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How to Give Criticism Constructively

Updated on August 31, 2012
President Kennedy and Khrushshev shake hands.
President Kennedy and Khrushshev shake hands. | Source

The Art of Criticism

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” -Winston Churchill

Criticism is something people deal with every day in many situations. It is typically meant for the purpose of feedback: meant to improve performance however it's often misused, overdone and provoked anger in place of work ethic.

Let's discuss five professional and appropriate rules you should always follow when you are going to critique performance. Rules that will surely help you maintain mutually a respectful relationship with any person whose performance you are hoping to help improve.

Women meeting at work.
Women meeting at work. | Source

Motive Matters

Before you have any type of discussion it's important that you are clear about your own motive. Criticism should not have emotional derivatives because emotions have an IQ. of zero. You cannot make a clear and concise point based off of your emotions. It is probable that the person you are speaking to will have a completely different perception if you base your criticism on emotion.

Another important factor to remember is whether or not the information has been previously agreed upon or understood by both parties such as a prior work review or probationary document. If you are approaching an employee based on the hearsay of another employee, you should commence upon the situation carefully unless you are certain it is factual.

“How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.” -Benjamin Disraeli

Make Notes and Prepare

Before you meet with your lucky candidate, jot down what you intend to say. Preparation is very important in all aspects of life. Once you have your notes, go over them to ensure you are not basing your suggestions or comments on assumption or anger. Perception is 100% selfish. What you perceive as being clearly communicated to your employees or to your spouse might not be as clear as you intended.

Women together at work.
Women together at work. | Source

Make and Appointment

Asking someone for their time starts things off on a positive path because it shows that you respect them. It affords both of you time to prepare and stifles an unnecessary blitz which can often lead to emotional and angry endings.

Now that you have an appointment set. Relax and go over your notes. Mark off those which are menial and could perhaps trigger an argument or extraneous emotions but make sure that you include the necessary information you need to convey. Remember, it is meant to benefit the other person, the business, the relationship, the get the point. It should be presented positively.

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” - John Wooden

Lose Your Ego and Listen

One of the best ways to begin a meeting is by asking questions. This may bring light to your situation by changing your perception because an explanation is now in place. Asking questions may give you a better insight prior to delivering your critique.

If you are amid discussion and the other person feels they need interject or would like to explain, afford them the opportunity to do so at the appropriate time. There isn't anything pleasant about being reprimanded and being unable to defend yourself.

Have you ever been yelled at, humiliated or verbally bashed at work?

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Be Respectful and Positive

One of the best coaches I've ever worked with used to say, "Sugar goes a lot farther than vinegar." Whether you're working with children or adults, no one wants to hang around to be bullied, harassed or put down. When you are asking someone to better themselves, begin by sighting the things they already do well: those things that benefit the company, the relationship or the family. Find a way to bridge the conversation into ways they can improve their job performance or as a partner. Keep emotion out of the conversation and stay on task. If they become upset, remind them that they are not in trouble, you are just working on ways to make the company the best it can be.

There will undoubtedly be times for more serious conversations. When those occasions arise, you can use all of these suggestions as they will hopefully work the same and you will remain calm! Never lose control - once you lose that, you've pretty much lost everything.

Once your meeting has commenced, thank the person for meeting with you. Again, you are showing mutual respect.


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    • krsharp05 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristi Sharp 

      7 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      Routledge, excellent comment. Thank you for taking the time to read and leave your input. It makes a difference when you manage to a higher standard. Your employees will notice and will work hard because of it. Glad to have you here. -K

    • Routledge profile image


      7 years ago

      I think intent is a driving key. As you said. I am an assistant manager in a store big enough that I am effectively a manager at this point. I find myself on perhaps a bi-daily basis correcting someone to meet our service standards or to improve upon them. I have found that explaining the issue when it is *NOT* taking place is best. Explaining at a time when you can like you said "make an appointment" it is so much more effective.



    • krsharp05 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristi Sharp 

      7 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      DDE, Thank you for taking the time to read. I appreciate your vote. Great to see you again! -K

    • krsharp05 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristi Sharp 

      7 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      Spartucus, I really like that quote too. It reminds me a lot of "let he who is without sin...." which I say enough that my children are undoubtedly so tired of hearing :) My poor family. Thanks for reading.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      7 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      You have mentioned excellent points a helpful hub I voted up!!

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 

      7 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Very practical and insightful hub! Something that only should be employed in the workforce but all aspects of life. I especially love the Disraeli quote.

    • krsharp05 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristi Sharp 

      7 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      Paul, thank you for the excellent comment. I like the term you used, it puts a friendly spin on something that people may fear. Great idea. I appreciate you voting and sharing. -K

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      This is a very useful hub. One thing I learned during my work career is that it is necessary to give constructive criticism. We used to refer to it as a McFeedback. You start by highlighting the good things a person has done, and then work into the problem behavior which has to be rectified. Voted up and sharing.

    • krsharp05 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristi Sharp 

      7 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      rfmoran, thank you for the great comment. Business coaches are wonderful. I think it's good to let your listener know you're concerned and stay unemotional. Thank you taking the time to read through. -K

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 

      7 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Excellent hub on a very important topic. I once had a business coach who advised beginning a criticism discussion by saying "I have some concerns." Not nasty or emotional, but honestly lets the listener know that something is coming his way.

    • krsharp05 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristi Sharp 

      7 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      teaches, thank you for the excellent comment and the vote. I always try to prepare for important conversations. It always seems to make things seem to run more smoothly. Gad you are here. -K

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      7 years ago

      Your advice to make notes, is really a good step. I think by writing down our thoughts first, we can make a better point. It also helps to see what you are thinking as well. Good hub and voted up.

    • krsharp05 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristi Sharp 

      7 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      Mhatter, thank you for the compliment. I appreciate you taking the time to read and I'm glad to have your approval. Great to see you. -K

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      At my company we were taught if we use the word "you" the next thing better be a compliment. i.e. We fell short. Let's find why. You did a good job. Thank you.


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