Constructive criticism: How to give and receive feedback

Constructive criticism: How to give and receive feedback
SEEK content teamupdated on 16 November, 2023

Giving and receiving constructive criticism isn’t always easy – but it’s essential for success in the workplace. Mastering the ability to accept constructive criticism and take it on board is one of the best ways to develop yourself professionally.

On the other hand, giving constructive feedback in a productive way is also a valuable skill, and vital for fostering a positive and motivating work environment. Keep reading to learn more about the meaning of constructive criticism as well as how to effectively give and receive it.

What is constructive criticism?

Before we delve into how to give and receive constructive feedback, it’s important to understand the constructive criticism meaning. While criticism involves highlighting negative aspects of something or someone, constructive criticism focuses on offering actionable feedback with the intent of helping someone improve.

A key part of making criticism constructive is by including actions the person can take to learn and develop themselves at work. While constructive criticism by definition isn’t all positive, it also shouldn’t focus purely on the negative or seek to lay blame.

Constructive vs destructive criticism

There’s an art to delivering feedback so that the person on the receiving end sees it as an opportunity to grow rather than a personal attack. So while mastering the ability to receive criticism is important, learning how to deliver constructive criticism is just as essential. Here’s a quick breakdown of the difference between constructive and destructive criticism. 

Constructive criticism

The aim of constructive criticism is to help the recipient improve their performance. Constructive criticism done correctly in a professional setting fosters a positive growth mindset, enhances performance, strengthens working relationships and cultivates a productive work environment. 

Constructive criticism is based on several key principles. It should be:

  • specific,
  • timely,
  • behaviour focused,
  • productive and
  • goal oriented.

Here’s an effective constructive criticism example:  

I wanted to check in to see how you’re doing with your current workload. If you have any questions, please feel free to shoot them my way. I’m always here to help you if you need a hand. If it helps, you could send me a daily update of where you’re at so we can stay on track. What do you think? 

Destructive criticism

While constructive criticism aims to enhance performance and strengthen relationships, destructive criticism can have the opposite effect. Destructive criticism can often be hurtful, damaging and counterproductive. Rather than provide solutions to help drive performance, destructive feedback is often delivered with the intention of causing harm or humiliation. 

Destructive feedback is often:

  • blame-focused,
  • a personal attack,
  • aggressive or confrontational,
  • unhelpful and
  • lacking specifics.

The benefits of positive criticism

Providing collagues with constructive criticism can help them in their personal and professional growth. Even though it can be challenging providing effective feedback, you shouldn’t let that discourage you from trying. It’s a common misconception that employees don’t want feedback. Here are some other myths around feedback in the workplace:

  • Any feedback is better than no feedback at all. Poorly delivered feedback can cause more harm than good, so it’s important to take the time to reflect on your delivery so that your criticism is constructive.
  • It’s up to managers to provide feedback. If an individual is qualified to provide constructive criticism but they aren’t a manager, that shouldn’t stop them from offering help and advice. 
  • Feedback should only be only during a performance review. Constructive feedback should be provided in a timely manner, so it’s best to help your colleague when they need it, so they have time to improve before their performance review. 
  • People only want to hear positive feedback. It’s always nice to receive positive feedback, but constructive criticism is where opportunities for growth and development lie.

Now that we’ve covered some common misconceptions surrounding constructive criticism, here are three key benefits it provides.

1. Improves skills and performance

One of the main benefits of constructive feedback is that it provides individuals with valuable insights into their strengths and weaknesses. This feedback can help them correct mistakes and develop new skills. This can also lead to improved performance and the delivery of better results.

2. Helps teams and organisations achieve their goals

Constructive criticism plays a key role in helping individuals, teams and organisations achieve their goals. It drives learning and development, which helps companies adapt quickly and stay ahead of the competition. Continuous feedback allows individuals and teams to align with broader organisational goals, so everyone works towards the same objectives and outcomes. It can also help teams stay motivated to meet their targets. 

3. Fosters a culture of continuous improvement

Constructive criticism is essential for creating a workplace culture of continuous improvement. By constantly analysing performance, companies are able to identify potential areas for growth, which helps promote ongoing learning. People receiving regular feedback will be more likely to engage in self-reflection, enabling them to find practical ways to overcome obstacles and make improvements.

The elements of effective constructive criticism

Providing effective constructive criticism is a skill that takes practice to perfect. Here are some tips to help you deliver more effective constructive criticism.

Time your delivery

When it comes to providing effective feedback, it’s important to be mindful of your timing. Generally, it’s best to provide feedback sooner rather than later. As time passes, feedback often loses its relevance and can become less helpful. It’s also worth picking a time when you’re in the right frame of mind to deliver feedback in a constructive manner and when the recipient is able to focus on what you’re saying.

Use of specific and objective language

One of the key elements of providing constructive feedback is ensuring it’s specific and actionable. Constructive feedback focuses on problem solving and providing suggestions as to how the recipient can improve on their performance. While delivering your feedback, you should cover:

  • The behaviour: discussing what your colleague did and how they did it helps to provide context.
  • The outcome: touch on the results of their behaviour and how it affected the team.
  • The next steps: chatting through the next steps helps to work towards a solution to improve performance.

Show empathy and respect

Even the most open-minded person can find it hard to handle constructive criticism, so it’s essential to show empathy and respect during your exchange. Some people like to use the sandwich method to deliver feedback (putting a criticism between two compliments), but this can cause confusion on what the next steps are. 

While it can be tempting to sugarcoat your feedback, it’s often best to be transparent and direct (while using empathy).

Practise active listening and open-mindedness

Providing feedback should never be a one-way conversation. Instead, you should approach the situation with an open mind and be willing to receive feedback yourself. Creating a safe space where you can have an open conversation can help the recipient feel comfortable and more receptive. Practise active listening so you can work with your team members to create effective solutions that they can own. 

How to give constructive criticism

The goal of providing constructive criticism is to help people grow and develop. With this in mind, it’s essential to approach constructive feedback in the right way to ensure it's received and actioned in the way you intended. 

The first step in giving effective constructive criticism is to create a safe space that’s built on a foundation of trust. Developing a rapport with your team can help them feel comfortable, so they’re naturally more receptive to feedback. And while it’s important to be mindful of the language you use during your conversation, it’s essential to maintain positive and open body language too. Non-verbal signals, like frowning or crossing your arms, can make people feel uncomfortable, causing them to put up a wall and become defensive.

If your conversation is going to involve negative feedback, it can help to deliver your constructive criticism as a feedback sandwich. But rather than putting your constructive feedback in between two positive comments, it’s best to start with a positive comment, highlight the behaviour that needs improving and finish with actionable advice. 

Here is an example of what you might say when giving constructive criticism:

I really admire your commitment to high standards of work and I can see that quality it is important to you. But I've noticed recently that there have been a couple of missed deadlines. I understand that you are juggling multiple tasks, so I have a couple of time management strategies that I think could really help. Before we get into those strategies, is there anything you’d like to discuss that could be contributing to delays?

Tips for giving constructive criticism

Now that you’re familiar with the basics of providing constructive criticism, it’s time to get into the specifics. Here are a few tips on giving constructive criticism. 

  • Start with a positive statement. Diving straight into negative feedback can be a quick way to put people offside, so open with some positive feedback to help create a safe space.
  • Use ‘I’ statements. Using ‘I’ statements helps to take the spotlight off the recipient and focus on your experience instead. By starting each sentence with an ‘I’, you’re able to make it clear that you’re sharing your personal thoughts and feelings rather than stating an objective fact.
  • Be specific and clear. Effective feedback is specific. The recipient should understand exactly what you’re talking about and come away from the conversation knowing how they can improve.
  • Focus on behaviours, not personality. Constructive feedback is not a personal critique. It should always focus on the behaviour and the outcome.
  • Provide examples. Offer specific examples that demonstrate how the employee can improve.
  • Be empathetic. Providing feedback should be a two-way street, so it’s important to demonstrate empathy and allow the recipient to share their side of the story too.
  • Ask for feedback. Seek feedback from your team on a regular basis. By showing you are open to criticism yourself, you help create an environment where your team will likely be more receptive to feedback. 
  • Use appropriate body language. Non-verbal cues like eye contact, a relaxed posture and neutral facial expressions can create a better environment for delivering constructive criticism effectively.
  • End on a positive note. Wrapping up on positive terms can help the recipient feel confident about their next steps.
  • Follow up. Remember to offer the recipient ongoing support after providing constructive criticism. Provide assistance throughout the improvement process and encourage them to approach you in the future should they have any issues. Touch base with them regularly to see how they’re progressing and provide positive reinforcement to encourage beneficial changes and growth. 

How to receive constructive criticism

Giving constructive feedback is one thing – receiving it gracefully is another. Hopefully, the person providing the constructive criticism has done their part to work on their delivery. As the recipient, here are a few tips that will help you accept feedback with a positive mindset.

Be open

Firstly, it’s important to be open to receiving feedback. If you’re keen to make improvements on the job or develop your knowledge and skills, receiving constructive feedback is one of the best ways to enhance your performance. 

Stay calm

When receiving feedback, keep calm and try not to become defensive. Focus on what the person is saying and try to see the situation objectively. Practise active listening and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you need further clarification. You might even want to ask for specific examples of what you have been doing ‘wrong’ to help you better understand the reasoning behind the feedback. 

Take it on board

You can use this conversation as an opportunity to formulate an effective strategy for improving your performance. Work with the person providing the feedback to develop steps to help guide you in the right direction. More often than not, they will have their own personal experiences they can share with you that might be helpful in your journey of self-improvement.

Here’s an example of how you can receive feedback:

Thank you for taking the time to provide this feedback, I really appreciate your honesty. I'll take this on board and work on improving those areas. Do you have any suggestions for specific steps I can take?

Things to avoid when receiving constructive criticism

Now that you know what to do, here’s what to avoid when it comes to receiving constructive criticism. 

  • Being defensive or argumentative
  • Interrupting or talking over the person giving feedback
  • Ignoring or dismissing the feedback without considering it
  • Taking the feedback personally and feeling attacked
  • Focusing only on the negative aspects of the feedback
  • Reacting emotionally, such as getting angry or upset
  • Dismissing the person giving feedback as unimportant or irrelevant
  • Belittling or undermining the feedback by saying it's not important
  • Being too hard on yourself and taking the feedback too seriously and
  • Making assumptions about the feedback without seeking clarification

It’s important to understand that when a workmate takes the time to provide you with constructive feedback, they’re investing in your personal and professional growth and development. Try to view it as an opportunity to improve.

Common challenges in giving and receiving constructive criticism

Your ability to give constructive criticism may take some time to perfect, but it’s a worthwhile soft skill to develop. Avoiding giving feedback allows small issues to worsen with time, so it’s usually best to address problems as early as you can. Here are some of the common challenges that often come with the feedback process.

Fear of offending vs fear of being criticised

One of the most common challenges of giving feedback is the fear of hurting someone’s feelings. But by not providing constructive criticism, you can cause more harm than good. By providing feedback, you’re able to give the recipient an opportunity to address their shortfalls and improve their performance, which can ultimately lead to a more positive work environment. 

On the flip side, many people fear being criticised and can take constructive feedback personally. Rather than putting your guard up when receiving criticism, it’s important to view it as an opportunity for professional growth and development.

Avoiding feedback vs dismissing feedback

There’s no doubt that providing feedback can be challenging, which can lead many people to avoid giving feedback altogether. You may fear upsetting the recipient or wish to avoid confrontation, but following our tips for providing effective feedback can make the process easier. Remember: the more you practise giving constructive feedback the better you’ll get at it and the easier it will become. Receiving feedback can also be difficult. Rather than being dismissive, it’s important to approach constructive criticism with an open mind and a willingness to make changes.

Constructive criticism provides a number of benefits, both for individual employees and organisations in general. It helps promote personal and professional growth, enhance performance, strengthen relationships and foster a workplace culture of continuous improvement. While effectively delivering and receiving criticism takes time and effort to master, the positive change it brings is well worth the effort.


What is the difference between constructive criticism and negative feedback?

Constructive criticism often involves providing negative feedback with the intention of helping the recipient improve their actions or behaviours. Constructive feedback doesn’t solely focus on the negatives, but rather highlights areas for growth and development while providing suggestions and examples for making those changes. 

How can I give constructive criticism without sounding harsh or judgmental?

When proving constructive criticism, it’s important to focus on the behaviour that needs improvement rather than the recipient’s personality. By putting the spotlight on their actions or performance, you can help show your support rather than coming off as harsh or judgemental. Encourage them to engage in the conversation by asking questions, seeking clarification or providing feedback of their own.

What should I do if I receive constructive criticism that I disagree with?

Constructive criticism should be a two-way conversation, so if you don’t agree with the feedback, you may want to consider sharing your perspective. With this said, it’s important to voice your opinion without becoming defensive or emotional. Do your best to practise active listening, to understand where the other person is coming from. More often than not, they’re trying to help you grow and improve.

How can I use constructive criticism to improve my performance at work?

Constructive criticism is one of the best ways to identify areas of improvement. Use the discussion as an opportunity to brainstorm different approaches and solutions so you can come up with an action plan that drives professional development. Learn from your mistakes, implement changes and practise self-reflection so you can continuously improve on your own actions and behaviours.

How can I encourage my team to give and receive constructive criticism?

If you’re keen to encourage your team to give and receive feedback, start by modelling that behaviour yourself. Make sure your team understands the basics of both providing effective feedback and receiving constructive criticism. Create regular opportunities to provide constructive criticism, so your team sees it as part of the workplace culture. As a leader, it’s also important to constantly seek feedback from your team. When you demonstrate how to give and receive feedback, your team will be more likely to follow suit and model your behaviour.

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