What is Constructive Criticism & Why is it Important?

Have you ever received feedback from a co-worker, teammate, or mentor and closed yourself off? Gotten shy and shameful in your work? All while you whisper to yourself and shake your head in disappointment because what you may have produced is not perfect. If so, that is totally normal, and human. But it is important to understand that toxic expectations of perfection for yourself are more harmful than helpful.

When somebody gives you constructive criticism, they are coming from a place of care and are eager to help aid one in evolving their skills. The two words “constructive criticism” can have a negative connotation to them, and if they do in your head, I can assure you that you have not been given feedback in an effective way. When criticism is given poorly, it can cause the individual to feel isolated and discouraged. As much as constructive criticism can help strengthen an individual's skills, it needs to be delivered in the right manner in order to lead to a positive change.

“Feedback is measured not at your mouth, but at the other person’s ear”

-Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor

Feedback involves active listening, analyzing, and correcting past performances in order for somebody to ultimately perform better. Providing positive criticism, when done correctly, brings people together and creates a healthy communication flow. Constructive criticism is important because it encourages positive performance in the future while improving the overall quality of your workplace. Giving efficient constructive criticism is a crucial factor of having a healthy company culture.

So, How do you Give Feedback?

Giving feedback to team members in a positive way can sometimes be challenging, you do not want to be too harsh, or the opposite and be too timid to give your opinion. Your voice matters and once you learn how to use it, you can aid team members in improving their skills/performance.

Here are 8 key tips for giving effective feedback:

1. Consider Your Own Intentions

Be sure that your own intentions are not rooted in malicious intentions. It can be easy to assert dominance and belittle team members if you do not give feedback effectively. By belittling an individual or team member by giving ineffective feedback, you will only cause the person receiving criticism to get defensive and build up a wall. Before giving feedback, you need to take a moment to understand what your purpose is. Feedback that results in an effective outcome should only be given if you have a sincere desire to help a team member improve their performance.

2. Normalize Regular Check-In Sessions

If you view the feedback process in a negative light and brush these conversations off only to occur every quarter or year, you are not dealing with feedback in an effective way. Providing constructive criticism on a consistent basis leads it to feel more normalized, creating a positive connotation around it. If feedback is provided regularly, you can ensure that issues are corrected in real-time, rather than piling on feedback to a quarterly meeting that may relate to something you produced months ago. By normalizing this process, you also strengthen and improve communication skills within your team.

3. Know How to Balance Critical Feedback With Praise

Although it is important to help a team member see improvement opportunities, it is just as important to praise and reinforce them when they are doing well! Encouraging, supporting, and challenging your team members are all important focuses when it comes to giving feedback.

4. Be Clear & Specific in Your Thoughts

If you are not clear and specific when giving feedback, the individual receiving it may leave the conversation confused, helpless, and end up not really improving (because they lacked an understanding of what to improve). Constructive feedback is not offering vague or broad suggestions. If when giving feedback you say something like “Your work needs improvement”, this is an example of vague and confusing feedback. What specifically needs improvement? When giving feedback, it needs to be specific in order for the individual to take action- and improve their performance. Remember, great feedback can only exist with specific suggestions. We curated a list of useful frameworks that help you give feedback clearly in a previous post.

5. Make it a Two-Way Conversation

It is very important to understand that feedback sessions should be rooted in dialogue, not a monologue. Once you give feedback, you need to make space for others to give you theirs. By making constructive feedback a two-way conversation you create a more open and honest work environment as well as open doors of self-discovery for yourself. There is always room for improvement and your team is well placed to challenge you to become the best version of yourself if you let them!

6. Pay Attention to Your Body Language

If you present yourself in a nervous manner or stressed state, you immediately place the person you're trying to give feedback to into a state of defensiveness. If they are defensive, they won’t be able to receive your feedback, no matter how skillful you are. It’s a good idea to avoid slouching, maintain eye contact, and focus on actively listening (by leaning in or nodding your head). By being calm, attentive and engaged in both your tone and your body language, you will put the other person at ease and increase the chances of your feedback landing with them.

7. Check in With The Person Beforehand

Always check with the person you are giving feedback to first. Would you like somebody approaching you unannounced with criticism that you were not expecting? Probably not, so let’s not put others in that position either! The goal is not to trigger a flight response. You have to approach the situation, and be aware of the timing of the conversation. A good structure to practice is:

“I’d like to chat to you about x, when would be a good time for you?”

If your team member is having a bad day, maybe they rear-ended somebody this morning on the way to work or had to rush their dog to the vet unexpectedly before work. Whatever the endless possibilities may be, it probably is not the best day for you to have a conversation regarding criticism with them. People have bad days, all the time, and that is okay- but even the strongest person will struggle to get into their zone of personal growth on those days.

8. Choose Your Medium With Care

If you can, constructive criticism should be given face to face or on zoom (synchronously). It is important to try and deliver feedback face-to-face because over 90% of communication occurs nonverbally. For example, if the recipient cannot see your facial expressions or hand movements, or even hear you via emails/asynchronous conversations. It is important for the recipient to be able to experience a face-to-face conversation so that you can minimize the chance of them misinterpreting your tone, intent, and message. Zoom or in person trump's email every time.

Key Takeaway

Next time you go to give feedback in the workplace, practice these tips above for an effective outcome as well as improve the communication flow within your team. Let your team members know you care for them and are there to support them- if they know that- it will be easier for feedback to be given in a positive manner, with the understanding that you come from a place of care. Giving feedback effectively can be hard and does not come naturally to everybody.

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