructive feedback

Avoid these negative behaviours when receiving criticism. After listening to it, you need to keep a cool head and be mindful of how you respond.

Being defensive or argumentative

As the feedback recipient, even if you are in a position of authority, you must be receptive to the criticism shared with you. Keep your emotions in check and take this as an opportunity to improve.

Interrupting or talking over the person giving feedback

An incomplete thought might lead to a misunderstanding. Let the person giving the feedback finish what they are saying. Giving feedback is a two-way conversation.

Ignoring or dismissing the feedback without considering it

Poor listening skills reject and devalue feedback. Be open to hearing other perspectives too. You might discover things you were unaware of.

Taking the feedback personally and feeling attacked

We are drawn to people who see our positive side. We avoid those who criticise us. Train yourself not to be feedback-averse.

Focusing only on the negative aspects of the feedback

According to the book, The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It, humans have a “negativity bias”. But co-author John Tierney says that the more you can use your rational brain to override your gut reactions, the better things will be.

Reacting emotionally, such as getting angry or upset

Constructive criticism sounds like a threat, so you retaliate. Feedback has information you can use for yourself. “Conceal; don't feel” is sound advice for this situation.

Dismissing the person giving constructive feedback as unimportant or irrelevant

Considering feedback useless could dissuade employees from approaching you. Give them the confidence to speak their minds.

Belittling or undermining the feedback by saying it's not important

According to a study, undermining people hinders you from performing in the workplace. Undermining your colleagues, including their feedback, is subtle disrespect, but disrespect nonetheless. Every piece of feedback you receive needs your attention.

Being too hard on yourself and taking the feedback too seriously

Sensitive strivers ” are people who use self-criticism as motivation to do well. And when they get criticised by others, they berate themselves more. Nobody is perfect. You always have room for improvement.

Making assumptions about the feedback without seeking clarification

Listen to everything first. Take note of what is unclear to you because your assumptions may be wrong. Keep asking questions until you're sure that you're on the same page as the person giving the feedback.

Situation: You were told to “be more present” at work.

  • “What do you mean when you say ‘present'?”
  • “Can you list down specific instances in which I wasn't present?”
  • “What does “be more present” look like for you? What should I do to achieve this?”

Common challenges in giving and receiving critical feedback

Your fears as a feedback-giver are valid. But you can overcome them.

The fear of hurting someone's feelings

The Harvard Business Review asked more than 200 professionals how they felt about hurting people's feelings. 97% of respondents did not want to put undue stress on the receiver, 94% were worried about their self-esteem, and 92% were afraid to upset people.

This is stressful since you have no control over the reactions of other people.

The fear of being criticised

As children, we sought the approval of our parents and teachers. When we did not receive it, we cried. This fear is a remnant of our childhood experiences. We bring it into adulthood, and it manifests itself in the workplace.

The tendency to dismiss or avoid feedback

Most people are so comfortable in their bubbles that anything new and unfamiliar threatens them. The same goes for feedback. They would rather deny or ignore this new information. They do not offer themselves to criticism because it shatters their self-esteem.

How to overcome these challenges

Socialise with the people who work with you. You may realise that you have the same work aspirations and anxieties. Create spaces for them where they can be open to one-on-one meetings, focus groups, and socials. Give them the option of anonymity too.

A feedback-oriented workplace puts employees at ease as it allows them to speak up and share their ideas and insights.

Conclusion

It's a skill to both receive and deliver constructive criticism. Feedback fosters better communication and interaction. It results in the improvement of every employee's work performance.

Use constructive criticism frequently. This is a two-way conversation. Both managers and employees should be able to communicate what they think, feel, and experience. Take appropriate action and continue to apply yourself.

Constructive criticism makes you confident enough to relate better with people in the workplace. Feedback feeds on constant interaction. When you meet people with diverse personalities, you learn from each other. This is one way to grow personally and professionally.

Frequently asked questions about constructive criticism

  1. What is the difference between constructive criticism and negative feedback?
    Constructive criticism is specific and actionable feedback that improves an employee's behaviour.

    ⁠Negative feedback is directed at a person and provides no details on how they can change their behaviour.
  2. How can I give constructive criticism without sounding harsh or judgmental?
    Start with positive criticism. Be sincere but direct. Use positive nonverbal cues, particularly your tone of voice.
  3. What should I do if I receive constructive criticism that I disagree with?
    When you receive constructive criticism, don't be defensive. Listen carefully. Ask questions and details for clarification. Acknowledge the feedback and act accordingly.
  4. How can I use constructive criticism to improve my performance at work?
    The goal of feedback is to improve work performance. Take the necessary steps to change your behaviour so that you can work better.
  5. How can I encourage my team to give and receive constructive criticism?
    ⁠Assure your team that the practice of giving and receiving constructive criticism will not harm them or their jobs. This is an exchange of suggestions that will improve everyone's performance. Show them how to give and receive feedback, whether good or bad. Practise, mentor, and coach them. Accomplish goals together.

Go to our Career Advice page or download JobStreet's app, available on the App Store and Google Play, for tips on how you can upskill better for your career.

Workplace skills

Browse top search terms

Did you know many candidates preparing a resume also research their industry by exploring top search terms?
Did you find this helpful?
😦
😐
🙂

Subscribe to Career Advice

Get expert career advice delivered to your inbox.
You can cancel emails at any time. By clicking ‘subscribe’ you agree to Jobstreet’s Privacy Statement.