What Is Constructive Criticism and How to Give It

Giving Constructive Criticism Featured

No matter who you are or where you work, no one enjoys feeling criticized. Warranted or not, criticism can make you feel small and like your work does not matter. That’s what makes the art of constructive criticism so important. This skill can have a tremendous impact on not only the criticism itself, but how it is received by another party. If done well, providing constructive criticism does not have to make up for any awkward or unpleasant moments. Here are some steps that can help you get started with appropriate constructive criticism delivery. 

Defining Constructive Criticism 

Before jumping into delivery, let’s quickly recap what constructive criticism is. There are various definitions, but they circle back to the same idea. This type of feedback provides specific suggestions. It should be easily actionable as well being clear and concise. Constructive criticism should never be accusatory or delivered in a way that feels judgmental. Feedback can be both positive and negative, all of which is provided to increase and promote additional development. All constructive criticism should be viewed in a way that helps foster growth. 

Giving Constructive Criticism Two Person Meeting 1

A 2014 Harvard Business Review study showed 57 percent of employees would prefer constructive criticism. What’s even more interesting is that only 43 percent of the surveyed individuals preferred praise and recognition over constructive criticism. Ultimately, this type of feedback will help employees feel better about the work they are doing and send them on the right path to make immediate improvements. 

The Feedback Sandwich 

One popular method for providing constructive criticism is best known as the “Feedback Sandwich.” Here’s how it works:

1. Start off the conversation by focusing on something positive, a strength, what you like about a project or something that is the subject of the conversation. 

2. Provide constructive criticism by discussing the things you would like to see improved, areas of opportunity, etc. 

3. End the conversation by reiterating the positive and talk about your excitement at seeing improvement and future results. 

Using a tactic like the “Feedback Sandwich,” criticism is offered between an opening and an ending. This way there is no opportunity for someone to feel ambushed by negativity. For example, start talking with a colleague about their strength of presenting while noting that the quality of the presentation itself could be improved. End the conversation by discussing how excited you are to see what future presentations can look like. 

Giving Constructive Criticism to an Employee

Providing constructive criticism as a manger is always tricky. The last thing you want is to make someone on your team feel undervalued or feel that their work is not appreciated. Hhere are some suggestions for delivering constructive criticism to where both parties will come away feeling good. 

Giving Constructive Criticism Serious Meeting
  • Always be specific about the feedback you are providing. Don’t speak in any type of generalities. Instead, find specific examples that can help illustrate the point you want to make. 
  • Keep it positive by making sure the feedback is not accusatory or worded in a negative away. For example, instead of saying that you want someone to speak up more on team calls, tell them you want to hear more of their thoughts. 
  • Constructive criticism should be a dialogue between both parties, not a one-way street. If both parties are engaged and it feels like a discussion, there is a much stronger likelihood the feedback will be well received and acted on. 
  • Help by including some ideas for improvement right from the start. It’s a good opportunity to provide some specific examples of work or conversations that could have been handled better. 
  • These constructive criticism meetings should always be held in private, again taking into consideration both online and in person. The feedback is between you and the other person, not the whole office. Public displays of constructive criticism, no matter how well-intended, are more likely to go wrong than right. 

Giving Constructive Criticism to a Colleague

  • Never make it personal is probably the single most important aspect of providing feedback. The best thing you can do is center all feedback around their work. Keep the conversation centered around their actions and what can be done to improve. 
  • Don’t leave the conversation until you know both of you are on the same page. The last thing you want is anyone, employee or otherwise, to come away with a different understanding of the conversation that you had. That can only lead to more mixups. 
  • Try to avoid surprising anyone with a sudden meeting on their calendar, whether online or in person. The last thing you would want is to catch someone off-guard when they may feel defensive or concerned. Schedule the meeting and announce in advance what the topic is. They could end up coming to the meeting with their own examples on how they can improve. 

Online Versus Remote Feedback

Giving Constructive Criticism Video Call 1

Realistically, giving constructive criticism to a colleague, employee, or to a manager will likely be the same in person as it is remotely. All of the above steps apply regardless of location and the feedback won’t change if you are in the same room or not. What can change is the connection that comes with being in person. It’s likely always going to be better to give and receive feedback in person so you can see the person’s reaction up close. Providing feedback remotely is still incredibly valuable and should get the same point across as in person nearly every time. Being remote shouldn’t cause anyone to forget the “feedback sandwich” or the other suggestions listed here. 


Giving feedback is never easy, and there is little chance it’s going to get easier over time. However, the benefits of providing constructive criticism far outweigh the risks of providing no feedback at all. Allowing employees the opportunity to improve may bring out sides to them and their work that have not previously been seen. They could end up being far better hires, colleagues or managers than you ever imagined. 

David Beren

David Beren is a freelance writer with over 10 years of writing experience. He loves dogs, his kids and hacking productivity.