How To Give and Receive Constructive Criticism: A Guide for Effective Communication

18 March 2023

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary.”

Winston Churchill

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    Constructive Criticism In the Workplace

    In both our personal and professional lives, feedback is an inevitable part of communication.

    It can be a subtle gesture or a proactive statement. Not only is giving constructive feedback a valuable skill in building strong relationships, but research has shown that effective feedback also plays a pivotal role in improving our performance. It can motivate, guide, and reinforce positive behaviours, while reducing ineffective ones.

    • But why do we find it hard to take criticism?
    • How should you deliver it?
    • What should you not do when delivering criticism?

    We at The Speakers’ Gym have taken our own experiences in guiding people through the potential pitfalls of delivering feedback and put together this list of hints and tips to help you deliver criticism in an effective way.

    Jump to the constructive criticism advice you’re searching for below:

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    Let’s start with the most common problem.

    Why do I find it hard to take criticism?

    Receiving feedback can be daunting, especially when it involves criticism. When giving feedback, it’s essential to be specific and objective and ensure that the feedback is given in a respectful and constructive manner.

    • Focus on the behaviour, rather than the person
    • Use examples to illustrate your point and offer suggestions for improvement
    • Remember to acknowledge positive behaviours and efforts as well

    If you are the person receiving the criticism it’s important to view feedback as an opportunity for growth, rather than a personal attack.

    By approaching feedback with an open mind and a willingness to learn, you can gain valuable insights that can help you become a better version of yourself.

    Destructive Criticism

    How to deliver criticism to highly sensitive people

    Giving constructive criticism is tricky because you want to be honest without hurting someone’s feelings. Highly sensitive people (HSPs) can struggle with criticism more than others, often resorting to people-pleasing, self-criticism, or avoidance to cope.

    The Speakers’ Gym have found that the 5 keys to giving constructive criticism to a HSP are:

    • Be specific
    • Be timely
    • Be kind
    • Be open to discussion
    • Offer support

    It’s important to note that avoiding criticism doesn’t make it go away, and learning to give feedback in sensitive situations like this is a skill that is honed over time. HSPs can learn to cope by taking an objective look at the criticism and practicing self-compassion. If they know that your feedback is given with the right intentions then they’ll come to trust and accept your feedback that much sooner, so it’s important to be sincere and supportive above all else.

    Highly Sensitive Employee

    5 tips for providing constructive feedback

    Let’s go through our top tips to help you provide constructive criticism in the workplace

    1. Be specific and realistic

    Getting unclear or irrational feedback can be discouraging. That’s why it’s crucial to give feedback that’s specific and focused on improvement. Use real-life examples to show what needs to be addressed. Also, make sure the feedback relates to elements that can actually be improved. If the person has no control over the issue, it’s pointless to point it out.

    After delivering feedback, ask the person if it makes sense and if they have any questions. This shows that you care and want them to understand how to move forward.

    2. Find the right time

    Feedback that’s not timely can be frustrating, confusing, even hurtful. It’s best to give feedback as soon as possible, so the person can work on improving right away.

    That being said, it’s also important to find the right time and place to give feedback. If you’re in a group, it might be better to wait until you can talk to the person one-on-one. This way, they can focus on the feedback without feeling embarrassed or defensive.

    Choose a quiet and comfortable spot where you can have an open conversation. This shows that you value their feelings and are committed to helping them improve.

    3. Focus on the behaviour

    It’s important to approach feedback without judgment. Instead of criticising the person, focus on describing the behaviour you’ve observed and how it makes you feel.

    For instance, you could say something like,

    “I noticed you’ve been arriving late to work several times this week. It makes me worried that you might not be able to complete your current project on time. Can we talk about it?”

    This approach shows that you’re concerned about their performance and are willing to help them improve. It also helps the person understand the impact of their behaviour on others.

    4. Balance the feedback

    Have you heard of the sh*t sandwich approach for giving feedback? It’s not about masking your feedback with empty compliments, rather acknowledging the person’s value and highlighting positive aspects of their work, while also providing constructive criticism. So you’ll give a compliment, followed by criticism, followed by another compliment in quick succession.

    For example, a teacher might say to a student,

    “Your work is beautifully written but you haven’t answered the question fully. However, I can see that you’ve tried to answer it and you can easily jump up a grade if you do this next time.”

    By using this approach, you can make the feedback session more comfortable and motivating for the person, and give them a clear idea of what they’re doing well and what they need to improve on.

    5. Reflection

    It’s important to remember that constructive criticism isn’t just about pointing out flaws; it’s also about offering solutions and ongoing support. If you don’t provide alternative behaviours or offer help in the long run, your feedback may not be as helpful as it could be.

    Remember that feedback is a continuous process, so make sure to check in with the person and offer support along the way. Let them know when you notice progress, and be available to help them navigate any challenges that may arise.

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    Handling the feedback you receive

    It’s important to remember that feedback is a two-way street. If you find yourself constantly giving feedback without receiving any in return, it might be helpful to take a step back and examine whether you’re unintentionally shutting people down. If you come across as defensive or closed off, others may not feel comfortable giving you constructive criticism. Try inviting feedback from others and creating a safe space for open communication.

    our founder Jonny de Mallet Morgan

    Tips for receiving constructive criticism

    Remember, it’s not about being perfect, but about growing and improving together.

    Here’s our top tips for handling feedback the right way.

    1. Be open

    One of the best ways to encourage others to provide you with constructive criticism is to let them know that you value their feedback and are open to different perspectives. Creating an environment of psychological safety is key to fostering meaningful conversations and promoting personal growth.

    By showing that you are receptive to criticism and willing to learn from it, you can build stronger relationships and become a better version of yourself. We’d actively encourage you to go ahead and start inviting feedback from those around you – you might be surprised by what you learn!

    2. Stay in control of your responses

    It’s natural to feel uneasy when receiving negative feedback. It can be tough to handle emotionally – and that’s okay. It’s important to try and stay calm and focused, even if you’re feeling overwhelmed inside. If you look angry or distracted, it may make the person giving the feedback feel uncomfortable and less likely to share. One helpful reaction is to simply listen and nod to show that you’re paying attention.

    3. Make sure you understand the feedback

    When receiving negative feedback, it’s important to seek clarification to fully understand the other person’s perspective. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions to gain a deeper understanding of what they’re trying to communicate.

    For example, you might ask for specific examples or more details on what they’re suggesting you could do differently. This will help you to internalise the feedback and make it more actionable. Remember, the goal is to use this feedback to improve yourself, so don’t be afraid to ask for more information if needed.

    4. Express gratitude

    It’s important to express gratitude to the person who gave you feedback, even if it was difficult to hear. Take some time to reflect on the feedback on your own, without any distractions or interruptions. Remember, you are not obligated to accept or incorporate the feedback. Consider its value and merit, and decide whether to use it or not based on your own judgement.

    5. Cultivate a growth mindset

    It’s important to approach feedback with an open mind and try to learn from it, regardless of whether you decide to use it or not. Reflect on the conversation and ask yourself if there’s anything you can gain from it. Perhaps there are other areas that can be improved upon, such as miscommunication or missing resources. Taking the time to reflect can help you uncover these opportunities for growth and development.

    6. Is the feedback constructive or destructive?

    It’s important to remember that criticism can be delivered in different ways, and some ways can be more helpful than others. When criticism is delivered constructively, it points out areas of improvement while also offering practical advice on how to make those improvements. On the other hand, destructive criticism might simply tell you that you’re doing everything wrong which is rarely helpful. It’s always better to strive for constructive criticism, which can be a powerful tool for growth and development.

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    Still struggling with giving and receiving feedback and criticism?

    Giving and receiving feedback can be challenging, but it’s a skill that can be learned and mastered over time. It’s essential to approach these conversations with empathy, kindness, and a willingness to learn and grow.

    The 3-month executive leadership course that The Speakers’ Gym run incorporate these skills and tactics to make you a better, more effective leader. Whether we work with you on a 1:1 basis or with your entire team, we’ll drill down to the root cause of the issues that you’re having and make your workplace a better, more confident and unified place to be.

    Whatsmore, we also provide a business communication course if you would like professional help with taking and giving feedback.

    Book a call with our change management consultants and discover how learning the art of giving and receiving criticism can supercharge you trust, productivity and income.

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