How to Give Constructive Feedback

Giving people false complements isn't helpful to anyone, but neither is giving them criticism that isn't constructive. Strike a balance between placating and scathing by learning how to give constructive criticism.

Why aim for constructive criticism

It's fairly easy to see why you want to avoid criticism that isn't constructive-it comes off as mean and can easily damage relationships (both personal and professional). But why is it better to give constructive criticism rather than compliments? The answer is simple. If you're giving a compliment that you don't believe in, you aren't helping the person in question at all. This person will never get better if he or she thinks that everything is going perfectly. Believe it or not, giving false compliments is also detrimental to you. It makes you lose credibility and takes value away from the honest compliments that you do give.

The key to constructive criticism

So, what makes something constructive criticism instead of just criticism? It has to do with the intention behind the criticism, as well as the way it's delivered. You give a person constructive criticism because you want to help him or her get better at something. To that end, good, constructive criticism uses specifics to provide the person in question with concrete ways to improve.

For example, if you are trying to help someone get better at doing a push-up, it would not be constructive criticism to say, "Your back is curved." Simply pointing out things that are wrong with a person's performance isn't just unhelpful, it's also annoying. A better response might be, "Try to keep your back straight." The more specific you are with your criticism and solution, the better. For example, telling a baseball player that he needs to improve his batting is not constructive criticism, because it is generic and offers no real strategy for becoming more proficient at getting a hit.

A good balance

Striking the right balance with your constructive criticism is important. Even if your criticism is based in specifics and offers concrete solutions to help the person in question get better at what he or she does, no one will want to listen to you if they think that you are being condescending or insulting. In order to strike the right balance when giving constructive criticism, keep these things in mind:

  • Use a tone of voice that's helpful, not condescending or superior.
  • Speak in "I" statements. For example, "I've noticed that deadlines aren't being met," instead of "You're not meeting deadlines."
  • If you can spot good elements to what someone is doing, point those out along with the criticism. When you highlight only the negative elements of someone's performance, they can feel underappreciated and attacked.
  • Avoid giving a large amount of constructive criticism at once, even if you notice many things that could make someone's performance better. Talking about too many things that need to be fixed can feel overwhelming. Instead, focus on the more important corrections first, and save fine-tuning suggestions for another time.

When you know how to give good, constructive criticism, you will be better equipped to bring out the best in everyone around you.

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