Careers: Articles - Ten Tips for Delivering (Constructive) Criticism

First let me say that, with all the criticism I have received, rarely has it ever been constructive. These days when someone comes up to me after a presentation and says, "Would you like some constructive criticism?" I always say, "No thank you."

The problem with most people who give criticism is that they almost always feel they could do it better. This brings to mind the obvious question, which is if they could do it better, then why aren't they doing it? As leaders, we are always targets for criticism and so be it, I think that's part of the deal. Where we fail is that we don't help our team members by training them how to deliver criticism or feedback in the best ways.

Ask most team members and they will tell you that they rarely get enough feedback - positive or negative. That's because most managers don't want to create conflict and they may not feel confident in their ability to deliver appropriate suggestions. For most people it's easy to see that someone isn't doing their job correctly, but it's very difficult to tell them how to do it better.

Here are some tips to help you give team members the feedback they need and want.

  1. Take an honest look at where you're coming from. If there's some anger or resentment toward the team member then you're probably not the best person to offer them advice.
  2. Make sure you have all the necessary information. The quickest way to offend anyone is to criticize him or her for something they didn't do. Getting all the necessary data may take a little time so be a little patient with yourself and the team member.
  3. Stay focused. Don't get side tracked by the person you're talking to or the action in the office. Be sure to look the person in the eyes, it will help you stay on topic. If you're typing away on your keyboard the team member won't take your requests or suggestions seriously.
  4. Choose the best time and place. Never give criticism in public, in front of another person, or at the end of the day when you or they may be too tired to deal with it appropriately. Also, if you're physically uncomfortable you may not be in the best frame of mind to talk about a difficult subject.
  5. Realize that the person you're giving feedback to may get defensive. This is a natural response to criticism, especially if they've gotten their feelings hurt by you (or another manager) in a previous experience. Use a softened start-up. For example you could say, "You've really done well this quarter, but there's one little area that could use a bit of improvement."
  6. Talk about the performance not the person. Feedback is not about telling someone they are bad at what they do, it's about telling them how they could do it better. For example, you would never say to a person, "You are a mistake." Instead you would say, "You made a mistake."
  7. Use humor if possible. If you can deliver criticism in a light-hearted manner it will be received in a much more positive way. Humor doesn't diminish the seriousness of the feedback you are giving, it actually helps the person receiving the direction to open up and take it in.
  8. Get a commitment. Make sure that the team member who is receiving the feedback makes a commitment as to how and when they will correct the problem.
  9. Start and end with a compliment. Find something good to say about the person and their performance at the beginning, this will help them take in your advice. At the end of the conversation it will help them to feel that they aren't a failure or about to be fired.
  10. Follow up. Have the team member report back to you within a specific time period, but not more than a month.

These are the tools the best of the best use to make their teams strong. Learning how to give feedback and criticism in a way that the person you are talking to will take it in and learn from it may be a leaders greatest tool for building an effective team.

So the next time you offer a team member constructive criticism they won't go running for cover or say, "No thank you." Instead they will see it as an opportunity to grow and your company will grow along with them.

About the Author:
Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., is a highly sought after speaker and business consultant, and presents to numerous companies, associations and leaders worldwide. His articles have run in more than 500 publications and he has given over 2000 professional presentations. He can be contacted through his web site at: or at (818) 879-9996.



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