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Danny Chung
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Stephen Crowe

Managing Director

Ph: 02 8042 8907

[email protected]

constructive criticism

No one likes receiving negative feedback! It can be a difficult pill to swallow even when posed in a constructive manner and when justified. We all receive negative feedback now and again be that in the form of an annual performance review, at the end of project or following a particular piece of work or incident.
While our natural tendency is often to focus our attention on all things negative and gloss over any positive and encouraging feedback, it is important to give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done when we receive compliments from our peers and leaders.

Likewise, we must acknowledge any negative feedback we receive and use it to help us perform better in the future. While it may be easier said than done, the way we deal with negative criticism can set us apart from our peers. Instead of dwelling on negative comments and letting them impact our attitude and performance, we should take ownership of any constructive criticism we receive and use it as an opportunity to grow professionally and personally.

Make the best of constructive criticism the next time you receive it by following our advice below.

Acknowledge it

In the first instance, you should acknowledge the individual or individuals who provided you with the feedback. It takes courage to provide negative feedback and in addition it can be time consuming to deliver. Show you appreciate their efforts!

Listen & Understand

Is the feedback accurate?

When deciding what weight to give to negative feedback it’s best to first consider if the comments are accurate. Are the comments based on fact or opinion? Perhaps they stem from some factual misunderstanding that is easily explained. Or perhaps they are the opinion of one lone voice in amongst a sea of positive feedback.

What are the motivations for providing it?

In most cases constructive criticism is delivered with the best of intentions but now and again you may receive feedback that you feel has a malicious intent or an ulterior motive. In these cases, it is still advisable to hear the person out however you can choose the weight you attribute to it.

Don’t just hear – listen!

It is easy to make a token gesture of hearing out a piece of negative feedback however to really learn from it we must truly listen to what is being said. Try not to get defensive! When we get defensive we tend to get distracted by arguing our case rather than focusing on the truth of what is being said. Perhaps the best way to deal with this is to listen and ask for time to consider your response.

Take some time

Constructive feedback delivered in a meeting or in a one on one session may come as a surprise if we aren’t expecting it. In such instances it is probably best to hear the feedback and ask for some time to think it over. This way you can avoid any heated arguments if you disagree with the comments. You can also take some time to evaluate what was said and process how you will deal with it rather than responding in the heat of the moment.

Plan your response

Once you have digested the feedback it’s up to you to decide the best course of action. If the criticism is something that could adversely impact your promotion and career potential if unaddressed, then it’s best you take the comments seriously and plan the steps you will take to deal with it. Perhaps this will mean additional training, taking a new approach to a task or handling a relationship with a colleague differently.
It may be worth asking for some examples of the behavior referred to in the feedback? You could also ask the sender for suggestions on how to deal with the points raised.

Learn from it

Having acknowledged the negative feedback and put a plan in place to address any weaknesses, you have really done all that can be expected. Your best course of action therefore is not to dwell on the feedback any longer but view it as means of self-development putting you back on the path to progression.

constructive criticism

So much of what we do at work, from giving and receiving performance reviews to learning to be a leader and coach, rests on being able to give and receive feedback. Although it can be scary, people actually thrive on criticism when it is constructive.

Good feedback is the quickest way to learn do things better and to change our behaviour. Yet we fear and avoid it, for good reasons to do with the way the human mind works. We find it threatening both to give and to receive criticism. It doesn’t have to be that way.

A colleague recently participated in a writing workshop and told me how much she had benefited from what others had said about the work she’d presented. ‘Well you’re good, so of course they would say so,’ I told her. ‘No, it was when they told me the things I hadn’t done well that I really learnt something’, she said.  ‘It hurt, and some of the group were pretty harsh, yet when I thought about it later, I was grateful. I reworked my story and it was a lot better.’ Then she told me how hard it had been to give constructive criticism, especially to people she didn’t like much or when she felt the work had few redeeming features.

I reminded her about using the ‘sandwich’ method we’d learnt in parenting classes: positioning a slice of negative criticism ‘cheese’ between two pieces of positive feedback ‘bread’. ‘I did that, and I felt like a fake’, she told me. ‘I could see they were just waiting for me to get to the bad bit, and didn’t really hear the good news. I was uncomfortable because I knew I still had to say that their dialogue was unnatural and their grammar was all wrong, and my unease made them uncomfortable too.’ It seemed the conventional wisdom wasn’t working.

She then shared with me how the group had agreed to a better method after that first awkward session. They decided to be transparent about how constructive feedback would be given, and all agreed to follow a process. My friend described how much better she felt about giving and receiving feedback when the emphasis shifted to making shared, informed choices about how to improve. Of course, sharing creative writing in a group setting is not quite the same as having a one-on-one conversation about workplace performance, but the principles still apply.

Giving criticism: the criticism sandwich v the transparent approach

Instead of: ‘The report is well written and interesting. However, there’s not enough detail. You’d better find the figures and add them in before the presentation at three. I love the layout though’.

Describe what you see, and agree on the facts

‘I’m concerned about the lack of detail in this report and how that might have affected our business case. I’d like to go through some details and see if you see the same things. I’m open to the possibility that I’ve missed something or that I’ve not explained what’s needed. Once we agree on the size of the problem, let’s decide what we can do.

Decide how the work could be improved

‘So you agree there should be more data and explained that you needed more time to do the research. I’ll have Tom cover your client calls for today and you will find the data and add it to the report before the presentation.’

Commit to implementing the feedback where appropriate and sharing the results

You’ll get the revised report to me by two, so that I can check the figures. Next time I’ll be more realistic with timeframes and you’ll be clearer about your process and ask for help if you need it, so there are no last-minute surprises in future.’

How did implementing this transparent approach work in my colleague’s writing workshop? And how can we apply what she has learnt to the workplace?

She now feels more genuine in the feedback she gives, and less defensive about receiving it in return. The group as a whole feels confident and comfortable about sharing the good and the bad aspects of each other’s work. She’s preparing her manuscript for a publisher – a step she said she would never have taken without the constructive and transparent criticism of her peers.

Managers have to give criticism regularly, and it can be tough. Employees are bound to receive it, and in a healthy workplace giving and receiving feedback from peers can present growth opportunities too. Practicing good feedback techniques will stand us in good stead no matter where we are. So describe what you see, negotiate a mutual solution and commit to implementing good feedback.