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What Is Constructive Criticism?

Constructive criticism can help improve employees without making them feel demoralized.
Someone who is emotionally fragile might not handle criticism well.
People who are feeling overwhelmed may not accept criticism.
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  • Originally Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Revised By: Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 December 2014
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Constructive criticism is a communication technique intended to identify and find solutions to problems in a positive way. Anyone can use the strategy, although professionals can provide more thorough analysis in many cases. It usually applies to work a person does, or to an individual’s behavior. People respond to the method differently based on their own experiences, preferences and psychology, but a good, well-timed delivery can make a person more receptive to the message.

Purpose

Unlike general criticism that is negative, a constructive analysis, as the title implies, builds someone up. It identifies at least one problem and gets a person to think about what caused the issue. It also invites her to find possible solutions to whatever is going wrong. By promoting problem solving and self-improvement, it advances a person to the next level of behavior or achievement.

Application

This type of analysis often is associated broadly with work a person does, especially in fields such as art. People also use it when they look at behavior. Although experts in a particular area might be able to give a more thorough analysis, it is not necessary to be a professional to apply this technique. Friends and parents, for example, use it to guide loved ones through tough periods or help them develop certain behaviors or skill sets.

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Reception

Some individuals take constructive criticism too personally, reacting more with emotion than logic and allowing what others have said to hurt their self-esteem. These people generally miss the fact that whatever was said was meant with good intent. They typically are consciously or subconsciously willing to accept whatever the other person says as being the truth.

The opposite can happen, as well, however. In these cases, the advice gets completely rejected. Those being criticized become defensive, sometimes even verbally attacking the person or group that tried to help. This might happen because self-esteem is overly high, or it might happen because the individuals being criticized are trying to protect themselves against feeling bad. Another reason is that the recipient doesn't respect the speaker.

Ideally, when a person gets criticized, they respond with a balance of these two scenarios. They react emotionally to some degree, but they are able to use logic and to stay objective to see the elements of truth in what has been said. The next step is to self-analyze and develop a game plan for how to make improvements in the project, situation or type of behavior. Doing this requires the ability to identify at least some of the good, personal qualities or resources available. That, in turn, requires awareness of oneself and the environment.

General Delivery

How someone goes about delivering constructive criticism affects how receptive another person is to it. When an individual gets overly detailed and too assertive in the critique, the person being evaluated might feel overwhelmed and become defensive. The same thing can happen if the message is too loaded with emotion.

Generally, even though the person giving the constructive criticism should be able to connect emotionally with the person being assessed, the critique should be fact-centered. It should focus on just one issue at a time and start broadly, getting more precise as the conversation goes on. It also should use “I” language and be balanced with some positive points, as this is less likely to make someone respond defensively. Lastly, making an effort to use questions can help, as it gives the person being assessed a chance to respond, promoting solid two-way communication.

As an example, someone might say, “I’m absolutely loving the effort you’re putting into catching the ball out there on the field, but I feel like getting to the ball a little sooner would give you a chance to improve your technique. What do you think about your speed? Do you have some ideas on how to shave off a little time?”

The above message is effective because it offers some positive reinforcement first, disarming the listener. It clearly identifies that technique needs some improvement, even pointing out that speed relates to the problem, but the speaker’s use of “I” language keeps the listener from feeling attacked. The delivery also ends by giving the person being critiqued the chance to respond with his own thoughts, opinions and feelings. It puts finding a solution into the listener’s hands, making him feel empowered.

Therapists

Therapists are one group that has to modify constructive criticism delivery slightly. They usually want to remain as neutral and objective as possible with clients, so they pay more attention to the use of “I” language and are careful not to introduce their own emotions or opinions. One reason for this is because there are legal ramifications associated with implying or giving directions outright to clients. Most therapists also believe that therapy is more effective when the client learns how to formulate and implement his own solutions to identified problems. Some clients are too emotionally fragile to accept much criticism, as well.

Timing

Even when people know how to use constructive criticism well in terms of phrasing and content, when they deliver their message is just as important as how they deliver it. If a person is extremely upset, for example, his emotional state might prevent him from truly absorbing what the evaluator has said. Giving the message soon after a problem is identified is also a good idea, because the more time that passes after a mistake or opportunity for improvement, the less relevant or urgent the issue seems. Those who offer these types of messages therefore have a responsibility to pay attention to the recipient and his circumstances to figure out if the time is right to talk.

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Discuss this Article

amypollick
Post 21

In my opinion, truly constructive criticism is *always* meant to help, not hurt. It builds up; it does not tear down.

There is a big difference between constructive criticism and other kinds. Constructive criticism always ends on a positive note and is meant to help a person do a task in the best possible way, or to help someone become a better, more fulfilled person.

That said, some people simply cannot take any kind of correction, no matter how gently or kindly it is offered. The only thing that will cure them of this attitude (if it is curable at all) is the school of experience, and they're not going to like the lessons.

anon299432
Post 20

It is important to differentiate between words meant as constructive criticism and snide, hateful criticism, which are cutting words meant to slash others, hidden behind the guise of "only being honest".

Is the person brutally honest with everyone, or is their honesty reserved for one person at a family get-together?

Do they truly appear to love the person they are giving so called constructive criticism to or, in honest evaluation, are they really just telling you that to keep you from defending the person or worse in their mind, constructively criticizing them?

When a loved one gives criticism quietly, gently, in a loving manner to a receptive person, it may be acceptable. But when anyone gives unsolicited criticism loudly, in the hearing of others, or even worse, intentionally to be heard and hopefully remarked on by a whole group, this is not "constructive criticism". This is cruelty, pure and simple, even if it is a parent with a child at a family party, and unforgivable if it is a child to a parent or grandparent, and should never be repeatedly tolerated.

anon278186
Post 18

Constructive criticism doesn't exist; it's just people sugar coating flames!

anon260160
Post 17

So what happens when you receive "constructive criticism" from someone you're close to, and it;s more of a personal attack than it is constructive?

anon242955
Post 16

I'm a teacher and I have to give some criticism because if not, there will be no result and no progress. But there's a student who just doesn't accept this criticism at all. I try to encourage him, support and understand, but nothing seems to work and that influences the whole class in a bad way, because the student's attitude is extremely negative. He just seems to take things personally when it's not about him, but about mistakes! I've tried all tips written below but with no result at all.

anon228267
Post 15

Work- it was brought to my attention that "If i knew my job?" scanning documents and placing the documents in the proper folders. Usually when i scan and drag the document into the file i delete the document which automatically goes to my deleted files and I don't delete the entire deleted file until end of the week. But, today i was asked "what" i did with the files of a certain co-workers documents. "Lately it's all about this co-worker?" I told the supervisor what i had wrote down and he stated he couldn't find the particular file? Then I told him I don't know but I did scan and attach to the proper file. I couldn't justify and the supervisor kept egging on the reason? What to do?

anon163844
Post 14

Is this constructive? Yesterday when I was fishing with my grandpa I got much more tired than usual to the point of having to stop and relax for a while. I didn't realize it then, but it was warmer this day than the very cold days we have had this season, so I had put on too many clothes and was overheating.

Grandpa didn't seem to like this very much, and proceeded to criticize my "overuse" of computers (he hates technology! hehe), and this really angered me that he would criticize my main interest in life, saying I am destroying my body with it.

But as much respect as I have for him, I could only say "yeah whatever". I have learned a lot from him, but I felt that was a very unnecessary thing to say and it kind of destroyed my day.

So what was the point of saying that? What should he have said? Obviously he didn't give it much thought. I hope he got it that such baseless criticism is not well received by me.

When I got home I realized how much I had been sweating. It is very wet on the sea and working with several hundred kilos of fish so it's not that noticeable that you are sweating buckets. This won't happen again and it's not thanks to him.

anon145288
Post 13

I have had the experience of offering constructive criticism to someone only to have that person hate me but follow the advice. Weird.

anon111522
Post 11

Criticism, whether it comes from people who love me or not does not matter, because every criticism is constructive in its own way. The object is rectification. Maybe it comes negatively or constructively.

anon84517
Post 10

I think that there should be a law against it. Why use a negative image to portray yourself with on the internet and where anyone can just gain access? Do you even know them?

anon77656
Post 9

I just went through this with a friend. I am remodeling a home. Every time the friend entered the house, he started in with criticism. All he could see was the house. No hug. No hello. It got to the point where I dreaded his visits. It was all negative and was affecting my self esteem.

Finally, I had a discussion with him. I told him that I really value his opinions and his creative advice. I needed a better way in which we could relate to each other so I told him to make a punch list of all the things he felt needed improving. This worked well!

anon73550
Post 8

re: anon57715 on critical spouse.

Yes, my writing partner has complained of the same issue for years with his wife. Though I've always held on to the virtue of divorce solely as an act of last resort, at the same time, I would be very resistant to judge someone who never received praise for the good things they do, for having thoughts of wanting to leave.

Those thoughts are inspired by healthy, natural feelings of being unloved. I am convinced that your uncomplimentary spouse needs to change in that aspect or you will never feel fulfilled in your marriage. Those are the only words of counsel I can give.

P.S. Check out "Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman for more on this.

anon73130
Post 7

Constructive criticism is "you." negative criticism is "me."

You use constructive criticism because you love some one and want them to grow.

You use negative criticism becasue you want to be right and them to be wrong.

Dealing with people who always criticize: -talk to them about it; lead by example. do to them what you want done to you.

anon58158
Post 6

How about when someone who is close to you is more often than not saying that his way is right and your way is wrong? Like after a long day of working hard and accomplishing a lot but the dishes were left undone. The first sentence upon arrival home is: You should have done these dishes before you did anything else. The kitchen is a mess. I'm just trying to help you. I'm not being mean. (Never was there a mention of all that had been accomplished.)

anon57715
Post 5

what do you do when you are always criticized by your spouse and who never compliments, just always something you do wrong? nobody does everything wrong. I get encouragement from all of my peers but not my spouse.

I'm thinking maybe I should leave him even though we have been together for over 45 years. I do encourage my friends to correct me when I am wrong.

anon56567
Post 4

I'm just wondering how a constructive criticism be different from a negative criticism? Do both go the same direction or have the goal of improving one's work?

anon39071
Post 3

what is the constractive criticism of gloria macapagal arroyo in her last sona?

XIIsnyackIIX
Post 2

Well, I understand your point tdwb7476. It can be hard to hear criticism, especially when it is negative. Truly constructive criticism should not be an attack, and definitely should not be personal. When someone takes the time to provide you with constructive criticism, ignoring what they say because you don't "value" could limit your perspective. So long as the person is sincerely giving you criticism, not some tirade or viscous castigation on morality, take a note. Sometimes the ideas we most adamantly disagree with or that we are most disturbed by are later the inspiration of some epiphany or for some new awareness about ourselves.

tdwb7476
Post 1

I recently heard the following approach to receiving constructive criticism without taking offense to it. Basically, you can receive criticism from two types of people -- (1) people that you are close to, care about and care about you, and (2) people that you aren't close to. When you receive criticism from people that love you, you can be sure that it is coming constructively because they love you. The intent is therefore clearly meant to help you. When you receive criticism from the second group, well, then their opinion shouldn't really matter because they are not someone you value or values you. I realize this may come off a bit overly simplistic, but it can be a good approach to overcoming feelings of insecurity when you're the recipient of a comment that is less than 100% positive!

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