College of Business

Giving and receiving constructive criticism

By Mandy Swofford | September 29, 2023

Criticism is difficult from either side of the table. No matter how you are delivering criticism it can be stressful. The person giving the criticism likely doesn’t want to hurt your feelings or lose your trust. When you are the person receiving the criticism, your mind tends to want to go into fight or flight mode.

Constructive criticism is the feedback that is intended to help a person grow in their role. If your manager is providing this feedback to you, they are attempting to help you understand improvements to make for a particular task.

Likewise, if you are providing constructive criticism to an employee, you are trying to help that person perform even better next time. Constructive criticism, when delivered correctly, is positive feedback designed to help each employee grow.

Constructive Criticism is a Two-Way Conversation

Ideally, constructive criticism is given one-on-one in an in-person setting. A manager will take their employee aside to provide this feedback. He or she will not point out an employee’s error in front of a group. This could embarrass the employee, leading to the degradation of the intended message.

When given one-on-one, the manager can provide the employee with constructive criticism in a space where the employee is open and listening. This will also allow the employee receiving the feedback to ask questions.

Appropriate questions may lead the manager to provide specific examples of what could have been done better. Additionally, the manager may expand on a point that wasn’t explained thoroughly.

Ultimately, this feedback loop should continue until both parties understand each other. The employee will respect the manager more for giving him or her this potentially tough feedback in a safe space while allowing the employee to understand the message clearly.

Giving Constructive Criticism for the Right Reasons

Feedback can be mutually beneficial when given for the right reasons. Constructive criticism should be given to show concern for an employee, guide a subordinate, or coach an employee for their overall growth.

When giving constructive criticism, the manager needs to ensure they are giving this feedback to show concern for the employee. Giving criticism while the manager is in a bad mood is inappropriate and may lead to the manager losing employee respect. You wouldn’t want your manager to fly off the handle just because the CEO gave them some bad news a few minutes prior.

As an employee, you want to hear things from your manager if they have concerns about your performance. You will want to know what you can do better.

Constructive criticism can be an effective tool to guide an employee. For example, the employee may have performed a task for the first time. If this is the case, guidance can help that employee perform the new task more effectively.

When teams are more effective and knowledgeable, a manager may employ coaching techniques to give constructive criticism to a team member. Rather than give the information outright, the manager may walk through a situation with their employee. Together, they examine the steps taken leading to the results received.

Through coaching, the employee will likely come up with some things they could have improved. From here the manager can coach them with constructive criticism and help the employee find new ways to get better results.

Criticism for the Behavior, Not the Person

When giving criticism, remember you are giving feedback for the behavior and not criticizing the person. Separate the action from the person. This helps the person mentally keep their identity and focus on the feedback itself.

Receiving Criticism

When we receive criticism, our minds go into fight-or-flight mode. We instinctively prepare for an insult. We perceive this as a challenge to our identity.

We have to remember that constructive criticism is given to help our behaviors so we can perform better next time. Performing better in the future will help us in our overall role, thus helping to improve our identity at work.

There are a few things we can do to prepare our minds to hear the feedback being offered. Each individual can remember to be open to change, remember the nature of the criticism, and remember we aren’t perfect.

Be Open to Alternate Methods

Remember there are people who have already performed the task you have performed. They have tried things and failed already. When we perform a task but could have performed it better, a manager with more experience may offer a new way of performing that task. Be open to alternative methods to improve your work.

Remember – This is Feedback for the Behavior

When your manager gives constructive criticism remember they are giving feedback for the behavior. They are not attacking your professional identity. Usually, constructive criticism is given to help you grow in your role. This feedback will help you perform each task better next time.

No One is Perfect

We need to take responsibility for our mistakes. If we miss something in a report, we need to understand why so we can perform better next time. This is where constructive criticism comes in. Your manager will provide this feedback to help you grow and avoid making the same mistake again in the future.

Failure isn’t the end of the road. It’s just a speed bump on the road to a better you.


Mandy Swofford is a product manager for Pemko Manufacturing in Memphis, Tennessee. She has worked in the building products industry (Division 08 Hardware) for over 19 years and is currently attending Charleston Southern University in pursuit of her MBA.

References:

Sieter, C. (2014, December 9). The art and science of giving and receiving criticism at work. Fast Company.

Varsity Tutors. (2019, November 12) 6Tips for accepting and giving constructive criticism.

Grotts, L. M. (2014, April 21). Giving and accepting criticism. HuffPost.


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