Nobody loves hearing they could have done a better job. Yet constructive criticism can improve individual performance and promote team development. Delivering feedback skillfully is key to a successful review. Negative criticism can cause resentment, disengagement, and even lower productivity.
As a manager, it's your responsibility to help employees improve. This can relate to a change in their behavior towards coworkers, an upgrade in the quality of their work, or to consistently meet deadlines. Chances are, your employee has little idea they're falling short or that their actions are negatively affecting your organization.
If you are giving a presentation and are repeatedly mispronouncing a word or referring to someone by the wrong name, would you want someone to tell you? If your lateness to client meetings was stopping your team from meeting monthly targets, wouldn’t you want to know? Our guess is yes. And yet, why do so many of us shy away from pointing out blind spots to our team? Especially when it could spare them embarrassment or failure.
These types of situations can happen to anyone, and their impact should not be underestimated. Think of constructive feedback as a tool to help employees—and the companies they work for—thrive.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of feedback. When given effectively, it can lead to:
Effective feedback not only benefits the workplace but also positively impacts our public life and sense of wellbeing. It can lead to better relationships, increased trust, and improved collaboration.
Not all criticism is created equal. A negative feedback session can help identify areas for improvement, but it can also have a demotivating effect. Especially if it is not delivered in a supportive manner with developmental feedback.
Constructive criticism is essential to help individuals grow and develop. It encourages them to be the best version of themselves, and it can help to dispel any misconceptions they have about their abilities. The ability to accept and incorporate constructive criticism requires flexibility of mind. This is a valuable trait in both personal and professional settings.
An example of constructive criticism would be: “I noticed errors in your code have been more frequent lately. I know the entire engineering team is under pressure to meet this upcoming deadline. Is there anything I need to be aware of that can help you do your best work? If I’ve placed too much on your plate, let me know so I can rearrange your workload. I'm happy to talk about it.”
On the other hand, destructive criticism seeks to tear the other person down. It makes it seem as though their personal errors and blind spots are part of who they are. This type of bad feedback is unhelpful, delivered tactlessly, and can damage a person's self-esteem and confidence.
Destructive criticism would be something like, “Another error in your code. You’re just not cut out to be a developer.” Using judgmental language about the person doesn’t offer any help for them to improve. It is not a useful form of communication.
Destructive criticism can also lead to anger and reduced trust in the person delivering the feedback1. Those are not desirable results for any manager hoping to motivate their employees.
Constructive criticism can improve individual performance and team development. It must be used at the right time and in the right context. The feedback recipient should be in a good frame of mind to benefit from developmental feedback. It's also important to consider the intensity of criticism and to provide it in a sensitive way.
One appropriate use of constructive criticism is when a company policy has been violated. Managers need to use professional criticism to address the issue promptly and directly. Team leaders should provide constructive, actionable feedback. This helps the employee understand the impact of their actions and how to avoid similar mistakes in the future.
This type of feedback can help with team development. It promotes open communication, collaboration, and harmony among individuals.
Team leaders can use the feedback sandwich technique to provide supportive, actionable feedback2. The sandwich technique gives balanced feedback that includes positive and negative aspects. It involves sandwiching the negative feedback between two positive comments or statements.
Constructive criticism is necessary in the following situations:
Sometimes, it may feel like ignoring a person's shortcomings is kinder than calling them out. But Gallup research revealed employees are more engaged when their managers focus on their weaknesses instead of ignoring them3.
It seems any feedback – even negative feedback – that is grounded in factual evidence is better than none at all. A lack of feedback can communicate that the employee doesn’t matter to the organization.
The Gallup research concluded: "The best employees don't want to be coddled; they want to matter. They want to be part of something greater than themselves, and they want to know how they contribute to that something. They want to be heard, and above all, they do not want to be ignored."
Constructive feedback prompts employees to address underperformance or identify areas that require support. Delivered well, it encourages a growth process and adaptation in employees. And, although it may be challenging to receive initially, it can lead to self-improvement and even gratitude4.
Constructive criticism may be preferred over positive feedback, according to a study by Zippia5. The study found that:
The statistics suggest that constructive criticism may improve employee engagement and job satisfaction more than positive feedback alone.
Specificity is helpful; vagueness is not. When giving negative feedback avoid broad statements such as, "Your work has been lacking lately". That doesn't help the employee pinpoint the behavior that is problematic. Provide relevant evidence to support your feedback and factual criticism of where the employee went wrong. It's better to say, "Your last three financial reports had major mathematical errors that we had to correct." And don’t forget to use the sandwich method the criticism between two positive statements. You can refer to the employee’s value to the team or organization, for example.
For a feedback session to be meaningful, it needs to be put into context. What's at stake here if the person doesn't change their ways? Make it clear to the feedback receiver how their actions are negatively affecting your team or company, and they are much more likely to take it seriously. It's also possible they didn't realize they were hurting the organization.
For example, you might say, "When you turn in reports with factual errors in them, it creates extra work for the people who then have to correct them."
Giving negative feedback without outlining your expectations can create anxiety in the recipient. To avoid this, be clear about what you'd like to see next with a specific type of feedback and plans for improvement.
Here's an example: "In the past month, you've made three major decisions regarding this project without consulting your team first. Excluding them might have been a missed opportunity to optimize their decisions. Moving forward, please notify the team and allow 24 hours for their input before making decisions affecting the project.”
As a general rule, if you're pointing out a problem, it's best to offer a solution too. Offering a definite answer in the form of a practical solution shows that you care about the success of your team member.
If you're providing criticism about communication skills, consider offering enrollment in a workshop. Or, if you've noticed your team member struggles with time management, offer to review their workflow and provide tips to improve it. Insights gleaned from the F4S assessment tool will enable you to refine how you deliver feedback. It also offers solutions tailored to team members’ particular strengths and weaknesses.
Delivery of constructive criticism should match the recipient's communication style to be effective. Some people prefer direct communication, while others prefer a more casual approach. Introverted or more autonomous individuals may prefer to receive criticism in writing rather than in person. Aim to be flexible in your form of communication.
Within the F4S framework, there are two motivations that can affect how you deliver feedback and how likely someone is to receive it:
Criticism can be unpleasant to receive. Being able to recognize how the other person is feeling about the feedback is useful in guiding your delivery and gauging if you’re doing it well.
When delivering constructive criticism, it’s crucial to lead with empathy, a core component of emotional intelligence. Empathy requires you to consider how it might feel to be the other person, and what it might be like to receive such feedback. This allows you to avoid judgmental language and focus on positive criticism. By practicing empathy, you’ll be able to deliver your criticism with care and kindness.
If recognizing emotions in other people is tough for you, that’s okay. Emotional intelligence is a skill you can build! Try taking our personalized coaching program, Increase EQ. You’ll learn how to read and express emotions, use physical gestures for impact, and deepen connections.
Believe it or not, feedback doesn't end once you've delivered it. If the feedback was helpful, you'll see positive changes in the person. This is an opportunity to acknowledge and reward them.
Praising improvement after constructive feedback encourages them to keep improving. It also shows that when you critique their work, you’re doing so because you want to see them succeed. Receiving critical feedback also becomes easier for them in the future because they know it’s coming from a good place.
Understanding the preferred communication style of team members is important. When it comes to providing feedback and performance reviews it’s crucial.
The F4S assessment is a powerful tool. It's an effective way to determine a team’s culture, work style, and the communication approach individual people prefer. These are insightful things to know when you deliver constructive criticism. This will give you a clear idea of what developmental feedback should look like. Then you’ll be able to communicate with confidence and provide actionable advice.
For example, if Charlie has a visual learning style and your performance review is solely conversational, you're likely to lose Charlie's interest. The best way to engage Charlie and provide meaningful feedback is by using visual charts and even words that are visual.
Anyone can get started by taking the free F4S assessment to uncover their communication preferences. You can even invite your colleagues to join and set up your entire team for success. We even offer free AI coaching to help you meet your professional goals. Supplementing an employee performance with a coaching program sets a positive tone that you are invested in your team's success.
You like some variety, radical changes, doing new and different things in some of your work or business.
With a little bit of development you can become more socially aware of yourself and others.
So you've learned about the benefits of constructive criticism and how to give it effectively. These examples demonstrate how to skillfully correct specific issues without using unhelpful language.
Negative criticism: "You're always late for work. It's really disrespectful to the rest of us."
Positive criticism: "You’re such a valuable member of the team, but over the past month, there have been about seven days where you weren't at your desk by 9 am. I understand unexpected things happen in our daily lives, but when tardiness becomes frequent, it can impact team morale. I'm also worried that we're missing out on your valuable input at our team meetings. Could you please try to make it to the office on time so we can make sure you're included in important discussions? We always appreciate your input when you’re there."
Negative criticism: "The last few projects you've turned in are terrible! What's going on with you?"
Positive criticism: "One thing I enjoy about working with you is your attention to detail. Normally, nothing slips by you and you do thorough work. It's because of that that I'm concerned. Lately, I've noticed a lot of personal errors in your code. This is really unlike you, which is why I wanted to point it out. Would you like to share with me what I might be missing? I'd really like to see you double-check your work before turning it in next time so we can get back to those usual high standards."
Negative criticism: "You need to stop slacking off at work. It's like you're not even trying anymore."
Positive criticism: "Because you're usually so enthusiastic about your work, I've noticed a change in your attitude lately. You turned in the last two projects late and haven't been sharing ideas at meetings like you usually do. And yesterday, when Alicia offered some feedback on your latest project, you rolled your eyes. What’s holding you back from working with your usual enthusiasm?"
Negative criticism: "You need to be a team player. Why can't you get along with people?"
Positive criticism: "We haven't seen you much lately – we’re missing your input. It seems like you've been keeping to yourself a lot over the past month or so. And during our team meetings, you haven't chimed in at all. I understand needing some alone time to focus on your work, but as a collaborative team, when it comes to brainstorming, we really need what you have to offer. Our projects are suffering without you. Do you think you could spare an extra couple of hours each week to collaborate with the rest of the team?"
Negative criticism: "You're always turning things in late, and your priorities are a mess. You're wasting time at work and it's hurting everyone else."
Positive criticism: "Thanks so much for the app design you completed last week – it was fantastic as usual! I do have one concern though. Sometimes you get so focused on a single project that you let other, more important ones, fall by the wayside. I know you get enthusiastic but sometimes we need you to move on from one project to another, so we don't miss deadlines. When we miss one deadline, it causes other teams to miss theirs too. How about next time, when you're not sure if the project is ready to ship, you ask me and I can give you feedback? That way, you can have an objective outside party review the work you've done."
Negative criticism: "Why don't you ever say what you mean? We can't read your mind, you know!"
Positive criticism: "Your insights were so helpful to us back when we were in the office, but ever since we switched to being a fully remote team, I've noticed that you don't respond to my emails. And when you reply on Slack, your messages are very short so it's hard for me and the team to decipher how you're feeling. What can I do to make it easier for you to speak your mind at work?"
Negative criticism: "I can’t believe you got into another fight during our all-hands meeting. You lack conflict resolution skills, and it shows."
Positive criticism: "As a diverse team with bright minds, we're bound to experience differing perspectives from time to time. It's healthy when we talk about conflicting aspects so that we can find solutions. Differing viewpoints can better guide our product roadmap. But when those differences cause teammates to yell, accuse and criticize each other it harms team morale. We need everyone to work together if we're going to hit our goals this quarter, including you. That's why I'd like to invite you to participate in a conflict resolution coaching program with the rest of the team. We can all learn together how to better incorporate our differing opinions without resorting to insulting each other. What do you think?"
When receiving constructive feedback, it’s important to remember the positive aspects that come with it. Positive criticism can help you identify areas for improvement and develop new skills. View feedback as an opportunity for growth. Shift your mindset from defensive to receptive.This can lead to better outcomes for you and your team. It can even lead to more harmony among individuals of your team.
It’s important to actively listen to feedback you're being provided. Make sure you fully understand the message being conveyed. This means focusing on the speaker and resisting the temptation to interrupt. If you're unsure about a comment, ask clarifying questions to make sure you didn't get the wrong idea. Remember, professional criticism will lead to more growth. Expressing gratitude for the feedback can help create a positive and constructive environment. Saying thank you shows that you appreciate their input and are open to continuing the conversation. Asking questions to gain a deeper understanding of the feedback can also be helpful in moving the conversation forward. Acknowledge the time and effort others have put into providing the feedback and graciously take responsibility for your own growth and development.
Giving feedback, even the negative kind, is nothing to fear! Employees crave it in order to improve their performance, and as long as it's delivered in a constructive way, they'll likely appreciate it.
So, go on, have that difficult conversation! Equipped with empathy and the right tools, it will be a win-win for everyone involved.
Answer the questions in our assessment to discover more about your motivations and blind spots. Set up a team and invite your team members to take the assessment. The F4S assessment measures 48 motivations (with 90% reliability) so you can learn exactly how to bring out the best in you and your team.
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