9 tips for giving constructive criticism at work

Most of us have been on the receiving end of criticism at work – it’s one of those terrible feelings that takes a while to shake away. That’s why constructive criticism is most effective when it is delivered with kindness, respect and a genuine desire to help the other person improve.

But it’s difficult to get it right – and everyone receives feedback differently. Here we discuss 9  tips for how to give constructive criticism at work compassionately, so the next time you’re having a hard conversation you can be sure you’re equipped to get the best outcome for everyone involved.

1. Choose the right time and place

 Choosing the right time and place is crucial when giving constructive criticism. Find a suitable setting where the person can receive feedback without distractions or embarrassment. Timing is important, as providing feedback when emotions are running high or in front of others can be counterproductive. Choose a private and neutral environment that allows the person to be more open and receptive to your critique.

2.Be specific with your feedback

 Being specific when giving constructive criticism is essential for an effective outcome for all parties. Vague feedback can leave your team members confused about what exactly needs to be addressed. By providing specific details, you pinpoint the behaviour or issue that requires attention.

For example, instead of saying “Your presentation wasn’t quite right,” you can say, “I noticed that your slides lacked clear visuals and supporting data, making it difficult for the client to understand your main points.” Specificity helps the person understand the areas that require improvement and helps them to take targeted action.

3.Balance the positives and negatives

Often people refer to this as the feedback sandwich – which is a technique of cushioning the negative feedback between positive feedback. It’s all about balance – while it’s important to address areas that need improvement, merely focusing on negatives can discourage your colleague from receiving the feedback. By including positives, you acknowledge their strengths, efforts, or accomplishments related to the subject at hand. This empathic approach helps create a more receptive and comfortable atmosphere.

4.Focus on performance, not personality

 People are much more than their jobs – and it’s important to remember that. Reviewing someone’s performance is about addressing specific actions or patterns that can be changed or improved, whereas criticising their personality traits or inherent qualities can be hurtful and unproductive. Focusing on behaviours and performance allows the other person to understand that the criticism is not a personal attack, but rather an opportunity to adjust their work for better outcomes.

5.Stay objective and fair

 Objectivity involves providing feedback based on facts and specific examples. You will only make your colleague uncomfortable with personal biases or opinions – so it’s important to stay grounded in reality. To be fair, it’s important to evaluate the person’s work or behaviour against established criteria or standards – for example a job description or KPIs.

6.Avoid making assumptions

 In addition to objectivity, it’s important to avoid making assumptions. It’s human nature to draw conclusions – however you can’t let this get in the way of your professionalism or the reality of the situation at work.

For example, instead of assuming that someone can’t keep on top of their workload because they missed a deadline, approach the situation by seeking to understand the reasons behind the missed deadline. Maybe they were facing challenges outside of work, or didn’t have the necessary resources available to them. By avoiding assumptions and seeking clarity, you will provide more accurate and constructive feedback.

7.Encourage a conversation

 When providing criticism, invite your colleague to engage in the conversation by asking open-ended questions and seek clarification – employee voice is so important in these situations.

For example, you can ask, “How do you think this could have been approached differently?” or “What challenges did you face while working on this project?” This encourages them to reflect on their actions and thought processes. Active listening is also key during the conversation. Give the person your full attention and genuinely consider their viewpoint. The team member receiving feedback is more likely to feel respected and understood, which increases their receptiveness to the criticism.

8.Offer actions and solutions

 This point is self-explanatory – however it’s often overlooked when delivery feedback. It’s not enough to simply point out the problem. Providing actionable steps demonstrates your support and commitment to helping your colleague grow and develop. It shows that you are invested in their success and willing to assist them in finding a way forward.

To offer actions and solutions, consider the specific areas that need improvement and provide clear recommendations. For example, if you’re critiquing a written report, you can suggest revising the structure, conducting additional research, or improving clarity in certain sections. Be specific and offer practical steps that the person can take to address the identified shortcomings.

9.Follow-up and support

 After delivering criticism, it’s essential to follow up with the individual regularly. This allows you to check on their progress, provide further guidance if needed, and address any challenges they may be facing. Following up shows that you are invested in their success and are willing to provide ongoing support.

When people are heard, teams are happy!

To learn more about Stribe and how our employee engagement platform can help your team be the best they can be – get in touch today.