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Management Guide: Giving Constructive Criticism

Mohamad Danial bin Ab. Khalil
by Mohamad Danial bin Ab. Khalil
Feb 25, 2021 at 8:55 PM

Giving constructive criticism that motivates real changes in behaviour can be tough, especially when dealing with sensitive employees. If you're wondering how to provide constructive criticism more positively, here are seven tips on how to give constructive criticism in a way that will inspire change.


 1. Stop and think about why you are criticising them

Criticism shouldn’t be an insult, a way to rant or an excuse to exercise some authority and boost your ego. Offering your employees constructive criticism is a chance to discuss specific problem behaviour and cooperate to make a change. It is about helping others to work more effectively.


 2. Don't dwell on the past. Set new and positive goals instead.

Research has shown that thinking in terms of future positive changes leads to better job performance than when the focus is on negative past actions.

  • Example of constructive criticism:
    In the future, try to plan ahead, make a schedule to get things done in time.”
  • Example of negative criticism:
    “You have to stop leaving things until the deadline!”

The difference here, in organisational psychology terms, is the focus on competition versus threat. While an employee is likely to see the first example as a chance for self-improvement, they see the second as a situational threat. In this instance, the emphasis is on failure, and your employee won't make an effort to change, and performance will suffer.


 3. Choose goals that are specific and challenging.

Research says that specific and challenging (but achievable) goals lead to higher levels of task performance than general, more manageable goals. Furthermore, attaining challenging goals is likely to lead to increased workplace satisfaction because completing these tasks requires the person to grow and meet the challenges, encouraging feelings of personal success.

Setting a particular deadline (i.e. “I will go for a thirty-minute run on Thursday at 7 AM”) also increases the likelihood of goal fulfilment, as opposed to less specific goals (“I will go for a run this week”). Setting specific goals ensures that your discussion is serious and that your employees can make real change.

Constructive criticism is crucial if you want to motivate your employees towards higher productivity.

 4. Be professional and don’t make it personal.

When giving constructive criticism, separate the employee's work from their personality, or at least give that impression in the way you phrase your discussion. The focus should be on the problem, not the person:

  • Negative criticism: “You’re disorganised.” 
  • Constructive criticism: “You need to start keeping a schedule and incorporating a bit more structure to your work.”

The first example suggests their disorganisation is an unchangeable trait. The second example, however, makes no assumptions about their personality traits but provides positive strategies for change. Aim for the second example to encourage real change.


 5. Think twice about giving prescriptive instruction

Just telling someone exactly what to do may not be the best approach to take. Sometimes, all they need is an outside perspective to point out what they have been doing wrong. But, finding a solution may be best handled by your employees.

Goal achievement is more likely when your employee sees the goal as essential and of personal value. Try to phrase your suggestions in a way that frames personal goal-achievement

  • Constructive criticism: If you start doing X, you’re likely to meet your goals more effectively.

When providing constructive criticism, offer help, but recognise that it will be up to them to choose a strategy that works for them. It may be best to think of your role as that of someone that provides the tools to solve their problems.


 6. Follow constructive criticism with feedback.

If you notice that they are beginning to turn things around, let them know that! It lets them track their progress and gives them a positive incentive boost to continue to make an effort.


 7. Constructive criticism is always welcomed

Make sure you DO say something if someone is not pulling their weight. Please don’t hold back to spare their feelings. Accept that criticism and appraisals are a part of life- they have shaped the way you and your employees are today.

How can they improve their performance if they aren’t receiving constructive feedback? In the end, it is in both of your interests to make it happen.


Other things you should consider:

  • When giving constructive criticism, make it a discussion, not a one-sided tirade.

  • Keep your tone of voice neutral and factual so you'll give the impression that your message is reasonable and fair. Try not to come off as patronising.

  • The best way to give constructive criticism is if it comes from someone the employee trusts. Make sure you are leading by example and aim for a personal connection with your employees.

  • Consider the time and place. Don’t deliver such feedback in a group space.

  • Remember: the goal of constructive criticism is not to cause feelings of shame or disgrace, but to encourage change!

  • Assure the feedback message is clear by focusing on one area of change at a time.


Keep in mind, the purpose of constructive feedback is to give feedback to an individual in a way that will lead to improvements or corrections. If you want your employees to improve and grow within your company, then constructive feedback is the way to go.

Source: Good.co

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