How to provide constructive criticism in the workplace

Every workplace that actively practices constructive criticism will encourage a healthy office environment and boost morale. A good company applies constructive criticism within the company’s culture and inspires employees to do the same. The result allows a company to thrive.

"Working at Pixar you learn the really honest, hard way of making a great movie, which is to surround yourself with people who are much smarter than you, much more talented than you, and incite constructive criticism; you'll get a much better movie out of it."
Andrew Stanton

However, constructive criticism is a technique that is challenging to learn because it’s a slippery slope to destructive criticism. It’s essential to recognize the differences between constructive and destructive criticism before implementing it into the office.

That is why it is vital to criticize employees and clients properly. If you accurately introduce criticism into the workplace, your company will flourish. Here is everything you need to know about constructive criticism, destructive criticism, why it is so important, and a list of examples.

Constructive Criticism vs. Destructive Criticism

Constructive criticism aims to provide someone with valuable tips to encourage a better outcome. It is a positive tactic to highlight what someone is doing right and compare it to what they are doing wrong.

However, the lines between constructive and destructive criticism can blur. Let’s take a look at the difference between the two:

Constructive Criticism

Everyone wants to be praised because praise builds self-worth and self-esteem. An employee who hears constructive criticism intends to improve on their mistakes. Constructive criticism is within the name, a way to criticize someone without tearing them down.

Key Takeaway
An employee who hears constructive criticism is more likely to improve on their mistakes.

Meaning, a boss must point out the issues on a project and offer a solution to fix the mistakes. Although people do not want to hear about their shortcomings, it helps to understand they have the option to fix them. With employees, criticism must be conducted delicately and positively.

An employee may have spent a long time on a project with many errors. However, it is obvious they dedicated a lot of time and effort to the project. It’s important to praise their hard work, point out the mistakes, and offer different strategies to improve the project.

Offering constructive criticism to a client is a little different. It is intimidating to criticize a client since a company depends on its business. It is just as important to offer praise and solutions when speaking to a client. They also want to hear what they can improve on just as long as it’s done professionally and respectfully.

Destructive Criticism

Destructive criticism is the complete oppositive of constructive criticism. It aims to ridicule the person without offering alternatives to appeal to mistakes. It typically encourages verbal harm against someone, resulting in low self-esteem and distrust towards the person giving destructive criticism.

Key Takeaway
Destructive criticism creates a toxic work environment.

An employee who experiences this type of criticism only feels anger and disrespect from the criticizer, while a client will most likely end a business agreement. It only promotes a toxic work environment while affecting someone’s mental health. It can higher anxiety and depression levels and make employees not want to work.

Clients won’t stand for destructive criticism. It is a fine line between insults and contempt toward someone else, and a client won’t be a part of that type of culture. You can avoid destructive criticism if you follow specific steps when offering criticism.

Why Is It Important?

Employees spend a great part of their lives at work. Whether full-time or part-time, the office environment matters to an individual. A company should do everything it can to promote a safe and respectful atmosphere for its employees and itself. The benefits to constructive criticism include:

  • Great communication
  • Healthy work environment
  • Builds trust and respect
  • Improves performance

"Communication - the human connection - is the key to personal and career success."
Paul J. Meyer

Clients and Employees

A company that can offer good constructive criticism can provide a healthy office environment and support for both employees and clients. Constructive criticism values empathy towards an individual. Employees can see that a company cares about their well-being and values their work performance.

Constructive criticism works. People love praise, feedback, and support. It promotes a stronger worth ethic, and clients appreciate honesty. However, it’s not always met with open arms. Criticism towards a client must be treated delicately and respectfully.

A client wants to hear positive feedback and proper communication when conducting business. Constructive criticism builds trust and respect with the client as they understand their strengths and weaknesses. A client appreciates a company that is willing to help them improve.

However, it must be consistent and improve over time. There are plenty of ways to offer constructive criticism.

How To Give Criticism vs. How Not To Give Criticism

There are a few methods to practice when giving constructive criticism. Each method below mentions the most popular strategies to provide good criticism. Likewise, it also offers ways not to give criticism so that the difference between them is evident.

The Sandwich

The sandwich method is the most popular form of constructive criticism. Imagine a sandwich. The top bun is labeled “Positive Feedback,” the substance in the middle is labeled “Improvement,” while the bottom of the bun is labeled “Positive Feedback,” again.

The sandwich method follows a strict equation to offer feedback. When an employee finishes a project, follow these steps. The first step is to give positive feedback. Mention what is optimistic about the project and what works. It’s essential to be specific in this situation. List everything worth praising during this first step.

Key Takeaway
With the sandwich method, you provide positive feedback in the first and last step and constructive criticism in the middle.

After a few compliments, the second step is “Improvement,” criticizing the work and then offering feedback. Criticism does not have to be mean or hurtful. Instead, ask to improve specific areas in the project by providing suggestions. This step is vital to ask the employee or client what is needed.

Lastly, to end it all is another form of “Positive Feedback.” The company should mention how they believe in the person to improve on the project. Offer them access to resources such as other team members and allow them to come to you when they have questions.

The sandwich method includes the first steps to constructive criticism. Meaning, this method provides an excellent foundation to start. If executed correctly, the person trusts the boss while also improving on a project.

Bad criticism: “You were supposed to include the budget for our clients. Don’t send me another copy until you do.”

Good criticism: “I like how you color-coordinated the spreadsheets. It keeps everything organized. It appears the budget for the clients is missing. It’s important to include that in the report. You can get all that information from John, our financial adviser. I’ll email him about the project to have those numbers ready for you. I believe the project looks great, and once the minor details are secure, it’s going to be perfect.”

Don’t Take It Personally

There is a fine line between criticizing a project and the person. A person who has spent a reasonable amount of time on a project may become attached to it personally. Why shouldn’t they? They will be proud of the project they spent working hard on. The company needs to provide constructive criticism towards the project and not the employee.

Key Takeaway
Avoid "you" when giving constructive criticism to get rid of blame.

The way to achieve this is by getting rid of blame. Meaning, make “I” statements when giving criticism instead of “you” statements. A simple change in speech lowers blame while encouraging the person to fix the problem.

Bad criticism: “Tom, I don’t understand how you could mess these numbers up. You must use Excel equations to calculate the numbers. Why didn’t you tell me you can’t use Excel?”

Good criticism: “I see there are a few miscalculations on the spreadsheet. I need these numbers to be accurate for our clients. Just let me know if you need further training in Excel or any additional help. I can provide another course if needed. Thank you, Tom.”

Be Extremely Specific

Asking for a change in a project can take time if there are various edit rounds. A boss has the responsibility to provide adequate communication the first time. That way, the project can be completed within a reasonable time and without further mistakes.

Constructive criticism suggests a boss be as specific as possible while providing feedback. Do not make open-ended statements or rely heavily on the employee or client to figure out. Also, specificity applies to day-to-day responsibilities as well as projects.

Key Takeaway
Be specific with your constructive criticism to help the other person improve quickly.

An employee who did not have proper training due to a lack of specific responsibilities will fall short on obligations. Having clear communication on what is needed from an employee at the start of a project helps everyone.

Bad criticism: “I don’t like the colors for this banner. Also, 200 people signed up for the event, but we can only feed 150 guests. Call 50 people who are not important and tell them they can’t go.”

Good criticism: “I think the color of the banner should either be gold, silver, or brown. Those colors are our theme for the night, so choosing one of those should work fine. I noticed we overbooked for the event. You will have to make phone calls and uninvite people. Please go through our guest list and pick out 50 people who have donated the least to our cause. Then apologize profusely and invite them to our other event happening in Spring. If they are too upset to speak with you, give them my phone number, and I’ll speak with them. Thank you.”

Offer Help and Guidance

One of the ways for employees to improve is through ongoing training. Sometimes employees need a refresher on their jobs or help when new information is introduced. It’s vital to keep communication open during this time, empathize, and offer help when needed.

Although there are many ways to help an employee, it’s best to ask them how you can help. If an employee has received the same training multiple times, it’s best to switch it up. Ask the employee what they specifically need from you and give it to them, of course, within reason.

Bad criticism: “We have gone over this multiple times. When you make phone calls, you cannot go off-script. You have to say the words verbatim.”

Good criticism: “I’ve noticed you have trouble staying on script. I know we have tried training courses in the past, but it appears you may need more help. Is there anything we can do to help you stay on script? If you have had trouble answering questions that the script does not provide, we can go over mock phone calls. That way, you’ll know what to say to the client if they don’t provide a sufficient answer. How does that sound?”

Be Empathetic

You never know what someone is going through. Especially today and how many people are experiencing a decrease in mental health. An employee is a person with feelings and emotions that deserve a voice. Understand that criticism could hurt the person’s feelings. That is why it is crucial to offer criticism delicately through emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence uses empathy to rationalize with individuals to understand what they are going through. A basic level of simple human interaction means a lot to people. Because they realize how much you care about their well-being and how it affects their job performance. Use empathy to guide you through constructive criticism.

Bad criticism: “Listen, I understand your mother passed away, but you have already taken a month off. You need to finish your work before the day is done, or you’ll have to stay late.”

Good criticism: “I’ve noticed you are still grieving the passing of your mother. I understand how hard this time is for you. If you feel overwhelmed with your work, I can create a daily goal list for you. That way, you can get work done and feel accomplished as you head home. I know you are behind in your work, but we are here to help you. We need you to reach out to us, don’t feel guilty about that.”

Use Evidence To Support Your Claims

Working with clients is challenging, especially when delivering criticism. They use your service and pay your business, so it’s a touchy subject when they hear criticism. However, the best way to provide constructive criticism to a client is to back it up with real-world evidence.

This means providing evidence for the client that they must accept. Whether that is research conducted by the company or extrinsic evidence. Either way, the client will realize that their methods are not the best approach to a specific project and follow your advice.

Bad criticism: “Trust us, we know how to get employees through this website. We have gotten a lot of employees for our other clients.”

Good criticism: “We understand you are a little apprehensive about the third-party website, but it is the best solution. Our other clients have seen a 45% spike in applications in the past quarter. We have a plan to get you the same results. Would you like to hear it?”

Written Criticism

It’s important to note the difference between verbal and written criticism. Unfortunately, we do not have the same type of speaking as within an email. The words on a page could sound completely different from how a person would say them.

Because we have constant written communication through emails and instant messages, it is vital to understand how you come across to employees and clients. Read the writing as if you were to receive it for yourself. What is missing? Does it sound inviting or critical? Ask yourself these questions before sending anything with the intent to criticize.

Bad Criticism:


This email is to inform you of your job performance. You have received low marks in communication but high marks day-to-day.


Good Criticism:

Hello John,

I have your job performance ready for your review. You have received high marks on your day-to-day, which is great! We are happy to see you can conduct yourself well.

The only thing we would like you to improve on is your communication. It appears your Team members have not received some emails. Remember, we value great communication, but I’m sure you will rank higher on your next performance review. If you have any questions, please get in touch with me. My door is always open.


In Conclusion

Although constructive criticism is ideal to practice in the workplace, it can be challenging to accomplish. Feelings and emotions can get in the way filled with the daily stress of the job. However, keep practicing and try to connect with your employees and clients.

Do your best to conduct constructive criticism by following these steps. In the end, the workplace will be filled with dedicated and hardworking employees. At the same time, your clients will appreciate your honesty and commitment.

About the Author
Hi there, I'm James, founder of Melbado. I have over 20 years of experience as a leader and entrepreneur. Recently, I turned to leadership coaching and writing to pass on my knowledge to the next generation. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me via our contact page.


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