How To Give Constructive Criticism

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 16 June 2022 | Published 20 May 2021

Updated 16 June 2022

Published 20 May 2021

Constructive criticism is an important tool for managers within the workplace. Knowing how to give constructive criticism and helping employees implement changes in their working style can have major effects on their professional careers that can benefit the entire office. In this article, we discuss what constructive criticism is, how to deliver it and ways to make it an effective tool for improving the working habits of employees.

What is constructive criticism?

Constructive criticism is a type of feedback that is specific, actionable and based on observation and facts. Rather than general advice or suggestions, constructive criticism contains explicit recommendations on how to make positive improvements. Constructive criticism benefits both the person receiving it and their organisation. Constructive criticism can take errors or problems within the workplace and turn them into learning opportunities, with solutions that are clear and easy to put into action.

Constructive criticism can help employees set and improve their work goals and better align objectives with company values. Overall, constructive criticism creates a positive work environment where employees feel comfortable asking questions, requesting assistance and offering their own feedback and ideas. Constructive criticism can help employees better understand the expectations of a company and how they can exceed them.

How to give constructive criticism

Delivering constructive criticism effectively is the first step to implementing improvement plans, setting objectives and developing skills that will strengthen overall performance in the workplace.

The following strategies can help you give direct and actionable constructive criticism:

1. Consider the timing

Delayed constructive criticism can be confusing, less effective and potentially harmful to the employee receiving it. To guarantee your feedback has the desired effect, you want to provide it when the action or behaviour is fresh in both your and the employee's mind. For this reason, it's also better to give out small, specific and frequent feedback instead of storing it and delivering it all at once. A lot of delayed feedback can make the employee feel attacked or like they are being singled out.

Example: "Your presentation this morning was excellent! I'd like to discuss it more and give you some helpful hints for next time. Can you stop by my office at 2:30?"

Related: Positive Feedback: Why it's Important and How to Give it

2. Use the sandwich method

The sandwich method involves delivering constructive criticism in between specific statements of praise. This strategy opens the evaluation with positive aspects of the employee's performance before discussing which aspects would benefit from improvement. The critique ends with another specific piece of praise. Consider starting the conversation by praising their success, work ethic or achievement. Once you've set the tone, you can then focus on offering productive advice and improvement plans. You can also offer your help.

Before starting the critique, it's helpful to write out your feedback for reference. This can help you clearly decide what two positive statements will make the most impact on the employee and determine how to phrase the critique in a way that is specific and actionable. Overall, this method will leave the person receiving the critique with a positive outlook and a hopeful attitude.

Related: Positive feedback examples for boosting staff morale

Example: "I'm incredibly impressed with how organised and thoughtful your training session was. You covered all the material thoughtfully and efficiently. In the future, I think your training sessions could be a little more interactive. If you include a role-playing activity or encourage participants to ask more questions, the training will really stick with attendees and help them remember the material more clearly. The overall structure of your session was incredibly clear and incorporating some more active elements will lead to a much stronger session."

3. Use "I" language strategy

Using phrases like "I think," "I feel" and "I'd suggest" will make the person receiving the feedback understand that the criticism is about the situation or specific behaviour, not about them as a person. This also reinforces your point of view, letting the other person know this is how you view the situation. This will make it easier for them to separate the criticism from themselves and understand where you are coming from.

When you use "I" statements to deliver constructive criticism, you ensure there is less chance of miscommunication. Focusing on how actions, results and product outputs affect the entire company can make the person receiving the criticism feel like part of the team, while "I" statements help the employee understand how their performance can affect your job responsibilities, both positively and negatively.

Related: 12 Great Pieces of Advice on How to Give Feedback

Example: "I loved your ideas on how to improve sales numbers by offering bigger discounts. However, I feel like we should discuss this more amongst the other managers, perhaps with reasons and examples. I think this idea needs a few more details before being implemented."

4. Focus on the action or behaviour

When giving constructive criticism, it is important to focus on the specific action, outcome or behaviour that you want to see improve. For example, if the employee is constantly missing deadlines, you want to focus on a plan of action that will help them manage their time better and meet their deadlines.

Also, when focusing on the action and improvement you would like to see, try to use objective language such as "the numbers," "the performance" or "the project" rather than "your numbers," "your performance" and "your project." While it is important for your employees to accept accountability, delivering consistent criticism that emphasises "you" rather than the situation or behaviour can lead to lower morale and reduced overall productivity. Again, this is another time when it is helpful to write out specific items or actions that you'd like to address before delivering your criticism.

Example: "Your projects are excellent and your work consistently thrills the clients. But deadlines are also really important to the client and the project. Meeting deadlines is key to maintaining the overall performance of the firm and our reputation."

Related: What Are Communication Skills?

5. Include specific, positive praise

Offer specific praise for an employee's productivity, performance and abilities. Refer to times when they exceeded expectations, accomplished an achievement, or performed admirably. This helps your employee focus on the tasks and responsibilities they perform well and think of how they can apply those strengths to the other areas of their work that need improvement. Praising your employees often and when merited can increase both employee morale and motivation.

Example: "How you handle and converse with clients is exceptional. I have heard no complaints, and they always feel like they are being heard, but I think your rapport with them could really benefit from sending follow-up emails. Just a quick email after every client meeting can really help to make them feel appreciated and make any details discussed in the meeting more concrete."

Related: 8 constructive feedback examples (with definitions)

6. Provide actionable feedback

When implementing constructive criticism, it's important to offer feedback that your employees can immediately put into action to achieve new objectives and improve their performance, productivity, skills and other areas. It's helpful to focus on one area for improvement at a time so they don't feel overwhelmed. This will also enable you to effectively support your employees by helping them put specific development plans into action.

For instance, if your employee's productivity is low, you could work together to create a daily checklist or spreadsheet to outline urgent tasks, important tasks and less important tasks. Then, you can help hold the employee accountable for moving through their task list. You can also have a manager monitor the employee's improvements to ensure that they can meet expectations.

Related: A complete guide to giving and receiving feedback at work

Example: “Although tasks are being completed, the quality is suffering because of rushed work. Let's figure out how we can improve work quality and better meet company expectations. How would you feel if we typed out an improvement plan detailing your mandatory and extra tasks? That way we can monitor how you are moving through your daily tasks. If it is a question of time management, then the outline can allow us to identify and make a separate action plan for that.”

Tips on how to make your constructive criticism stand out

Besides providing actionable advice directly related to the event or behaviour you'd like to critique, you may also want to mention specific training or workshop opportunities for improvement. For instance, if your constructive criticism is about an employee's communication skills and methods, you might look into a communication course or workshop they could attend to elevate these skills.

You should also take ownership of your feedback. In addition to using "I" statements, your criticism should reflect what you value or deem important in the workplace. If your constructive criticism consistently concerns punctuality and time management, your employees will understand that this is important to you and the overall work environment you are trying to create.


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