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John Daly: How to Provide Constructive Criticism

I recently had to opportunity to observe a manager handing out criticism to his team members. What I noticed is that the criticism was less “constructive” and more “destructive.” This inspired me to come up with a list of tips for anyone in a position to provide positive feedback that is needed and wanted.


First, consider your attitude about the person to be critiqued. Be honest. If you have any negative thoughts about this person, it isn’t appropriate for you to offer him or her advice.

Begin and close with a compliment. At the start, always find something positive to say. This will make the team member feel good about the advice you are providing. Close with another compliment. This will prevent the person from feeling like a failure or that you are angry.

Make eye contact with the person you are critiquing. This tells the person you are being honest and sincere. Really focus on the person. Don’t offer suggestions over your shoulder, or while you are busy multitasking.

Take care with your tone of voice. This communicates more than your words. If your voice is harsh, has an edge or you are flippant with them, criticism will be harder for them to swallow from you.

Try not to say anything that is hurtful. Rather than trying to be harsh and “in command,” be gentle. For instance, say something like, “I really like the way you speak to your supervisor. Your team members would really respond well to you if you spoke to them the same way.”

Talk about the behavior, not the person. Don’t be insulting. Don’t make your criticism personal. Focus on the fact that providing feedback is a way to illustrate a person’s improvement. Don’t say, “You are a terrible example for other people.” Rather, “You are your team’s role model. Your behavior is teaching them the incorrect way to lead others.”

If possible, deliver criticism light-heartedly. This “lifts the air around both of you.” It makes what you have to say more positive. Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a speaker and business consultant, affirms that “Humor doesn’t diminish the seriousness of the feedback you are giving. It actually helps the person receiving the direction to open up and take it in.”

Don’t nag. Don’t hold a grudge. Once you have offered constructive criticism, let it go. The person will either accept your advice or ignore it. She or he will have to suffer the consequences if the choice is to ignore helpful advice. 

Never give criticism in front of others or at a bad time. Provide criticism in private. When someone is hungry or tired, he or she may not be in the best frame of mind to absorb your advice. So choose the time and place wisely to assure the best possible outcome for offering your advice.

Dr. Goldsmith, who presents to companies, associations and leaders worldwide, offers that these are the best tools to make teams strong. He feels that knowing how to give feedback and constructive criticism in a way that it is taken in and learned from may be a leader’s greatest tool for effective team building.

John Daly is the founder and president of The Key Class, the go-to guide for job search success. Click here to learn more about The Key Class or to get his book. Connect with The Key Class on Facebook. Follow John Daly on Twitter: @johndalyjrClick here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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