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How to Give and Respond to Constructive Criticism

Updated on March 16, 2013

Throughout high school, into the real world and then on to college I have had many opportunities to provide constructive criticism of the work of others. For the most part this criticism has been in the theatrical or literary realm because that is where my talent, skills and education truly lie. I have directed the occasional play and I have helped to teach creative writing classes and workshops as well. I own a poetry group on Yahoo! and have been in a position to offer constructive criticism there as well.

Many times I have been put into the awkward position of critiquing the work of a friend. Through this I have learned through a process of trial and error how to critique a work without making the other person feel sensitive and put down for their efforts. Friendships lost (and nearly lost) provided a good lesson. I am now able to critique the work of people to whom I am close, by following the rules I have outlined below. Feelings now are rarely hurt and criticism is accepted in the spirit in which it is intended.

Please note that this hub is one of the first that I published here at Hubpages. Although it has been edited to a limited extent, the article will, for the most part, be left intact.

Be sensitive when giving constructive criticism!
Be sensitive when giving constructive criticism!

Be Sensitive!

First and foremost, if you are in a position to critique the work of another person, remember that you are dealing with another human being with thoughts, feelings and emotions. And always keep in mind that the person with whom you are working also has an opinion of their own, which might be very different from your own!

It is possible that you will receive a response to your criticism. Sometimes that response may be powerfully negative, no matter how good you are at giving constructive criticism. Try to always take into consideration the opinions, explanations and feelings of the person who is being critiqued and be prepared to offer feedback to their responses.

Often, short answers are best. Try to be thoughtful in your criticism and ensure that your suggestions are understood. Always remember that constructive criticism is about suggestions.

Criticism is Subjective

I thought and thought about this point, and I realized that the fact is that criticism is almost always subjective. Certainly there can be points where facts come into play more strongly than opinions, but for the most part, constructive criticism is the result of one person sharing their thoughts and opinions about something with another person.

You can't get around it, and I believe that it is essential to keep in mind when critiquing someone or something that your findings are based almost entirely on your opinions.

Therefore, it is wise to begin with precursors such as "I think" or "have you tried?" These types of openings help to soften the statement and make it more palatable to the individual on the receiving end of your criticism.

Always Temper Criticism with Praise

I have heard this referred to as "sandwiching" your criticism. For example, if I were criticizing this article, I would begin with a statement such as:

"I really like the way you pointed out that criticism is subjective! That gets overlooked so often!"

Then you want to move into the meat of your criticism: what I can change about the article.

"I think it would be good to discuss how a person can handle an even more sensitive subject, though."

I like to try to make a specific example:

"For example, what if a man's wife asks him if he likes her new dress, but he hates it? How does he handle that situation?"

Then follow up with something positive about the item being critiqued.

"I really like the article and I look forward to seeing it go live!"

What about Accepting Constructive Criticism?

Throughout life, there is going to be a time or two when you are faced with criticism. It might be that you picked an outfit that is the wrong color on you, or you've asked for feedback on your new novel. Sometimes it might be solicited criticism and other times it might be unsolicited. In some cases you might appreciate being instructed in how to improve and in other cases you might be downright offended.

Please keep in mind that in most cases, the person giving you feedback is seriously only trying to help. Not everyone is skilled at offering constructive criticism and sometimes the words will sting. It's important for you to keep your cool. Friendships have been won and lost over criticism before!

The most important thing is to thank the person for their feedback. Keep in mind that they are probably trying to help you! "I appreciate your taking the time to tell me that. I will take your thoughts into consideration" is a very good way to respond to constructive criticism.

Then do it! Take under advisement the items indicated by the person offering their time to help you to improve yourself or your work! That is the best way that you can show your appreciation to them!

What if I don't Understand? Or Disagree?

If you don't understand the criticism that you have received, then you are more than welcome to ask for clarification. Using reflective listening is often good at this point. "You want me to write about how to critique someone about something very personal to them. I guess I think it's pretty much the same thing. I'm very sensitive about my writing, just like some women are about the way they look."

This gives the person doing the critique an opportunity to either further understand what you were trying to say (and therefore give additional feedback) or to clarify their point.


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    • lea86 profile image

      lea86 7 years ago

      I agree, sometimes we have to be open-minded. Perhaps we might hurt a bit of the truth from the critics, but as you said, 'they probably want to help us' and also sometimes 'the feedback from others might negatively powerful' so, we have to be sensitive before giving our opinion.