How to effectively give and receive constructive criticism

How to effectively give and receive constructive criticism
JobStreet content teamupdated on 23 August, 2023

Everyone is averse to discomfort. Even the most open-minded and well-adjusted people don’t enjoy having difficult, uncomfortable conversations. But most times, the conversations we would rather avoid are the ones we need to have. Giving and receiving criticism are among those things that can be unnerving to everyone involved. But it’s essential to go through it if we want to grow.

Importance of constructive criticism

In a personal setting, constructive criticism can

  • stop resentment from building up
  • promote trust and respect
  • be an opportunity for growth
  • enrich relationships

In a work setting, constructive criticism is beneficial in promoting

  • transparency
  • accountability
  • teachability
  • productivity
  • good working relationships
  • growth (both at the individual and the community levels)

Constructive vs. destructive criticism

The feedback's context, intention, and delivery will spell the difference between constructive and destructive criticism.

What is constructive criticism?

Constructive criticism is an assessment of a person’s performance or behaviour. The goal of constructive criticism is to help the person improve. It is communicated in clear, concise terms, offers solutions, and invites collaboration.

Constructive criticism encourages improvement. It is delivered in firm but friendly terms. It acknowledges the good aspects of the person’s performance and not just the bad. It also offers actionable suggestions on how to do better. The person giving the criticism may also highlight the potential benefits of doing so.

Constructive criticism is characterised as:

  • well-intentioned
  • beneficial to the recipient
  • specific
  • actionable
  • focused on achieving a solution

What is destructive criticism?

On the other hand, destructive criticism doesn’t focus on solutions. This type of feedback uses discouraging and offensive language. It feels like a dressing-down of the person being criticised and offers no suggestions for moving forward.

Destructive criticism is characterised as:

  • public
  • careless language
  • geared towards harming one’s self-esteem
  • not specific and sounds like a rant
  • not actionable

Common misconceptions about constructive criticism

There are some inaccurate perceptions of giving helpful feedback. You must dispel those misconceptions so they don’t become barriers to communication and growth. The following are examples of the myths and why they are not true:

Myth: Nobody wants to receive constructive criticism.

The truth:Some people hesitate to communicate their thoughts with their employees or coworkers for fear of upsetting them. But workers are generally receptive to input.

A 2022 study on employee engagement found that 83% of employees appreciated receiving positive and negative criticism. Any employee worth their salt knows there is always an opportunity for growth. Receiving feedback is an excellent way for them to identify what they should work on to better their performance.

Myth: All the feedback should come from a supervisor or someone higher up instead of your peer. Giving feedback would damage an otherwise good working relationship.

The truth:A coworker performing similar roles is aware that you have a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges of the position than most managers. In the employee engagement study mentioned above, 62% of respondents wished they would receive more feedback from their coworkers.

Myth: If you’re a manager giving constructive criticism, you’re setting your reputation as someone difficult to work with.

The truth:Your attitude toward appraising someone’s performance will dictate how that appraisal is received.

It shows in your body language and emotional cues. If you consider constructive criticism merely part of your responsibility to help employees perform at their best, then the input will come off as neutral instruction.

Suppose you regard constructive criticism as a critical element in a workplace that values transparency and accountability. In that case, feedback will come off as an invitation for the whole team to level up their performance.

Myth: If your boss communicates with you about your areas for improvement, you have been “written up” and are no longer in their good graces. You may even be a step closer to being fired.

The truth:Your manager wants you to improve.

Instead of looking at feedback as a form of chastising for doing wrong, think of it as your manager telling you what it would take for your performance or your working relationship to be more sustainable. They don’t want any resentment to build, but that’s what would happen if they didn’t tell you that your behaviour or performance needs to improve. If anything, feedback is a sign that your manager has every intention to continue working with you.

The benefits of constructive criticism

Two employees talking to each other

When helpful input is delivered right, and the recipient is teachable and open for improvement, the benefits of the criticism can reach far and last long. Moreover, when there is a culture of open dialogue in a workplace where honesty is encouraged, employees thrive, and working relationships don’t stagnate.

Constructive criticism helps individuals improve their skills and performance.

Being open to feedback helps keep you on track, saving you time and preventing errors. As the adage goes, “Two heads are better than one.” A well-intentioned criticism gives you a chance to take a step back and see the work you’ve been doing from another perspective. You may catch mistakes you might have otherwise overlooked. You may also find a more efficient way to do a particular task or process. You can use every criticism that comes your way as a challenge to supplement your existing strengths with new learnings.

Constructive criticism is an important catalyst for personal and professional growth.

Hard skills, or the knowledge it takes to do your job according to standards, are not the only things that can benefit from constructive criticism. Embracing feedback and self-improvement also enriches your soft skills, the personal qualities you need to have meaningful relationships in the workplace.

Knowing when to listen, being humble and teachable, owning your mistakes, and putting aside your ego to become a better coworker are all commendable skills that don’t go unnoticed. They will open doors of opportunities for you, as well as attract friendships and relationships that can make your life more fulfilling.

Constructive criticism helps teams and organisations achieve their goals.

An organisation that welcomes constructive feedback as a part of the day-to-day work process acts like a well-oiled machine. Teams quickly catch errors, avoid significant failures, and go through constant checks to stay on course. Members who are struggling can get the help they need right away. The organisation is more likely to succeed when the goal is never out of anyone’s sight.

Constructive criticism fosters a culture of continuous improvement.

When there is a continuous feedback loop among peers and performance reviews from supervisors, a growth mindset becomes a core value of the organisation. It brings with it an eagerness among team members to learn and try new things, the determination to adapt to new situations, and the unwillingness to stagnate and hold the team back.

The elements of effective constructive criticism

The importance of timing and context

The choice of time and circumstances are vital factors in whether the person will be receptive to your input.

It is best to have a private, one-on-one conversation with the person you give feedback to. Let the person know in advance that it will be a feedback session, so it doesn’t take them by surprise, which might put them on the defensive instead of being receptive. A timely, well-crafted email can also work if face-to-face is not possible.

The use of specific and objective language

As much as you may want to soften the blow when giving negative feedback, being ambiguous doesn’t accomplish your goal. You want to be specific about the details of the behaviour that you hope they would improve on. Leave nothing to misinterpretation. Provide examples if necessary.

But be objective: if their actions impact the organisation negatively, present the negative impact using facts and impartial language. Do not let emotions or personal judgement set the tone for the feedback session. You want to be professional and solution-oriented.

The need for empathy and respect

For the criticism to be genuinely beneficial to the recipient, the person giving the criticism should come from a place of empathy and respect. Consider their point of view when planning your words and approach. It is the only way for both parties to find a better way forward.

The role of active listening and open-mindedness

Sitting down one-on-one to give feedback should be an open dialogue, not a place to make demands. It is usual for a person receiving criticism to disagree or try to justify their actions. If you want them to listen to you and be receptive to your suggestions, you should extend the same courtesy to them. If both of you share the goal of finding a way to improve, it won’t be that hard to find a compromise.

Tips for giving constructive criticism

Three employees exchanging constructive criticisms

Start with a positive statement.

Acknowledge the parts that they are doing right. Criticism will be more balanced and effective if you start with the person’s strengths.

Use "I" statements.

“I” statements start with “I think,” “I feel,” and “I can see.” By centering your experience, you’re clarifying to them that you’re sharing your personal opinions and perceptions of the issue instead of stating facts. The person receiving the input is less likely to feel offended and defensive.

Be specific and clear; provide examples.

Discuss your concerns with clear details. Provide examples of past incidents that best reflect the issues you’re trying to address if necessary. Avoid generalising statements, and steer clear of ambiguous language. Leave no room for misunderstanding. The sooner both parties can get on the same page, the sooner you can start working towards a solution.

Focus on behaviours, not personality.

Make the conversation all about what they’re doing and how they’re performing their job, not how they are as a person. Focusing on their personality will make you appear judgemental and superior, while addressing actions and behaviour will help reinforce the message that you’re trying to help them improve.

Be empathetic.

Putting effort into seeing things from their point of view makes the criticism constructive. Try to understand their struggles and what could be the root of poor work performance.

Ask for feedback.

Giving feedback to an employee should be a two-way street. Ask them what you can do to support them. You may also ask them if there are any challenging aspects of their job outside their control that you may help address.

Use appropriate body language.

Nonverbal communication should match the message and its intent. Use a neutral, non-combative tone and posture. Avoid using gestures and facial expressions that convey impatience or irritation. Remain professional and treat the discussion as an important task in your calendar.

End on a positive note.

Starting with something positive, followed by constructive criticism, and concluding with another positive thing, is occasionally called a “feedback sandwich.” The sandwich method of giving a critique is not always practical. Some fear that mentioning the negative between two positives will diminish the importance of the criticism.

However, ending on a positive note can be helpful if you show optimism hinged on the person improving their behaviour. For example, after giving constructive criticism about the person’s poor teamwork skills, you can conclude by saying how hopeful you are that their team would have a much better work relationship and output after ironing out their collaboration.

Follow up.

The person who received the criticism will know you’ve taken your discussion to heart if you check in with them again after a reasonable period. Have a follow-up on how far things have changed from the time you gave the feedback, what’s working and what’s not, and continue to offer your support.

How to effectively receive constructive criticism

A woman on a virtual call

The importance of being open to feedback

Being open to feedback conveys humility, emotional maturity, and motivation for growth. It tells the people around you that you value their opinion and are interested to learn from their perspective. A person who embraces constructive criticism also embraces growth; it is valuable in building sustainable relationships in and out of the workplace and advancing your career.

How to manage emotional reactions when receiving feedback

It’s common to feel uncomfortable or even emotional while listening to someone criticise you. But it is helpful to pause, listen actively, and do your best not to take things personally. Stop your imagination from running with the feedback and creating overblown and inaccurate scenarios. Focus on the message, avoid making assumptions, and calmly ask for clarifications.

The role of active listening and clarifying questions

The person giving the criticism is communicating from their point of view. If you can clear your mind of assumptions and pause the urge to react, you may learn things that you haven’t considered. Those things can give you a deeper understanding of your role in the workplace and help you improve your performance.

If any part is unclear or you need specific examples, ask them to clarify. Shift your goal from unnecessarily defending yourself to being on the same page so you can move forward.

How to use feedback to improve performance

Take every criticism you receive as a chance to take stock of your work performance. You may disagree with some feedback, but considering diverse viewpoints and regular self-assessments are beneficial habits to adopt. Feedback provides you with clear directions on which areas you can improve on. Challenge yourself to integrate the suggestions and appreciate the opportunity to collaborate.

Things to avoid when receiving constructive criticism

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


We all want to do well at our jobs, have a harmonious working relationship with our bosses and our peers, and feel valued at the workplace. Achieving such goals come at the price of occasional discomfort when we have to give or receive criticism. But criticism is the only way to address the negative, direct focus on the areas that need improving, and correct our course.

Remember that for criticism to be effective and beneficial, you should give it with the intent of helping the person. It should be actionable, use clear and specific language, and offer support and collaboration.

For the one receiving the criticism, it is best to practise active listening, de-personalise the message, ask for clarification when needed, and use it as a challenge to grow.

The ability to embrace feedback will empower you, make you a better person, and open up many opportunities for personal and professional growth.

For more expert advice and helpful tools for growing your career, visit the Career Advice.


  1. What is the difference between constructive criticism and negative feedback?
    Constructive criticism intends to help someone improve. It is empathetic and respectful; it acknowledges both the positive and negative; it is communicated in a setting conducive to collaboration. On the other hand, negative criticism aims to tear someone down. It sounds like a rant, uses insensitive language, and offers no direction toward finding a solution.
  2. How can I give constructive criticism without sounding harsh or judgmental?
    Focus on the behaviour and actions of the person instead of their personality. Pick an appropriate time and private setting for giving feedback. Begin by acknowledging what they’re doing right, then tell them what needs improving, using specific and actionable language. Use body language that is not angry or threatening.
  3. What should I do if I receive constructive criticism that I disagree with?
    You may sometimes have differing views on the feedback you receive. Practise active listening, and try to see things from their perspective. You can respectfully voice your disagreement with their assessment, but you should also consider their suggestions. Every criticism is an opportunity for growth.
  4. How can I use constructive criticism to improve my performance at work?
    The criticism you receive will point you to the areas of your performance where you can improve. Work on integrating their recommendations into how you do your tasks and work with your team. Identifying the areas for improvement also means you can research the best practices in those fields and more keenly observe individuals who perform well in those areas and adopt useful methods. Lastly, accept offers of support and collaboration from your supervisor or coworker who gave you feedback.
  5. How can I encourage my team to give and receive constructive criticism?
    Be the best example of embracing constructive criticism. Ask for feedback from your team members and show appreciation for the feedback you receive. You can do this by actively listening, acknowledging their viewpoints, and working to improve yourself. You can set regular feedback sessions for the whole team, scheduled at critical points in a project or work process that can best benefit from course correction, and encourage everyone to be transparent, empathetic, and open. Offer to help and collaborate with anyone whose performance or behaviour needs improving.

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