How to Give (and Take) Constructive Criticism

There is no doubt that receiving feedback and advice can be an incredibly beneficial aspect of a work experience opportunity or starting out in a new job. However it can be quite damaging if the person critiquing your performance focuses more on the ‘criticism’ and not so much on the ‘constructive’ approach.

After many years in various internship programs, I have experienced my fair share of constructive criticism from supervisors. At the time I’ll admit, it feels a bit like a swift kick in the teeth to hear that the article you have spent all morning researching and writing wasn’t quite up to scratch (excuse me – there’s just something in my eye). That said, the feedback I received was the most valuable aspect of each position which has been reflected in the quality and improvement of my articles over time.

There is certainly an art to giving constructive criticism to ensure your feedback is clear, concise and ultimately going to help the person to progress and gain confidence in their new position. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when giving and even receiving constructive criticism:

It’s not personal

Don’t make it personal, and don’t take it personally. The supervisor or person in authority has a vested interest in the intern, or new employee’s success. They want them to achieve and the only way to do so is to direct them where need be. If you take each piece of feedback or criticism as a personal attack, you may be in tears by your first week.

Also, if you are not receiving particularly good or bad feedback, you can generally consider that you are on the right track. We don’t tend to take as much time to praise as we do to criticise because things are already running smoothly. Rule of thumb; no news is good news so don’t stress if things little too quiet.

Be polite

Let’s face it, there’s no need to be a jerk. As a supervisor you might be busy and stressed but remember it’s never pleasant to be the one to receive criticism about your performance, particularly if it’s soaked in sarcasm, insults or a nasty tone.

It is important to present the feedback in a manner that is clear, constructive and considerate. Rather than telling the person they are doing something wrong, use phrases like “This is good, but perhaps you could try …” or “You are on the right track however there are a few areas you could improve on…” That said, be aware not to tip to the other end of the scale and avoid the overly condescending approach.

Highlight the positives

I’m not saying sugar coat the news completely or avoid the negatives, but while there may be improvements to be made, it’s also likely that the intern or new employee is great in other areas of the position. When it comes time to give feedback, it be sure to emphasise the person’s strengths and avoid rattling off a load of weaknesses in one sitting. A constructive approach to discussing someone’s work performance is to deliver them a good-bad-good sandwich; it’s much easier to swallow.

Give examples and be specific

There is nothing more stressful or confusing than when your supervisor has taken the time to discuss what you need to improve on but in a completely vague and ambiguous manner. “Your article was good but you need to expand on your points a little more…”
Without giving an example within the context of the article, it is likely the intern or employee is not going to improve a great deal because they aren’t too sure where they went wrong.

A good way to explain what you mean in this case would be to make notes highlighting the areas that need work, demonstrate exactly which points to expand on and why, offer tips and advice from your experience and explain what you would like them to try instead.

Follow up – Acknowledge the improvement

It’s one thing to give an intern or employee occasional feedback to improve their performance but the most significant part of the process is acknowledging when there has been an improvement. To see that the person has taken the feedback and advice into careful consideration and applied it to their work is a truly encouraging reflection of your comprehensive assistance and their ability to take criticism constructively. Now it is essential to let them know when they are on the right track and build their confidence in the position. A little praise can go a long way.

Starting out in a new job or first piece of real world work experience can be a daunting experience and of course there is always going to be a learning curve. Whether you are on the giving or receiving end of constructive criticism just bear in mind, it’s all about good intentions. Be patient, consider the positives, assist with the weaknesses, and let’s keep it light and professional.