Category: Performance Management.

1. Introduction

Criticism is difficult to deal with, be it in personal life or professional and it tends to hit hard, especially in the workplace. The fact that your work is reviewed openly, co-workers are involved in the process, etc, makes it complex, difficult, and unpalatable. Now add the word constructive before criticism; it echoes better and has a positive connotation. There are many discussions on how constructive criticism is an essential part of an employee’s growth and how it helps boost performance. It is believed that constructive criticism can be productive if delivered correctly with the right intention and is perceived by the receiver as helpful in improving his/her work. So, what is constructive criticism?

2. What is constructive criticism?

Constructive criticism is providing feedback that will help someone improve their work. It is not an attempt to tear the other person down but to point out ways in which he/she can improve. Constructive criticism appreciates what is being done right and points out those areas which are lacking. The feedback is specific and actionable. It means that the feedback always comes with suggestions on what can be improved and how they can get better at their jobs. It is found that people are more open and receptive to constructive criticism because when you are pointing out a problem or mistake you are also offering them a solution on how to address it. When the whole approach is to give feedback in a positive and friendly manner it helps create a transparent and trustworthy work environment.

Before we get into further discussions on how to give constructive feedback and its benefits, here is an example of constructive criticism.


Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.

Winston Churchill

Constructive Criticism an example:

How do you give constructive feedback to a team member who is quick and almost always meets deadlines but, while doing so, happens to make errors that affect the quality of his work?

In such a scenario, you start by appreciating his strength, which is his speed, and how it adds value to the team. This helps set a positive tone for the conversation. The team member is now more open to the rest of the feedback being given. You can now address the concern of errors creeping in which is affecting the quality of the output. You then need to give him specific steps to follow that will help avoid errors in the future.

For example, John, I am very impressed by your speed and time management skills. I notice that you have been turning in work much faster than most of the other team members. It has helped us meet deadlines many times. But one thing I want you to give attention to is the correctness of the content. Very often errors creep in because you are not spending time to ensure accuracy, and it means that we are spending more time identifying where the error has happened, rectifying and redoing the documents. You should give a specific example of a project that suffered because of the inaccuracy in data. You close the conversation by suggesting a solution for this for eg: This can be avoided if you set a process of adding extra time into your project plan which will allow all documents to be cross-checked to ensure correctness and whether all instructions have been carried out before turning them in. The above example is also a good constructive feedback example.

3. Is constructive criticism good or bad?

Constructive criticism is good because it is timely, factual, objective, and mostly done one-on-one.

Timely: In constructive criticism, the timing of feedback is very critical. When delivered fast it allows the team member to better understand where he is lacking and make improvements sooner so that his performance is not affected. If you wait for the year-end appraisal to give feedback on a project which happened at the beginning of the year, the incident is no longer fresh in your mind, there is no opportunity to correct it, and mostly looks like an exercise of pointing out mistakes that happened a long time back with no scope of rectification.

Factual and Objective: You need to keep your feedback factual. General statements like “I am not happy with your work” will not help an employee understand where he is lacking and what needs to be improved. These kinds of feedback are mostly perceived as personal attacks and create animosity in the workplace. Instead, focus on stating facts when giving feedback. For eg., In the strategy presentation, the section on market outlook and industry trends was good and well-presented but I feel the part on competition was not well-researched. In all future presentations, you need to have a standard template that covers the following points – Who the competition is, how are they different, what customers say about them, etc. Let us discuss this and arrive at a template next week.

This kind of feedback is specific and factual and is more well-received than a general statement like – I don’t like it you could have done a much better job.

One-on-one: Direct face-to-face feedback is almost always better than communication through mail or a virtual meeting. Giving feedback is as uncomfortable as receiving it. So setting aside time and focusing fully on the process and person can help ease the tension and help have a meaningful discussion. In a face-to-face meeting, you are allowing your member space to respond to your feedback in real-time. By listening to their responses and paying attention to their reactions you are helping build trust in the team member that he is being heard and this is a two-way dialogue. So always make sure to have a one-on-one conversation. Reviewers can arm themselves with a few suitable performance review comments to help them say the right things.

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4. How to give constructive criticism?

6 Steps to take to ensure effective constructive feedback is delivered to the employee:

Step 1: Choose an appropriate time and place

A one-on-one meeting to give feedback immediately after an event or on a job delivered recently is the most appropriate way to give constructive feedback. The job or event is fresh in the mind, it is still relevant and there might be a scope for improvement which might help improve the team member’s rating or performance in that particular job. Make sure to keep the person informed of the meeting well in advance and what will be discussed so that he/she can prepare for the meeting.

Step 2: Avoid personal attacks

Feedback is always well received when there is a context to it. You start by discussing specific jobs which didn’t measure up. Analyze what went wrong. How did it negatively affect the team’s output? Present your observation on what went wrong and give the person an opportunity to respond.

Step 3: Detail out the next steps

While giving feedback you need to pinpoint areas of improvement and advice on the next steps to take. Let the team member develop an action plan on how he/she intends to work on it. Reviewers must work on how to improve employee feedback by practicing empathy. This helps develop ownership and the chance that they stick to the action plan suggested is high.

Step 4: Provide support

Provide support by pointing out training programs that they can sign up for to improve their skills. Or offer to review their work in progress to make timely adjustments. All this shows that you are equally committed to helping the team member learn and improve at work.

Step 5: Make a time plan to review the progress

To make sure that a plan reaches fruition it is essential to review it frequently. This ensures that the manager and employee are on the same page concerning the action points discussed and the progress made thereon. It is real-time coaching and leaves a positive impact on the employee.

Step 6: Reward improvement

The final and most important step is to recognize and reward the employee when he takes the required action based on feedback given and makes improvements. Employee reward and recognition framework creates a culture of positive actions that will ensure that employees stay motivated and be receptive to feedback in the future which is critical for their personal growth and the organization’s growth as well.

5. How to receive constructive criticism?

Four steps you can take to handle constructive feedback.

Step 1: Prepare for the meeting

Anticipate the questions that are likely to be discussed and prepare your response well in advance. Be honest about what went wrong. Try to keep your emotions in check and make sure that the environment remains positive.

Step 2: Do not be defensive

Feedbacks are not always pleasant. But you need to approach it calmly without being defensive about your work. Being defensive will only reinforce your manager’s opinions about you and your work and make it difficult to have an open discussion. Try to be open and understand his point of view and expectations from your work.

Step 3: Make an action plan

Make a note of the inputs offered during the meeting, prepare an action plan on how you intend to improve, and request support to do so. If you need any further training or mentorship, feel free to state the requirement. This helps your manager to contribute to the process.

Step 4: Request for frequent reviews

Frequent reviews ensure that you are on the right track and progressing well.

6. Benefits of constructive criticism.

Effective feedback creates an opportunity to learn and improve: The very fact that constructive criticism is delivered in a positive environment makes it less stressful and offensive. Along with that when improvement points are detailed and discussed it almost always provides the receiver with opportunities to understand where he is lacking, learn and improve. Regular follow-ups are required on the action points discussed to make the receiver feel that his work is valued and he is contributing to the organization’s growth.

It is positive and builds trust: The two-way dialogue approach adopted helps build a safe space and motivates the receiver to express his ideas and opinions freely. This helps create a highly productive environment that helps the team thrive and do their best work. It also helps build a better working relationship and mutual trust between team members.

7. Five examples of constructive criticism in the workplace.

Scenario 1:

A team member who delivers good work but is very slow compared to the rest of the team.

Hello Matt, You have been doing really good work. The designs presented to the client have been well appreciated by all. However, I was going through the weekly team report and came to notice that the number of jobs completed in the last week is well below the team average. This might show up in your performance appraisal later in the year. I think we need to work on your speed and pull up the numbers. Will you work on a plan to address this and we can meet once more to discuss and firm it up?

Scenario 2:

A team member who is a good independent worker but shies away from working or leading a team.

Hello Jane, You are one of the most reliable team members I have. Your work is good, you are fast and have almost always delivered jobs on time. But I notice that you are most comfortable working on independent projects and have not shown interest to be a part of group projects. I think you are now ready to take on more responsibilities and if you have to grow in your career you need to be able to collaborate with team members, work in a group and lead a team. I want you to start small. Pick up a small project with 2 or 3 team members you are comfortable with and work on it. Will you come up with an action plan for this? I will be happy to assist you in the process. If you have any concerns or need any support please reach out to me.

Scenario 3:

A manager who dumps work on that one team member who is very fast so that his deadlines are always met. The result is that the employee is working and feels exploited.

Hi Tina. You have always been very supportive of my work. But there is something that concerns me. I have noticed that the number of jobs being assigned to me every week is much above the team average. This could be because my turnaround times are much faster. While I know that it holds me in good stead when the annual review comes up I feel overworked and it is affecting my morale. I wanted to check whether you can lighten my workload a bit and redistribute the assignments amongst team members so that it is equal. This will help me in the long run.

Scenario 4:

A manager who expects team members to work on weekends regularly despite him being regular and work meeting deadlines always.

Hi Dave. I have been working all weekends this last month. I wanted to let you know that this is affecting my personal life. I would appreciate it if we can plan work and deliverables in such a way that the work weekends are avoided. This will help me organize my personal life better.

8. Constructive Criticism: Key Points to keep in mind when framing your feedback

  • The feedback should not focus on personal flaws
  • It needs to focus on the job or tasks and not the individual
  • It should be specific and timely
  • Explain how it is affecting the other team members
  • It should always suggest an action plan for the recipient to take forward
  • It should focus on improvements and growth of the individual
  • It needs to be delivered well so that it is perceived as helpful and not harmful


We have discussed in detail how giving and receiving feedback can be challenging. The whole objective of constructive criticism is to lift people up and not lower them down. Giving and receiving feedback is a skill that needs to be learned. You need to equip yourself well to have difficult conversations. You should be careful of how you frame the words and the setting in which it is delivered and create a space for a meaningful dialogue. There is so much being discussed about constructive criticism because it is meant to be positive and uplifting. To learn more about how Constructive criticism improves employee performance. You can get started on completely free today!

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