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How to Give Constructive Criticism

Updated on March 21, 2011

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.

Relationships matter.

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.

Review assumptions.

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. 

Follow up.

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. 


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    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Your Oreo idea should be the hallmark of any person giving a critique of another person's performance or work. Without giving some kind of praise, the person being criticized can jump to the defensive and your well thought out criticism is lost.

    • LelahKimball profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from USA

      My hard drive is having problems on my laptop and needs to be sent in for repairs, so I'm regulated to using my husband's computer here and there. Not conducive to getting *anything* done online. However, I do have a hot to take criticism hub in the works. A couple of others too. Call it ADD, I half write articles, and then move on to the next idea until I can finish it. If I feel I can't, I publish and regret an unfinished hub. It's a-comin' though.

    • Laughing Mom profile image

      Laughing Mom 

      10 years ago

      This is a great hub. I know quite a few people who need to read this. Okay, I have two requests:

      1) Could you slip a copy of this to my boss before yearly reviews begin next month?

      2) Can you write one on how to take criticism that isn't given in this manner?

    • LowellWriter profile image

      L.A. Walsh 

      10 years ago from Lowell, MA

      Good ideas. Thank you for answering my request! :o)

    • LelahKimball profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from USA

      Lisa, thanks for the constructive criticism. 

      I did touch on your first point in both “relationships matter” and “review assumptions”, but it is a strong enough idea I should have developed it further and included it as a point all on its own.

      I do see your opinion on the second point, but respectfully disagree.  While I do agree that the compliments shouldn’t be fluff or overly presented, I do think they should be included—if honest and genuine.  A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down for a reason.  Heck, you implemented it yourself in the comment: “Your take/ideas on offering constructive criticism are well put together, I thought.” 

      I believe, and have (fortunately or unfortunately) spent the field time studying the manner when I was working toward my degree, that if you don’t end conversations on a positive note, in the long run, employees/students think less of the supervisor/teacher.  There are many, many professional studies that do show this; it’s why the Oreo cookie method came to be.  Most people do want you to be honest, straight forward and come to the point, but they don’t want you to be negative.  And that is the only point of the Oreo cookie method.

    • Lisa HW profile image

      Lisa HW 

      10 years ago from Massachusetts

      Your take/ideas on offering constructive criticism are well put together, I thought.

      There are two points that do occur to me to add (not that anyone asked, of course):

      1. I think before offering constructive criticism people need to ask if they have a right to presume to be that "teacher" of anyone else. A teacher, parent, or supervisor has every right to attempt to attempt to teach. A sister-in-law or best friend should, I think, generally keep their "constructive" ideas to themselves. :)

      2. There are people who actually get a little more irritated when they know someone is using the "Oreo cookie method". It can be pretty transparent to people who aren't children; and the "cookie" parts of the comments can very much seem like phony comments intended to do just what they are intended to do - make the "frosting stuff" "surrounded".

      When I'm working, or when I've written something, I'd just rather someone skip the pretend (or save any genuine compliments for their own time); and politely say, "There's one issue I'd like to offer a little constructive criticism on." It's honest, to-the-point, and polite - and it saves people from secretly thinking, "Save the baloney and let's just get to the problem you have with what I've done here." Grown-ups usually see through such techniques/methods, and I think, in the long run, it makes them see supervisors as superficial, non-straight-talkers.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 

      10 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hi Lelah! I wish I could send this link to all my prior bosses and my ex-husband! They could all use this advice!! Truth be told, so can I. My problem is usually that I worry so much about hurting someone's feelings that I overdo in the harshness of my criticism then turn around and minimize it.

      You are absolutely right. Constructive criticizing is an artform. And I like the rules you've set out. thumbs up on this hub!! MM


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