Constructive Criticism In A Nutshell

Constructive criticism is clear, actionable, and backed by examples. This type of feedback should not solely focus on negative aspects, instead acknowledging both positive aspects and where there is room for improvement.

Understanding constructive criticism

Constructive criticism is a type of clear, actionable, example-backed feedback that helps an employee improve in some area. 

No one likes receiving criticism of any kind, but in the workplace, constructive criticism is often essential for an employee’s personal and professional growth

To be effective, constructive criticism requires the cooperation of both the manager and the subordinate.

The manager should offer advice with good intentions and, ideally, be prepared to help the employee brainstorm possible solutions to help them improve.

The employee must also develop the mental fortitude to take constructive criticism in the way it is intended.

Constructive criticism is the opposite of destructive criticism – a type of feedback portrayed as constructive criticism but in reality, comprised of veiled negative comments.

Destructive criticism is counterproductive in the workplace and encompasses comments that are:

  • Intended as a personal attack.
  • Not specific or actionable.
  • Hypercritical or pedantic.
  • Given in public (that is, in front of others), and
  • Delivered in such a way as to harm the employee’s self-esteem.

How to give constructive criticism

Here is how leaders and employees can give constructive criticism to their respective subordinates and co-workers.

Be aware of the timing 

If a leader believes they are in a mental space where criticism could be delivered harshly, it should be delayed until a more agreeable time. Similarly, criticism should be postponed if the employee is stressed or overworked.

Remain positive 

Focus on improvements the employee can make and not on what they have done wrong. It is also important to start the feedback session positively by thanking the individual for their contributions.

Use the sandwich method 

If an error or mistake needs to be addressed, it can be helpful to compliment the employee on something they have done well, mention the error or mistake with corrective actions, and end on another positive note.

Focus on actions, not people

When the focus is on actions, the person receiving the criticism does not feel personally attacked. Which of these feedback statements do you feel is more conducive to the employee shifting their behavior?

  • Yesterday, you didn’t address the glaring issue of warehouse costs in your presentation.”
  • “Thanks for delivering that presentation yesterday. It exceeded our expectations in many respects, but the section on warehouse costs was missing. Could you please rectify this for the presentation next month?”

Similarly, feedback should be accompanied by an improvement strategy. If an employee finds delegation difficult, a weekly plan that lists tasks and people should be devised.

Constructive criticism examples

To conclude, we’ll discuss a few hypothetical examples of constructive criticism in the workplace.

Missed deadlines

  • Sam, your output is always high quality. But we’ve noticed that a few deadlines have been missed recently. I understand that the industry is fast-paced and can be stressful at times. With that said, I have identified a few time-management strategies that may be useful. Before we discuss these, is there any reason for the missed deadlines that you’re aware of?”

Toxic workplace attitude

  • Hi Terry, I’m glad we have found the time to sit down and discuss a few things. Myself and a few of your colleagues have noticed that you don’t appear to be happy at work. Has something happened in your personal or professional live that you’d like to talk about?”

Key takeaways

  • Constructive criticism is a type of clear, actionable, example-backed feedback that helps an employee improve in some area. 
  • To be effective, constructive criticism requires the cooperation of both the manager and the subordinate. The manager should offer advice with good intentions and take an active role in devising solutions, while the subordinate should avoid becoming defensive and take the criticism in the way it was intended.
  • To deliver constructive criticism, it is important to ensure that both the subordinate and leader are in the correct mental space. Remaining positive, focusing on actions (instead of people), and using the sandwich method is also effective. 

Additional Related Concepts

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

Delegative Leadership

Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this type of leadership can lead to increases in work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness of the team.

Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.


Micromanagement is about tightly controlling or observing employees’ work. Although in some cases, this management style might be understood, especially for small-scale projects, generally speaking, micromanagement has a negative connotation mainly because it shows a lack of trust and freedom in the workplace, which leads to adverse outcomes.

RASCI Matrix

A RASCI matrix is used to assign and then display the various roles and responsibilities in a project, service, or process. It is sometimes called a RASCI Responsibility Matrix. The RASCI matrix is essentially a project management tool that provides important clarification for organizations involved in complex projects.

Organizational Structure

An organizational structure allows companies to shape their business model according to several criteria (like products, segments, geography and so on) that would enable information to flow through the organizational layers for better decision-making, cultural development, and goals alignment across employees, managers, and executives. 

Tactical Management

Tactical management involves choosing an appropriate course of action to achieve a strategic plan or objective. Therefore, tactical management comprises the set of daily operations that support long strategy delivery. It may involve risk management, regular meetings, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.

High-Performance Management

High-performance management involves the implementation of HR practices that are internally consistent and aligned with organizational strategy. Importantly, high-performance management is a continual process where several different but integrated activities create a performance management cycle. It is not a process that should be performed once a year and then hidden in a filing cabinet.

Scientific Management

Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 as a means of encouraging industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor. Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way of performing a job in the workplace.

Change Management


TQM Framework

The Total Quality Management (TQM) framework is a technique based on the premise that employees continuously work on their ability to provide value to customers. Importantly, the word “total” means that all employees are involved in the process – regardless of whether they work in development, production, or fulfillment.

Agile Project Management

Agile Management
Agile Project Management (AgilePM) seeks to bring order to chaotic corporate environments using several tools, techniques, and elements of the project lifecycle. Fundamentally, agile project management aims to deliver maximum value according to specific business priorities in the time and budget allocated. AgilePM is particularly useful in situations where the drive to deliver is greater than the perceived risk.

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