It isn’t easy to tell an employee or a colleague that they have done something wrong. Constructive criticism is a way to help somebody to get better at what they do. But the problem is that not everybody is willing to listen and, in the same way, not all of us know how to give it. We are more used to opinions than to actual help to improve.

Knowing how to give constructive criticism is essential to the success of any company. For this reason, we have compiled a list of five simple steps for you to be able to give really useful constructive criticism. This will for sure make those who receive it more willing to listen to what you have to say.

Constructive criticism: step by step

There are some techniques that help you create an appropriate context, but we will focus on the steps you must take once you face the moment of truth:

  1. Focus on the issue, not the person. Forget about the one who has performed the task so that they will not feel like it is a personal attack. Do not make them feel guilty for having made a mistake.
  2. Explain why. Avoid vague comments that may confuse the other person, and make clear what they need to improve on. Give specific examples so that they can understand where the criticism comes from. Think about how you can help and offer them alternatives and solutions to solve their problem.
  3. Provide facts. Just because you don’t like something, it doesn’t mean it isn’t good. A simple “I don’t like it” is not helpful. Support your views with objective data to show that you know what you’re talking about. This is the best way to get others to listen and pay attention to you.
  4. Language matters. Use interrogative sentences to propose solutions (Don’t you think?); they sound less aggressive and show that you are open to dialogue. Speak in the plural and include yourself in the situation (We could change) to show that you support them and that ‘improvement’ is teamwork.
  5. Positive reinforcement. Do not focus only on the negative and highlight other positive aspects of their work. Help them visualise the result of the change and the benefits this will bring to everybody (That would be great!).

Of course, you must not forget that constructive criticism is reciprocal and that, besides knowing how to give it, you have to know how to receive it. The important thing is to never lose sight of its main goal: to help somebody improve at what they do.

Translation by Susana Castro.

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