None of us are perfect, not even the dedicated and hard-working professionals at the CSU. That means that we can all benefit at times from both giving and taking constructive criticism. However, this may be easier said than done. That’s why we’re sharing these tips on giving and receiving constructive feedback.
What Is “Constructive Criticism”?
First, let’s be clear on what we mean by the term “constructive criticism.” Essentially, it refers to providing another person with helpful feedback that includes well-supported specific examples. The goal is to assist that person in improving their performance in whatever they’re doing. This feedback will be friendly, discreet, well-intentioned, and free of the “destructive” elements that make up more critical feedback, such as:
- Personal attacks
- Jibes and jokes designed to hurt someone’s self-esteem
- A public display of such criticism in front of one’s peers
- Not offering any pointers or specific actions
Tips for Giving Constructive Criticism
Avoid “You” Statements
When giving feedback, starting every sentence with “you” can make one look overly critical. Instead, put the focus on yourself by using “I” statements. For example, “I find it hard to follow presentations where the PowerPoint slides have too much text. What if you cut down the text to only include the main point next time?”
This sounds far better than the accusatory: “Your slides are far too busy! You write way too much!”
The “Compliment Sandwich” Isn’t Helpful
Contrary to popular belief, creating a feedback “sandwich” — positive, negative, positive — is actually unhelpful when you want to be constructive. The main point of constructive criticism is to offer specific actions to take for improvement. If you’re spending two-thirds of the feedback complimenting, you’re leaving less room for action.
Offer Specific Actions to Take
Furthermore, good constructive criticism is accompanied by specific actions for the listener to take that will help them to improve in whatever it is they are doing. Suggestions like “do better” and “work on it” are not helpful. The more specific you can be, the better.
For example, “In your second slide, the sentence ‘xxxx’ was unnecessary because it basically repeated the previous sentence. I suggest looking for times where you’ve repeated information and deleting the duplicates.”
It’s invariably better to offer constructive criticism privately whenever possible. If you’re working one-on-one with a colleague, this is easy to do, but when working with a larger team, it can be more difficult. Try to find a time to talk to team members separately and privately.
Remember, however, that there are times when sharing constructive criticism as a group is useful because others can benefit from hearing the suggestions and solutions.
Tips for Receiving Constructive Criticism
Don’t Take It Personally
When listening to constructive feedback, it’s critical to remember the most important thing about it: all the points being made are offered to help you improve. If you can keep that in the forefront of your mind and avoid taking any criticism personally, you will quickly start to benefit from the feedback.
Don’t React Too Fast
A common mistake people make when receiving constructive criticism is to react immediately to the point that someone starts to make, often before they’ve even finished. This is a reflection of defensive behavior and shows that you’re not listening carefully to what’s being said. However, if you can exercise a little patience and wait for the full feedback point to be completed before you comment on it, you’ll likely find that you don’t need to respond with anything other than a hearty thank you!
Sometimes, a good way to avoid a snap reaction isn’t just to sit and listen but rather take notes as you get feedback. Putting your attention and efforts to that task can be enough to keep you from any outbursts. The notes will also prove helpful when you want to put suggested actions into practice.
Clarify Feedback with Questions, But Don’t Challenge It
If you have questions about it after hearing constructive criticism, that’s fine. However, these questions should only be asked to clarify what someone has said, not to challenge the validity of what they have said.
It’s useful to ask, “Can I clarify what you meant when you said that I should <xxxx>? Can you give me an example of what you mean?” On the other hand, it’s not helpful to ask, “How could you think that I was saying <xxxx> when clearly I was saying <yyyy>?” This is a defensive approach and doesn’t progress the conversation.
Finally, be sure to thank those who offer you constructive feedback. Remember that it is all done to help you improve and should be regarded in this positive light. It’s easy to thank people for praise, but praise doesn’t offer any actionable advice you can use to improve your performance. Anyone who helps you on the road to success and self-improvement professionally or personally deserves your thanks.