A Guide to Constructive Criticism with Tips and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 16, 2022

Published May 17, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Providing and receiving constructive criticism can provide you with increased awareness of how you can improve and make positive changes. In the workplace, it is most common to give and receive constructive criticism during a quarterly or annual performance review. Constructive criticism can help you grow and become better at your job. In this article, we explore what constructive criticism is, ways you can implement it and the best ways to deliver constructive criticism with examples of each.

What is constructive criticism?

Instead of simply giving an opinion, constructive criticism also provides actionable advice for that person. The feedback given will provide you or your coworkers with specific ways they can make positive improvements. Typically, constructive criticism is straightforward, to the point and easy to put into action.

Constructive criticism can be a great way for employees to get to know your expectations and how they can achieve them. Constructive criticism helps foster a positive work environment because it gives employees an opportunity to ask questions. The feedback should focus on the positives but also on where there is room for improvement. Make sure to give advice with positive and helpful intentions.

Tips for giving constructive criticism

There are a few things to keep in mind if you are giving constructive criticism for the first time. Below is a list of the key strategies to help you provide helpful, positive and constructive advice:

Start with positive feedback

When giving constructive criticism, it is best to start with positive feedback to help the person feel more comfortable. Beginning with a conversation right away about where the person could improve or make changes could prevent them from listening to the rest of your advice or feedback. By leading with positive feedback, you help the recipient feel rewarded and acknowledged for their efforts.

By giving and focusing on the positives first, you are also helping the person recognize where their strengths are, which can help them determine how to use those strengths to create change.

Tip: When giving constructive criticism, focus on two positive traits or areas of feedback for every one area of criticism. This will help build the individual's confidence so they can make any changes needed.

Example: "The report you wrote was very well written and needed little correction. Where I do see room for improvement is adding more insight into the objectives of the project. This will help the other team members recognize where they can start so we can achieve our goals faster."

Related: 8 Positive Feedback Examples for Employee Performance

Use the sandwich method

Similar to the strategy of giving positive feedback before the critique, the sandwich method provides positive feedback both before and after the criticism. Start with positive reinforcement by commenting on the person's approach or by providing a positive comment. The positive affirmations at the end could focus on a trait the individual possesses or something they have done. The end can also be something as simple as stating that you are looking forward to seeing the individual's progress.

Tip: It can help to write out the feedback and positive affirmations you want to give a colleague or employee. This will keep you organized throughout the conversation and ensure that your point comes across clearly and concisely.

Example: "The website layout looks fantastic. I love how you incorporated our brand colours, style and feel throughout the pages. I think the product pages could use a little more information on them to help the customer understand all aspects of the product and leave them with fewer questions. I'm looking forward to seeing how you incorporate more of the information on these pages and seeing the finished product."

Focus on the situation or objective

To prevent constructive criticism from sounding like a personal attack, it is best to focus on the specific situation or objective. The best way to do this is to use non-specific language such as "the numbers," "the performance" or "the project" instead of saying “your numbers,” “your performance” and “your project.” This allows you to focus the conversation more on the actions and improvements you would like to see. For example, instead of saying, "Your project needs to include more statistical analysis," try saying something like, "The project should focus on and include statistical analysis."

While it is important for employees or colleagues to accept responsibility for areas that need improvement, by focusing the conversation around "you" language, the conversation may be more like a personal critique.

Tip: Before delivering your constructive criticism, be sure to take some time and consider the elements you think need improvement. Writing them down may help you remember them. Be as specific as possible as well.

Example: "I was hoping to discuss last month's sales numbers with you to see where we can improve them. For the past couple of months, the numbers have been consistent, and you have been hitting your targets really well, but I noticed a drop last month. I would love to know if you think there is a reason for the drop or if you have ideas of why the change might have happened. Let's spend some time over the next couple of days figuring out how we can get those numbers up so you hit the sales target for next month."

Consider the right timing

Timing is everything when giving constructive criticism. By picking the right moment, you are ensuring the person receiving the critique is open to taking on the feedback and will listen to what you have to say. It is also best to give the colleague or employee ample notice of what you are hoping to discuss and when. This will allow them plenty of time to prepare for your meeting.

There are better moments to give constructive criticism than pulling a colleague aside right after a big presentation. Consider booking a meeting with them the following day instead. In the meeting notes, add a brief description of what you hope to discuss with them so they have time to prepare their thoughts.

Tip: When booking a meeting with someone to give constructive criticism, be specific and brief. You can also include positive affirmations in the meeting notes so the invitation sounds welcoming.

Example: Consider writing a meeting note that has a positive tone such as:

Hi David,

I was hoping to book some time with you to discuss the RightMove project that is coming up next week. I think the work you have done on it so far is fantastic, but I have a few ideas on how we can improve it and really create an impact before presenting it to the clients.



Provide actionable solutions and advice

The most important element of providing constructive criticism is discussing actionable solutions and advice with the other person. By doing this, you help them figure out the best ways for them to make improvements. It can also foster a positive environment, especially if the employee or colleague was unaware there was a need for improvement in the first place.

Tip: Actionable solutions and advice should be brief. Adding too many items to the list could create confusion about where the person should start or what the most important goals are.

Example: "David, I'm very happy with the work you've done on the Saleh account so far. It seems they're very close to purchasing. I think we could do a few things to move the sale forward for them to purchase before the end of the quarter. First, let's see if they have any further questions about the product. If not, we could discuss a discount with them to entice them. Let's give them a deadline for the discount so we put a little pressure on them to purchase. You've done a great job on this account, so these last few things should help wrap it up."

Related: How To Show Respect in the Workplace

Talk face-to-face

Provide constructive criticism face-to-face instead of over an email or phone call. The benefit of a face-to-face conversation is the ability to read each others' body language and emotional inflection. When providing feedback, try to smile and use open body language such as uncrossing your arms and legs.

Tip: If a face-to-face interview is impossible, then try using video chat software so that the receiver can see body language.

Example: At the beginning of your conversation, let the person you're meeting with know that they're free to ask any questions they need to help clarify things. Be an active listener while you provide positive, constructive criticism. Another way to show positive body language is to not slouch and keep eye contact as well.

Related: Guide to Verbal Communication Skills

Related articles

How To Handle Criticism in the Workplace (Step by Step Guide)

Explore more articles