Criticism isn’t always easy to give, and it’s certainly not easy to receive. But when feedback is constructive, it builds team trust, improves workplace relationships, and fosters a continuous improvement mindset. In this post, we’ll provide advice on how to give and receive constructive criticism, as well as strategies for how to put that constructive criticism into action.
Constructive criticism is a method of giving feedback that focuses on suggesting actionable steps someone can take to improve their performance. As opposed to just telling someone they’re doing something the wrong way, there’s nothing ambiguous about constructive criticism; it’s easy to understand and can be put into practice right away.
Ideally, continuous feedback should be built into your company culture. Constructive criticism should be expected on a regular basis so that no one is surprised by or caught off guard by it. This helps to instill a continuous improvement mindset across the organization.
Constructive criticism isn’t a one-way street—from a manager to the employee. It should come from all directions and be a process that everyone participates in. 360 feedback provides insight to everyone so that all team members work to improve, no matter their rank in the company.
📚 Read our Guide to Giving Constructive Feedback, which includes the benefits of constructive feedback, a framework for giving constructive feedback, and best practices.
In order to give constructive criticism that your team members will respond to, you first need to build trust. They need to know the suggestions are coming from someone who has their best interests at heart.
Set time aside for team building sessions and consider completing a work personality test with your employees to learn their communication preferences. Being able to communicate with someone in the way that’s most effective for them will help your employees understand where you’re coming from. Making this investment in the wellbeing of your team will help build trust across the board.
On the smaller, everyday scale, make an effort to build a friendly rapport with your employees. Ask them about their hobbies outside of work and show a genuine interest. If you’re prone to lapses in memory, jot down what your employees’ interests are in a notebook so you can follow up with them at a later date. Remembering what’s unique about each of your team members lets them know you’re genuinely interested in their wellbeing, and it helps build rapport.
📚 Learn how to make a friendly connection with coworkers: Building rapport in one-on-one meetings.
Since sandwiches 🥪 are universally loved, they’re also a great way to give constructive criticism.
The premise of a feedback sandwich is pretty simple; when providing feedback, wedge anything negative you have to say in between two positive things.
It’s easier to receive criticism with this method because opening with a compliment lets the person know you’re on their side; you recognize their effort and appreciate their achievements. After hearing this, they will be more open and receptive to learning what they can improve upon. Closing the feedback by reiterating their strengths and what you hope to see in the future ends the constructive criticism on a positive note.
The Feedback Sandwich is a particularly helpful method of providing constructive criticism if you don’t know the employee very well yet. It’s feedback that’s not only helpful but palatable too. 🥪
Don’t be hypothetical when providing constructive criticism. Focus on what specifically the employee or team member can do to improve. This will help them put your feedback into action.
What is the outcome you’re hoping for? Which behavior do you want to see change? Offer clear examples and define what ‘better’ looks like. What are the specific steps the employee can take to improve?
Provide clear examples surrounding areas of improvement and make sure to do the same when speaking about their strengths. Offer clear examples of what they are doing well and how their strengths and achievements aid the entire team.
Although receiving criticism can naturally put one on the defensive, it’s important to remember the benefits of constructive criticism. It helps improve your skills at work, your relationships with coworkers, and it can help you advance your career.
No one’s perfect, and as good as you are at your job, there’s always room for improvement. That goes for everyone—even managers, bosses, and business owners need to be open to receiving constructive criticism. Having a higher rank in a company doesn’t mean you don’t have any more room for improvement. Managers should continue to hone their techniques and learn from the people they are managing.
Remember that receiving constructive criticism from those around you only serves to benefit you. It’s in your best interest to take the feedback to heart and implement it as best you can.
It can be tough to hear criticism, no matter how constructive it may be. Your initial reaction might be defensive, argumentative, insecure, or dejected. It’s best not to react at all at first. Instead, take the time to listen.
Hear the person out. Take them seriously, and listen carefully to whatever they have to say. Try to understand where they are coming from and, even if you don’t agree, remember that it’s how the other person feels. Receiving insight from someone else’s perspective enhances your self-awareness, as you can begin to understand how your actions are actually perceived by others, as opposed to just relying on your own impression of events.
Ask questions to gain clarity about the constructive criticism you receive. Now is the time to clear up any confusion you may have so that you can fully put the feedback into action.
If you didn’t receive clear examples, ask for more detail. What is it that you do or don’t do that could be improved? Bring it all back to how you can turn the feedback into action items. Ask questions about how you can implement constructive criticism and ensure you align on what it is you need to work on.
After you receive constructive criticism, it’s up to you to put it into action. Make sure you document the feedback you receive and transform it into clear, actionable steps you can take to improve.
For example, if you hear you are too quick to make decisions, make an effort to listen to more opinions and insights before jumping to a conclusion. If you hear you could participate more in meetings, set a goal of asking two questions during each of your next meetings.
Sometimes the feedback we receive isn’t tangible. Something like “be more organized” or “be less bossy” are tough pieces of feedback to visualize. In order to make progress and demonstrate that progress at your next one-on-one, you need to turn the feedback into actionable steps.
Developing your organization skills could mean keeping a work journal, aiming to show up 5-10 minutes early to every commitment, or setting reminders for due dates. Trying to be less bossy might translate into allowing everyone else to speak before you do, or it could mean reframing any requests/demands into questions to give those around you more autonomy.
Follow-up meetings keep constructive criticism continuous. Utilize one-on-one meetings to check in on your progress and identify what you have done to implement the feedback you received.
This is why translating your constructive criticism into actionable steps is so important. Once you get to your next one-on-one meeting, you can clearly speak to your progress and the steps you took to improve since the last time you met.
Follow-up meetings also keep you accountable to the feedback you receive. It isn’t enough to simply hear it—you need to act on it to enable continuous improvement.
Make your feedback goals clear and visible by putting them in writing or utilizing online tools. What do you hope to achieve from one meeting to the next? What are your larger goals, and how can you break those down into smaller, actionable steps?
Being intentional about your goals will help you make progress on the feedback you receive. Plus, it will help you keep track of your long-term progress, which will motivate you to continue working on the areas you can improve.
💡 Charma converts constructive criticism into action items with a repeatable framework and clear visibility. Learn more about our collaborative meeting management system.
Tracking your goals and progress presents opportunities for celebration. Remember to take the time to celebrate your successes, large and small. A little celebration will motivate you to keep going. It can be as simple as getting yourself your favorite treat or something larger for reaching big milestones.
As a manager or the person providing constructive feedback, make sure you recognize the efforts of your team members and the progress they make. Support them in their journey and offer words of encouragement along the way.
Recognizing employees for their efforts during follow-up meetings or by sending kudos through Charma can inspire them to keep up the good work. Continually offer your team members positive feedback that highlights their strengths and lets them know they’re appreciated.
📚 Learn about the importance of employee recognition and how to do it well, including the benefits to your business and how to establish a culture of recognition in your workplace.
Charma is the best practice toolkit for managers to organize, motivate, and engage their teams, beloved by managers, HR, executives, and ICs alike. Find tools to help manage agendas for one-on-one meetings and team meetings, action items, team collaboration, continuous feedback, recognition, and goals — all in one place.
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