Constructive Criticism: 10 Tips to Give Helpful Advice and How to Take it Like a Pro

It’s never easy to hear that we made a mistake or that our work could improve. When faced with any type of criticism, our egos often take over, our defenses rise, and we put up walls, so we don’t have to hear it.

Giving constructive criticism is just as tricky. We don’t want to hurt the feelings of our friends, family members, or colleagues, but we also want them to be the best they can be.

Learning to handle constructive criticism as a giver and receiver is an essential leadership skill that will help you navigate life in general.

What is Constructive Criticism?

Constructive criticism is advice we give to help others improve. The goal is to mentor, teach, and develop, not to tear the person down.

Nobody is perfect, and nobody gets things right the first time. We need the input of others to help us iron out details and see things from different perspectives. This vital input allows us to create better products. That’s what constructive criticism is all about.

Unconstructive Criticism

More often than not, criticism isn’t productive. People will tear down our works and ideas, refusing to offer any helpful advice in the process.

This deconstructive criticism leads to hurt feelings and sometimes causes us to give up on our hopes and dreams. It makes us feel like failures like we can’t do anything right.

The hurt feelings surrounding unconstructive criticism are why it’s vital to be constructive while critical.

Examples of Constructive Criticism

Constructive feedback builds people up. When delivering this type of advice, you need to focus on the positive rather than the negative and offer helpful advice for how they can improve.

For example, let’s say a friend is writing a story, and they ask you to read it. Whether you like the story or not, you need to find some aspects where they did a good job and find ways to help them build upon them.

Say things like, “I love where you were going with this plotline, but it seemed to drop off. The story would be incredible if you found a way to tie that back into the main arc,” or “The detail and action were epic, but the characters were a little weak. Maybe offer some back story to help us understand their motives a little more.”

In both these examples, we were optimistic about our experience with the story and gave our friend actionable tips on improving.

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Constructive Criticism at Work

As a leader, you have even more opportunities to provide helpful advice and develop the employees you work with. Although many leaders wait to give feedback until a performance review, that’s doing the employee a disservice. The feedback process should be a constant loop.  

If an employee submits a project that doesn’t meet your expectations, look at it as an opportunity to help them grow and develop. Determine whether they need additional training or resources to complete their assigned tasks and offer assistance when needed.

You could say something like, “It looks like you put a lot of effort into this project but could use more training on XYZ. Let’s sign you up for a class so you can learn more about how it works.” It’s essential to help your colleagues develop their next steps and follow up with them upon completion.

Regardless of whom you’re helping, it’s vital to build them up rather than destroy their confidence with harsh criticism.

10 Tips for Giving Constructive Criticism that People Will Hear

Whether on the job or in your personal life, there will come a time when you need to offer feedback to help someone grow and develop.

Here are ten tips for giving effective feedback which will help the receiver get the message.

1. Choose the Right Time

Timing is everything. Even the best advice will be ignored if the receiver isn’t in the right state of mind to hear it.

Choose a low-stress time when tensions are low and deadlines are far away.  Consider their personal life as well, ensuring you aren’t delivering what may be taken as “bad news” on top of more bad news in their lives.

However, timely feedback is also critical. Although you want to ensure it’s a “good time” for them to receive it, you also want to ensure it’s on time. Don’t wait months to provide advice. Give feedback as soon as possible, so the project is fresh in their minds.

2. Be Kind

Kindness goes a long way. Although you are being critical, you don’t have to be mean about it. You can give open and honest feedback in a respectful manner.

When delivering feedback, avoid harsh phrases like “this is horrible,” “I expected more out of you,” “You need to redo this completely,” and other things that could be taken as personal insults.

3. Approach it with Empathy

Though empathy comes naturally to some, everyone can develop it. When having a difficult discussion, it’s essential to approach it with empathy.

Put yourself in the person’s shoes and try to understand why they approached the task the way they did. Approach the conversation from a desire for understanding and working together to create a better product.

4. Point out the Positives

One of the most commonly offered methods of giving constructive criticism is via the feedback sandwich approach. With a feedback sandwich, you cushion negative statements between positive ones to soften the blow.

It works because people need to hear the good along with the bad. Hearing positive things about their work helps build their confidence, so they don’t feel so bad about the negative statements.

When giving any type of feedback, include compliments. Make sure the positive side outweighs the negative. They’ll feel like they did a good job overall and will be willing to fix the few issues to create an even better product.

5. Be Specific

Vague feedback isn’t helpful to anyone. Sometimes we like to beat around the bush because we feel it will soften the blow, but in reality, it just confuses the person, leaving them unsure of what they need to fix.

Be specific in your feedback. Showcase the explicit areas where things need improvement. Point out exact details that need correction. The more specific your feedback, the easier it will be for them to correct their errors and improve for next time.

Also Read: How to Set and Slay Your Personal Goals

6. Offer Helpful Recommendations

Simply pointing out errors isn’t enough. It’s essential also to offer advice and recommendations on how to improve.

In our story example above, we pointed out that the characters were weak and offered advice on making them stronger. Use phrases like “Maybe you could try….” Or “it would be helpful to include…” to point them in the right direction.

7. Focus on Action Items

Recommendations that people can’t change aren’t helpful. Focus your feedback on things that they can change.

Your feedback should never be directed to their personality, identity, family, or immutable traits. Instead, find things they can do to improve.

For example, if their grammar is poor, suggest they use an app like Grammarly or take a refresher course in business communication. These are actionable steps they can take to improve.

8. Avoid Assumptions

Don’t assume the person you are coaching knows everything you do. You may find that their project failed because they didn’t understand a critical aspect of the assignment or weren’t included in an email with vital information. They may not have had enough time to complete the project to your standards.

Often, employees fail because supervisors don’t offer clear guidance and direction. Employees aren’t mind readers. Don’t assume they know exactly what you want if you didn’t clearly communicate it.

9. Stay Objective

You may not enjoy the story that your friend wrote. That doesn’t make it bad. Some folks love The Notebook, while others hate it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

When offering feedback, it’s important to stay objective. Don’t let your subjective opinion cloud your judgment. Is the project objectively bad, or is it something you just don’t personally like?

If you don’t enjoy the story, use an I statement to explain. Say things like, “It’s not a niche I generally enjoy, but the storyline is solid,” or “It’s not my style, but I think others who are into this thing would enjoy it.”

I-Statements are essential because they showcase that the criticism isn’t a personal attack but insight into how the other person feels about the work.

10. Listen

Your feedback session should be an open discussion between two parties. You’re doing it wrong if you do all the talking.

Ensure the other person feels included. Ask questions from a place of curiosity, and really listen to the responses. They may be approaching the problem from a different perspective, which may be better than what you were thinking.

How to Receive Constructive Advice

Being on the receiving end of constructive criticism isn’t easy. However, learning how to receive negative feedback is critical so you can improve.

Here are some tips for accepting feedback with grace.

1. Let Go of the Ego

One of the biggest reasons we can’t receive criticism is our egos. Our egos protect our inner selves from damage by refusing to acknowledge that we can be wrong.

Let go of the defensiveness and protection your ego provides. Accept that it’s okay to be wrong sometimes. Nobody is perfect at anything, especially on their first try, and that’s okay. It’s okay to fail and learn from your mistakes.

2. Come to Learn

Approach the conversation with a willingness to learn. Understand that most coaches offering constructive criticism are trying to help you improve at something.

 Accepting that you don’t know everything and that your mentor can teach you something will go a long way toward having a constructive conversation.

3. View it from their Perspective

We often make mistakes because we know what we’re trying to say, but it doesn’t translate well for others.

Try to step out of your bubble of knowledge and look at the problem from someone else’s perspective. Did you leave out essential details that seem obvious to you but might not be apparent to others?

4. Consider their Input

A lot of constructive criticism is valid, even if we can’t see it at first. Take time to digest what they said, and then review your work with their input in mind.

Perhaps you can see what they meant, and you can make positive changes to improve your project.

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5. Accept it with Grace

Whether you agree with their criticism or not, accept it with grace. If they care enough to offer helpful advice, they genuinely care about you and want you to succeed.

Everyone has different perspectives and experiences, and even if you disagree with their assessment, you can thank them for offering their opinion without taking their criticism personally.

Criticism is a Fact of Life – Make it Constructive

Giving and receiving feedback is a fact of life. You’ll have to offer friends, family members, peers, or employees advice at some point in your career, and you’ll also be expected to listen to their feedback.

Although most people loathe performance reviews, it doesn’t have to be an awful experience. Use constructive criticism to build people up, helping them grow and develop into star employees. Use it to help your friends and family members excel at their passions.