Business Negotiation June 20, 2023

What is Constructive Criticism & How to Give Negative Feedback

What is Constructive Criticism? And How to Give Negative Feedback in a Positive Way (Examples)

Feedback is essential for any team member to excel in what they do. After all, approximately 92% of people believe that constructive or corrective criticism helps improve performance.

The problem is that everybody has a different constructive criticism definition. What is constructive criticism to some may be viewed as unhelpful criticism to others. So, where do you draw the line?

In this guide, we discuss constructive criticism definitions and examples to enable you to understand better what you should and shouldn’t do when giving constructive criticism.

The Role of Criticism & Feedback in the Workplace

As managers, peers or supervisors, we are often placed in the position of taking exception to how or what another person or subordinate is doing. It is not a pleasant role, one that if poorly handled can reap havoc with any relationship, even a good one.

Most managers see criticism as a necessary part of their job responsibility in getting what needs to be done completed within designated quality, time and cost standards. What they wish to do is encourage subordinates or other to do the work in a better manner or to rid themselves of a certain dysfunctional habit that impedes their effectiveness. They generally do not wish to punish the person criticized, but instead view their action as constructive and appropriate.

Some people criticize for unconstructive purposes. They seek not to improve but to raise their own self-respect at the expense of another. By finding fault or lashing out in anger at imperfections, they strive to establish their own dominance or superiority. I have even attended professional conferences where people criticized other professionals by pointing out petty errors in their reasoning or analysis for no reason but to look good. Criticism for these purposes is never constructive, guaranteed to do more harm than good to both recipient and sender.

When to Give Criticism to Employees

Whatever the reason, well-intended or not, there is far more criticism at work than need be. Most psychologists agree that criticism does not lead people to change behavior. Instead it creates anger and defensiveness on the part of the person criticized. Communication between the parties is shackled, and positive relationships impeded.

Yet, we are left with a paradox. On the one hand criticism is ineffective, if not harmful. On the other hand, some criticism at work is certainly part of the habitual interaction of managers and subordinates everywhere. People at work do indeed fail to follow directions or make mistakes and need guidance in doing work correctly.

The trouble is that, as managers, we may unintentionally provide negative feedback to another eve when we try to help them change as carefully as possible. For reasons beyond our control, the other may interpret our best intentions as faultfinding and resent both message and messenger. Constructive criticism that minimizes resentment is a difficult act to balance.

Constructive Criticism: Definition

What is constructive criticism?

This form of feedback focuses on constructively delivering helpful criticism with a positive spin on it. Another word for constructive criticism is positive criticism because the goal is ultimately to help somebody to improve their performance and behavior.

Approximately 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once weekly, showing that knowing how to criticize is an asset to every organization, regardless of your preferred management style.

Three main characteristics make up constructive criticism:

· Actionable – The feedback has a clear pathway for the person receiving it to act upon it. This contrasts with destructive criticism, which is little more than an insult.

· Clear – Whenever someone receives negative feedback, there is no room for error if it is to be constructive. The language is clear and to the point to avoid any confusion.

· Beneficial – If you are starting constructive criticism training, one of the first aspects you will focus on is intent. Before delivering criticism, ask yourself, “Is there value in saying what I’m about to say?”

Learning how to give constructive feedback is always complex. Of course, nobody wants to say something negative, but giving your employees chances to grow is vital. This is proven in the trenches, with 83% of employees saying they value feedback, whether good or bad.

Additionally, your employees will appreciate your commitment to supporting their careers. In a Harvard Business Review study, 72% of employees cited feedback from their supervisors as the most helpful thing in their careers.

Constructive Criticism: Examples in the Workplace

Constructive criticism will follow several principles when given correctly. Here are three examples of constructive criticism in action to prove how the above three characteristics of actionable, clear, and beneficial work.

· Lack of Organization – “During our last project, you posted the meeting minutes into one folder and failed to label them correctly, which made it difficult for the team to find what they needed quickly. Next time, please label each file appropriately so we can find everything easily.”

· Missing Deadlines – “Every time I ask for a project update, you only reply a day after we have missed the deadline, meaning we cannot deliver the work to our clients on time. I would like you to provide more frequent updates in the future. I understand you are busy, so I am asking the team to do the same.”

· Lack of Team Play – “Your comments during meetings have been off-putting and distracting to the other team members, making it hard for us to stay on-task. I want us to keep our conversations about working during meetings and leave the off-topic conversations until afterward.”

These three examples have the same characteristics. They never use judgmental language, avoid aggression, and provide actionable feedback based on a recent example.

And this approach is the essence of constructive criticism and why it is so effective.

Constructive Criticism vs. Destructive Criticism Examples

When receiving constructive criticism, one should listen and empathize, but this becomes impossible if an employee feels as if they are being personally attacked.

Before going any further, we must discuss what this looks like. Firstly, here is what a destructive piece of criticism looks like:

“Dave, what’s going on with your work lately? It’s full of errors and a complete mess. I don’t have time to fix this to send to the client. You’re really letting the team down. Get it together!”

If this criticism were constructive, it would look something like this:

“Dave, you’ve been one of the best performers on our team, but for the last week, your work has had a lot of mistakes, which I know is quite unlike you. However, I know your work is always high-quality, so if there is anything I can help you with, please let me know, and we will work on it together.”

How to Give Negative Feedback in a Positive Way

This is where it gets complicated because most people need ideas of how to correctly give negative feedback. All it takes is one negative incident to cause long-term damage to your organization.

Let’s discuss how to give constructive criticism and constructive criticism examples.

Identify and Be Specific

Identify the problem and provide specific examples relevant to that employee. General problems are often insufficient to make the person understand, but with specific examples and clear solutions, you have a greater chance of success.

Regular Follow-Up

Criticism becomes constructive when you show a genuine interest in that person’s progress. If your team can see that the organization is committed to its improvement, they are more likely to take criticism with the intention it was given and work on rectifying its flaws.

Be Sincere

The essence of how to give positive feedback is not to dwindle on the fault. Instead, state the fault but show your sincerity by clarifying that you are committed to helping them improve.

Never lie or fail to reveal the full facts. Honesty is vital to getting the results you want. But, again, this is all about being clear and direct.

Listen

Dressing down to an employee may feel like the rightful hierarchy, but this only creates negative feelings.

Take the time to listen to your employee and understand their position. Aim to create empathy and acquire further insights into why problems have arisen.

Be Discrete

Never say anything critical in front of the rest of the team. This is embarrassing and humiliating, leading to trauma and deep-seated resentment.

Nothing good can come out of public haranguing, so you must discreetly deliver criticism.

How to Give Negative Feedback in a Positive Way: Examples

With the basics of constructive criticism in mind, what is constructive criticism within the workplace?

Many employers grasp the abstract concept but need help to see through its proper implementation. In this section, we’re going to discuss some examples.

To simplify things, we have divided each example into six common categories with an example of how you might deliver negative feedback afterward.

· Communication – “I’ve noticed that our quieter team members don’t get to speak during our meetings. Please make an effort to allow everyone to have their say.”

· Interpersonal – “Some of our new hires have not had the time to get to know you yet. Please take some time to introduce yourself to them to bring them into the team.”

· Problem-Solving – “I believe our last project went well, but I think we can improve in a few areas. I’ve emailed some suggestions and would happily discuss them in greater depth.”

· Alignment – “Our recent client meeting became quite heated, which didn’t leave us in the best light. In the future, it would be best to keep a lid on everything and get on the same page.”

· Motivation – “Morale seems low at the moment, but as a manager, I think it’s bringing the others down too. Could you try to take the lead and show enthusiasm in your work to help elevate them?”

· Efficiency – “I’m concerned your productivity has dipped recently. Could we get together to discuss ideas for improving your efficiency?”

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