How to Make Constructive Criticisms

communication judgment learning personal growth Jul 03, 2023

Constructive criticism can be difficult to navigate, as you want to ensure you're offering helpful feedback without hurting anyone's feelings. However, constructive criticism can be an invaluable tool in helping people reach their full potential and better themselves. Knowing how to create constructive criticism is a hugely important skill that can be incredibly beneficial for both the critic and the person receiving the criticism.

The difference between constructive criticism and judgment

As humans, we can't help but take notice of others. We see what others do, how they speak, their outward appearance, or get to know their interests and beliefs. It's normal to make statements describing what we see in others, but of course, these statements can already contain some bias formed from our ideas and interests. Depending on how we say things and what words we use, others can interpret us as giving judgments or criticisms, which can be constructive or destructive. So what is the difference between these statements?

Judgments are statements formed from our beliefs and ideals. We usually make them out of comparison and pass the conclusion on something without necessarily being true. For example, we can say somebody is a nerd just because someone is wearing eyeglasses, doesn't mingle much with others, and is devoted to a particular activity or hobby. However, this statement can be formed based on the stereotype of what a nerd is, how we believe they should act, and by comparing someone with how others behave. Making judgments easily is not ideal, as people can get offended, especially if they come to know what you think and say about them. However, judgments can still be positive if we make positive assumptions about others, such as thinking that someone is beautiful or handsome based on our perception of beauty.

Criticisms are still judgments, but there are some differences. They can be deeper, more analytical, and specific. People usually criticize in professional environments like the workplace or settings where evaluation is needed for something to pass with good quality. Criticism can be destructive if it only focuses on the negative and doesn't offer any solution or suggestion for improvement for the concerned party. On the other hand, constructive criticism focuses on giving not only negative feedback but also positive feedback to help someone improve so things can be done better next time.

The art of giving constructive criticism

Ensuring that we give constructive criticism to others can be challenging, as we may slip up on the words we say and end up hurting someone. Providing constructive criticism aims to improve people so that positive changes can be enacted that benefit the person concerned and the organization to which they belong. By altering how we deliver our criticism, we can give positive feedback to others and help them take in our words easier without being offended. If you want to help others improve, here are some ways to effectively deliver constructive criticism.

1. Do not make personal attacks

If there is one thing you should never do when trying to give constructive feedback to others, it's attacking the person directly. By attacking, we mean making insults or pointing out flaws that have nothing to do with the problem. When delivering constructive criticism, the situation should be the focus, not the person. Sure, the person is at fault for committing a mistake or failure, but a single instance of error doesn't completely define the person at fault. It could be an accident; no matter how skilled a person is, mistakes still happen. It can be tempting to sway into the path of criticizing the person, but we shouldn't. You can point out their error or failure and leave it at that, then focus more on what can be done to prevent the error from happening again, such as giving suggestions on how the person can improve.

2. Give suggestions for improvement

What makes constructive criticism different from destructive is that you don't only point out the flaws and end your statements with the negative. You also follow it up with suggestions for improvement so that the same problem won't happen again next time. By giving suggestions, you give somebody a chance to grow and learn, and this will only benefit everyone, including you as the one giving feedback, as you can learn what may be the weak points of your people and do something to help them improve.

3. Be specific when giving suggestions

To be helpful when giving suggestions, it will be good to be clear as much as possible with what you want others to do to improve and prevent problems from happening in the future. For example, suppose somebody has some issues with grammar when creating reports and documents. Instead of saying, "Work on your grammar," you can tell them the specific rules of grammar that they are having problems with, such as "Please use the proper past tense" or "Ensure subject-verb agreement in your sentences." Giving broad or vague suggestions may only confuse the person on what they must work on. Good feedback happens when people get an idea of what specific action they must take to correct their error, and they will know this if they are given the areas where they need to improve.

4. Make it one on one as much as possible

Giving criticism can make the receiver uncomfortable or hurt when they hear it, even more so if others can listen. As much as possible, giving criticism should be done privately and only involve the person concerned and the one giving feedback. Doing this in closed meeting sessions or someplace private can ease the feelings of the receiver of the feedback, and they may open up more if it is just you and them talking about the important matter.

5. Give the other person a chance to speak

During feedback sessions, try to make the conversation a give-and-take as much as possible. This means that both parties get to explain their side, and it is not only the giver of the feedback that keeps speaking during the session. Let the other person ask questions or explain why they made an error or failed. As the person giving feedback, you can also ask questions to probe deeper into why something occurred, which can help you know more about the other party. With both parties getting a part in the conversation, the situation becomes less intimidating, and both parties can learn something from each other.

6. Don't forget about the positives

Receiving negative criticism one after another can make someone think they are a total failure and lose motivation. It's possible that not everything that has been done is a failure, and the person concerned still did some things that were a success. If so, one can try sprinkling some positive comments and citing the good things that a person did. This can be mentioned before giving critical feedback or discussed somewhere between or near the end of the conversation. The goal is to end the session on a positive note by making the person concerned feel more inclined to change, and hearing some positive criticism can help this.

7. Time it well when to give the criticism

Everybody can have a bad day due to various reasons. Imagine receiving constructive criticism on the same day you feel worse. It can affect your mood and make you more reactive to what you hear. As somebody tasked with giving feedback to others or simply as a person wanting to criticize someone, try to read the mood and be more sensitive to the person you are about to criticize. They may not be in their best mental state, and they may interpret what you say differently. Give your criticisms when you think the receiver is ready. In the professional setting, it is also essential to be timely when giving feedback to ensure the person concerned remembers mostly the situation where an error or failure occurred. However, try not to say the criticism on the same day as when the failure occurred, as they may be in a bad mood to hear their errors get reiterated. Try it the next day or whenever the person is ready and as close as possible to when the error occurred.

Constructive feedback allows us to learn and improve.

When criticism is made right, it allows the feedback recipient to grow by learning what they did wrong and figuring out what to do to correct them. Focusing on the situation gives room for improvement. Nothing will happen if the feedback becomes too personal, as this doesn't solve anything and may only worsen the relationships between people. Giving constructive criticism is a valuable tool in the workplace and even outside of it, allowing people to improve if actionable advice is given. So as much as possible, we should avoid resorting to judgments or a personal attack if we see someone do something wrong and we want to tell them about it. Receiving constructive feedback is better for the person concerned and can help their personal growth.

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