How to Give Constructive Criticism

How many times have you found yourself in a situation wherein you would like to talk to someone about something that needs changing or improving, but because you are afraid that it would not be taken positively, you held back? This is true in both work and in personal relationships. The secret to success in either facet of life is not to hold back ideas for improvement that might offend, but to share the criticism constructively. Always keep in mind that the goal of each critique is to help the person improve.

A first tip in being able to give constructive criticism is to use the Sandwich Approach. The Sandwich Approach to feedback-giving can be broken down into three areas: 1) Begin the critique by focusing on the strengths of the person or the action involved. 2) Then, discuss the areas that need improvement. 3) Finally, wrap up the feedback by reiterating the positive comments made in the beginning and summarizing the positive results that can be expected when the criticism is acted upon. The Sandwich approach is a positive framework in sharing criticism constructively as the positive commendations at the beginning sets the tone to the whole discussion that you, as the feedback-giver, are on the team member’s side and the criticism/s are not done as personal attack.

Second, set the focus on the situation that needs improvement, not the person. Treat the condition that requires improvement as a detached entity from the person who executed the action. This makes it substantially easier to critique behavior without offending the person. “The report is frequently late,” sounds more objective than “You are often late with submitting your reports.” Avoid leading phrases that sound like attacks such as “I am tired of your…” or “Your inability to organize is causing…” which likewise sounds accusatory or judgmental. You may share how the action in question affects you or the business more positively like, “Delays in reporting cycles to delays in compensation payouts,” and never cutting to the chase like “The delay in employee salaries is caused by your lateness in submitting your reports.”

Third, be specific with your feedback. The more specific a feedback is, the more actionable it becomes. Something like “I would love it if you can submit your revenue reports earlier,” is vague. Whereas “If I may suggest, inputting revenue real-time on a tabulating spreadsheet will spread out the workload and effectively remove cramming close to the monthly deadlines,” is a specific feedback.

Which brings us to the fourth tip of commenting only on items which can be acted upon. The entire point of sharing feedback is to help the person improve. Hence, keep the discussion on items which the person CAN do something about, rather than things beyond his control. Criticisms on actionable items make the feedback constructive, while criticisms made on items that is beyond the person’ realm of control just stirs up feelings of frustration for the person as he cannot do anything about it. Let’s say your friend is setting up a new restaurant. He’s signed a lease for 12 months in a location with light human traffic. Feedback such as “change your restaurant’s location” is not very helpful because the lease has already been signed. Instead, you might like to raise the point of location being a critical factor in any business and say something like “consider a high traffic location for your next branch or if he ever decides to move the current restaurant to a different location.” Other examples of un-actionable feedback include changing the name, revamping the décor, or changing anything that has been locked down. Give actionable recommendations like “invite food bloggers or food critiques for a meal,” or “stage a media launch,” or “take out ads in popular food and lifestyle magazines.”

Finally, avoid making assumptionswhenever giving feedback. Stay within the domains of what you know to be factual. A criticism sounds something like “The speech was lackluster. The speaker came off as nervous,” while an assumption sounds a lot like “The speaker has never had any solid experience in public speaking,” which is not necessarily true.

A.C. Benson once said: “Remember, people seldom refuse help if one offers it in the right way.”