Undoubtedly, you were put in a position where constructive criticism was needed of you. And I bet, in your perspective, it meant "negative, negative, negative." If you are a people-pleaser, then worry and cold sweat will set in, and you will be wondering how you will get through this.
Why are you hesitant to criticize bad behavior or performance?
You worry about the recipient's response: What if they become angry? What if this results in disagreement and a strained relationship? What if I demotivate them and it negatively impacts their performance or self-esteem? What if they only consider my negative comments? What if they will hate me as a result? What if I am unable to effectively convey my message?
Let me tell you, if you are worrying about it, that already helps you be very empathetic while delivering the feedback. Step 1, checked!
In this article, we should look at "constructive criticism" through the golden circle model of "What, Why, How," and we will explore why you do not need to resort to negative criticism when providing much-needed feedback.
What is constructive criticism?
We have a preconceived interpretation that constructive criticism is negative feedback, and the confusion could stand in the name, perceiving the word "criticism" as a negative term. Constructive criticism won't always be positive, but the underlying intent is to help someone improve and grow. While constructive criticism offers improvement suggestions and possible action items, destructive criticism is a type of criticism that is intended to undermine, affecting the receiver's self-esteem, and could be perceived as a form of attack. The feedback receiver should leave the conversation with a sense of confidence and positivity instead of shame, anger, and resentment.
Types of criticism
- Constructive criticism : providing feedback that is helpful and supportive, offering suggestions for improvement, focusing on growth and positive change;
- Destructive criticism : communicated with negative, destructive, and demoralizing language, it does not offer solutions but merely points out the issues;
- Positive criticism : it highlights an individual's strengths and accomplishments;
- Negative criticism : focuses on the flaws and mistakes of an individual and often lacks suggestions for improvement.
Negative criticism and destructive criticism both focus on providing feedback that highlights weaknesses. The difference between the two is that negative criticism leaves room for positives, although predominantly negative, and is sometimes accompanied by suggestions for improvement. The intention behind negative criticism is productive change without attacking their confidence.
Destructive criticism is more harmful than negative criticism, the feedback is provided in a hostile, demeaning manner, and it can involve negative language, personal attacks, and insults. The intent behind this is to discourage and hurt, which could lead to serious mental well-being issues for the receiver.
Positive and constructive criticism have things in common. Positive criticism focuses on strengths and accomplishments and is a morale booster, encouraging positive behaviors and maintaining positive attitudes. Constructive criticism focuses on both positive and negative aspects of an individual's performance while also encouraging growth and aiming to identify areas of improvement. Constructive criticism earns the spot for the most balanced approach.
- Positive:"Your positive attitude is very appreciated; it contributes to the team's positive environment!"
- Negative:"Your suggestions for improvement are well-received, but it does not help that you missed the retrospective meetings"
- Destructive:"Your work was done so poorly. Clearly, you do not care for quality"
- Constructive:"I noticed that your knowledge-sharing session was clearly structured, and it shows that you paid attention when creating it. I believe that for the future session, having small interactive exercises will increase the engagement even further!"
Why is constructive criticism important?
Professionals who embrace constructive feedback are more likely to advance in their professional endeavors because they have a continuous improvement mindset that will push them forward.
How do you actually help someone by giving constructive criticism?
Growth and performance: The receiver will gain insights into their actions or work, and they will be able to identify areas of improvement. Perhaps they were not even aware of the things they're missing, and you have spared them some time it would have taken for them to figure it out on their own. You will increase the chances that the person will not continue to follow unproductive patterns, thus, making informed decisions focusing on improving their weaknesses and increasing their performance. Furthermore, it plays a highly important role in the quality of their deliverables.
Communication and relationships: You can not have constructive criticism without clear communication. You will need to express your communication skills through open dialogue, active listening, and idea sharing. By offering constructive criticism instead of ignoring the issues and only discussing positive traits, you will, in fact, restrict your communication, causing frustration on your side and avoiding problem-solving. When you give constructive criticism, you foster a transparent, stronger, and more trusting relationship. When you offer them your own perspective, you can then collaborate to find the most inspired solutions. And when conflict is in play, by offering constructive criticism, you can address the issues in a healthy manner, leading to improvement.
How should I give constructive criticism?
The goal of constructive criticism is to help an individual grow and not to criticize, although it is in the name.
Ideal feedback is defined by 3 characteristics:
- regular, not sporadic
- specific, not ambiguous
- constructive, not destructive
The constructive criticism should be:
- Timed: Avoid communicating the feedback when you or the other person are not in the right place of mind, stressed, or emotionally unavailable. Instead, plan it when you can both be as rational as possible
- Private: Avoid communicating your feedback in public,; do it in a 1x1 conversation
- Clear: Be very specific about the point you are addressing. Do not make it personal. You are addressing an action, not their person. Make your whole case about the facts. Do not use generalizations, as you will only make your point unclear
- Non-emotional: Stick to your observations and be descriptive and objective, not emotional and subjective in your approach. If you are making personal attacks, you will not help the situation
- Suggestive: Offer solutions to the issue or find some together, focus on future improvement, and set a common goal. Understand that change can not be done overnight and provide the person enough time to address the problem
- Empathetic: Consider and ask for their stance, do not assume their intentions or ignore their perspective
- Dialog: Do not make the whole conversation a monologue. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings and listen
- Short: Do not provide too much feedback at once, as it can be confusing
- Not a comparison : Avoid comparing them with another person or another's actions, circumstances, or trajectory. Every person is unique.
- Respectful : Do not speak from a position of authority, but rather with a collaborative approach
- Positive: Mention the positive actions, as well. Use positive, encouraging language. If you use harsh language, it will set the individual in a defensive mode. Lastly, end the conversation on a positive note
What if, after all, your constructive criticism is not well-received?
You will have to resort to professionalism and try some of these techniques:
- Staying Calm : Remain composed, avoid arguments, and do not get emotional or defensive yourself
- Active Listening : Hear their perspective and allow them to express their opinion and show that you are actively listening
- Showing Empathy : Try to understand why they might react negatively, acknowledge their feelings, ask for their perspective and concerns
- Offering Clarification : Remind them that the intention of the feedback is improvement and not a personal attack, and remind them of the clear actions you are addressing. If they need more examples, provide them with additional clear explanations
- Reinforcing Positives : Let them know that the positives are not ignored but appreciated
- Offering Support : Remind them of your support and try to find more solutions together
- Giving Time : Allow them to process the information and once they are past their emotional reaction and have had time for reflection, follow the conversation and check their opinion after they had the time to let it sink in and their mind is clear
- Seeking Help : If the situation escalates, seek help from a third party, such as a higher manager or HR representative
Some individuals will not receive the feedback as well as you would hope for, as they act upon their emotions, their mindset, and coping mechanisms. As long as you offer your feedback in a polite, constructive manner, it is not in your control how the other person reacts, nor your responsibility.
How should you receive the constructive feedback?
Getting feedback is a tool from which you can greatly benefit from. When you are the recipient of constructive criticism, you want to remain open to the feedback, analyze it and see what resonates with you, and then decide what you can take from it to evolve.
- Avoid defensiveness and try not to get too emotional. Avoid immediate reaction if you are feeling too emotional. Think about how you could learn from the feedback
- Pay attention, do not interrupt the other person, and listen carefully to what they are saying before replying. If something is not clear, ask for clarification
- Show appreciation. Be open to learning and use the feedback to focus on what you can improve. Having a growth mindset means you take any opportunity to evolve
- Remember that you are not the feedback , the feedback is directed at your actions, and it does not reflect your worth as a person
- Implement the suggestions that were offered to you if applicable. Seek additional feedback if required, and check if the same feedback is received from several people. If the same feedback is received more than once, it might be a sign that you have to put in some effort in that direction.
Next time it is required of you to evaluate a colleague and communicate improvement opportunities, you will know that constructive criticism is everybody's friend, and you can deliver your feedback in an elegant and productive manner. When giving feedback, it is essential to pay attention to the words you use, maintain respect and support, and simply try to help. You got this!