The Value of Constructive Criticism

Want to have better, more productive relationships at home and at work? Then embrace the concept of constructive criticism, a valuable tool that can help you get things done.

Are you familiar with the concept of constructive criticism? Quite simply, it’s feedback that’s delivered in a way that tells a person what he is doing wrong, but also highlights what he is doing right and how he can do it better.

What people don’t often realize about constructive criticism is how highly effective the approach can be for achieving your goals, both at home and at work. That explains why giving constructive criticism is often underutilized when it could be quite effective, says Steve Siebold, a public speaker and author of 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class.


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“Constructive criticism has the power to change your personal life for the better, and professionally it has the potential to make you rich,” says Siebold. “The secret is processing the criticism through logical rather than emotional thinking.”

These techniques will help you with both giving and accepting constructive criticism.

Giving Constructive Criticism Properly

Despite the potential value of constructive criticism, many people don’t use this tool properly. Often, that’s because they are unsure of how to give constructive criticism without hurting a person’s feelings. “Constructive criticism can be very valuable as long as it is approached in the appropriate manner,” says Sybil Keane, PhD, a psychology and relationship expert for the Web site JustAnswer. “It can be damaging when it comes across as accusatory.”

A unique technique for giving constructive criticism properly is to take the “sandwich” approach, advises Denise Glassmoyer, PsyD, a doctor of clinical psychology and a family therapist in private practice in Scottsdale, Ariz. “The sandwich approach is useful in both professional and personal settings,” she says. “The bread consists of very specific positive feedback (a compliment), and the ‘meat in the middle’ is the constructive criticism.”

For example, in a professional setting, Glassmoyer says that you should start the conversation by pointing out something that an employee (Bob) is good at, such as interacting with clients, and compliment him on this ability.

Then, subtly shift the attention to the part of Bob’s work that needs improvement, such as documenting his transactions. Tell him that this could use a little work, offer somepositive suggestions on how he can improve this part of his work, and then offer yourself as a resource for guidance if he happens to need more help in this area.

Finally, conclude the conversation by reiterating what Bob is good at, and saying that just a little improvement in the one area of concern would really bring his overall work production up to an excellent level. The “sandwich” approach to giving constructive criticism minimizes the blow by surrounding the negative feedback with positive information and useful, actionable advice.

The same approach can work in personal relationships as well as business relationships, but Keane adds that some subtle changes in the language you use are better when doling out personal constructive criticism. She suggests starting the constructive criticism with “I feel that…” rather than “You…” This softens the feedback and makes it sound more like a suggestion than a personal attack. “This approach is especially effective when communicating with adolescents,” says Keane.


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Accepting Constructive Criticism

Of course, by our very nature, people in general are averse to taking criticism, even if it is delivered in a constructive way. So if you happen to be on the receiving end of a bit of constructive criticism, you can help the process along by having a good attitude, an open mind, and a willingness to learn and grow from the feedback that is given to you.

“Active listening and healthy emotional boundaries are essential,” says Glassmoyer. “The more a person can begin to substitute curiosity for defensiveness, the easier it will be to accept constructive criticism. Listening with the intent to understand the other person’s perspective can create emotional space and diffuse the need to respond defensively.”

While getting defensive or combative is not helpful, that doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for more information or clarification of the criticism if needed, adds Glassmoyer. Often, having an open mind and collaborating with the criticizer on finding a solution to the problem is the best way to make constructive criticism as effective as possible, both for the giver and the receiver.

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