How to Give Constructive Criticism
Constructive criticism is meant to help someone improve and not just to find fault with something someone has done. There are rules, tips, and tricks to giving constructive criticism.
Avoid an Audience.
If it is not required that you immediately provide feedback in front of others, don’t. It is hard to hear things negative about something you did and most likely put time and effort into. It is much easier for the person being critiqued to accept what you have to say, if they don’t feel embarrassed. If there are other people around, it will put someone on the defensive from the beginning and you want to avoid that at all costs.
Time it right.
Pick a time when none of the parties involved are in a hurry or a bad mood. If no one is distracted or stressed, it is easier to keep an even keel and not miss something important.
Plan what you want to say in advance.
If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to say, and how you want to say it, you might forget something or have something come out wrong. If you have the chance to rehearse, do it. Anything you say could hurt the other person deeply, so say it right.
How you say what you say is highly dependent on the relationship you have with the other person. A parent’s disapproval might be harder for a young child to take than a teacher’s disapproval. An employer is expected to oversee their employees. A co-worker might have to phrase their opinions much more carefully. An underling critique a higher up would have to tread very carefully.
Focus on teaching.
Do not think of yourself as a reviewer/critic, but as a teacher. By wanting to help someone improve on their work, you will be helping them to grow. Do not assume you are all-knowing, but a partner on the journey of getting to where they want to be.
Make sure you’re clear on the expectations of the project and so is the person being critiqued. If there was a lack of clear communication between what you, the critic, and the person being critiqued consider the requirements of the project, then all criticism is pointless from the get go. Saying something such as, I understood that you need to do A, B, and C before starting can clear up any misunderstandings.
Share your intentions of providing the critique.
Clarify your expectations of what you expect to happen after your critique. Do you want something redone or do you want to just not see the same mistakes in the future? The intention of constructive criticism is to improve upon the project at hand or future projects.
Keep it impersonal.
Don’t allow personal feelings in on the judgment of the work. There will always be lots of subjective attributes. It might not be a subject you would have chosen to pursue, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile endeavor. Maybe you would have chosen the opposite side of a persuasive speech, but it doesn’t mean there weren’t great arguments to be made.
Focus on the thing and not the person.
Do not allow things like, “you always…” to slip into your critique. Each project is new and different. Don’t allow anything that happened prior to the presentation and after the presentation to slip through.
Keep your tone respectful.
The purpose of constructive criticism isn’t to put down, but to help someone improve. You do not need to act in a degrading manner or talk to them the way a parent reasons with a two year old child. Always afford the subject of your constructive criticism your respect. It takes a lot to at least try.
Ask lots of question.
By asking questions, you may find out the reasoning behind what brought them to the delivery they had, but more importantly, it allows the person being critiqued to discover the flaws themselves. It also saves you the trouble of going over anything they might already know. Often, in sports, players know exactly what it is they did wrong, so the only thing left is to figure out how not to do it again.
Use the Oreo Cookie Method.
This is really a very simple concept. Same something nice, add your criticism, then say another positive comment. Nothing anybody does is all bad. For example: “I can see you tried very hard. I did notice you missed point B. You did, however, cover points A and C very well.”
Be clear and concise.
Do not leave anything open to interpretation. State the facts as you see them and be as simple as possible in stating them.
Back up your opinions with solid reasoning.
A critique is nothing but an opinion. The person you are critiquing may or may not take your advice. It is assumed that you are giving the critique to help. If you want your help taken seriously, give a good reason for why you think what you do.
Speak as a team whenever possible.
If the situation calls for it, as many work situations do, do not use words like “you” and “I”, but “we”. Be in it together, rather than just dictating.
Constructive criticism doesn’t just end after you have said your peace. If you truly want to help, check back with the person whom you critiqued. Ask them how it is going. Ask them if they came up with any new ideas. Ask if they need any help. Do whatever it takes to help them move along into the goals. If they have decided that your opinions aren’t anything they would like to implement, accept that gracefully. Any critique is just an opinion.