Constructive criticism

Learning to provide constructive criticism can help you resolve issues without conflict or misunderstanding. 

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Why this matters

Constructive criticism can be helpful to the person getting it and the person delivering it. If the person on the receiving end feels supported and inspired when you give this type of feedback, it’ll be helpful for them. If you can give criticism in a clear way that effectively corrects problems or mistakes, it’ll be helpful for you. 

Unfortunately, some of us are more likely to offer hurtful or confusing criticism. With a little reflection and practice, anyone can improve their ability to give constructive criticism.

Explore and reflect

When giving constructive criticism, focus on being helpful, specific and geared toward behavioural change. Do each of the following in a respectful way:

Begin by clearly explaining the desired outcome. Doing this may even eliminate the need for negative criticism altogether, as you work toward how to achieve the preferred result.                                                  

For example, rather than saying, “This steak is overcooked,” you can tell them the preferred outcome: “I prefer the middle of my steak to be pink.” 

Acknowledge the person’s effort and emphasize that you value them.

For example, “I appreciate you taking the time to make this for me.”

Acknowledge an individual’s strengths (as there are always strengths) and give performance feedback.

For example, “You always put together a great meal for us with a beautiful presentation.”

Make feedback specific to behaviours rather than to the individual’s characteristics or personality.

For example, instead of “You always wreck my meals” you could say, “We all have our own preferences – I like my meat cooked differently.”

Give clear, concrete examples of behaviours.

For example, “Could you try taking my steak off 5 minutes before yours and let it sit while yours finishes cooking? I bet it would be perfect for me.”

Give them a chance to respond to your feedback.

For example, ask, “Would this work for you?” Then stay silent to give them a chance to respond.

Where appropriate, frame the feedback process as an opportunity for growth.

For example, “I think you’re an amazing cook. I’m asking for this little tweak to suit my preferences.”

Keep in mind that criticism can emotionally trigger most, if not all, people – don’t take this personally. When you feel someone reacting, that’s a chance to correct their interpretation by saying something like, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for that to come off as harsh criticism.” Then, reiterate what you value and appreciate about their efforts.

The following are examples of less constructive versus more constructive ways of giving criticism.

Not following directions

You asked a family member to pick up a short list of groceries. They come back missing cheese, which you need for the meal you’re preparing. You’re surprised, as you told them what you’re making tonight.

Less constructive

You blame someone for intentionally being lazy, careless or not listening.

“You knew I needed that. Did you decide it was too much of a bother?”

More constructive

Give the family member the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume negative intentions; the cheese might even be right in front of you. You could ask:

  • I don’t see the cheese, could it have fallen out of the bag in the car?”
  • “I need the cheese for tonight’s meal. Were they out of it?”

Give the person a chance to respond before you criticize, to save embarrassment and frustration for both of you.


You ask someone to stop interrupting when you’re talking.

Less constructive

You get frustrated and stop talking altogether, or just say, “Forget it.”

More constructive

Give the person the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume negative intentions.

“I know you’ve got lots of ideas too. Can I finish my thought and then I’ll hear you out?”

This makes clear what you’re asking of them but doesn’t end the conversation.

Repeated mistakes

You’ve already talked about a problem, and the person does the same thing again.

Less constructive

“We already talked about this. Obviously, you just don’t care.”

More constructive

“When we talked about this before, you said you’d try to do it differently. What got in the way of that?”

This leaves opportunity for an open conversation rather than making assumptions about their motives. 


Someone claims you were gossiping about a mutual friend. You don’t believe you were.

Less constructive

“You’re a liar. I never said that!”

More constructive

“Can you tell me why you think I said that?”

This question gives them the chance to correct their statement and possibly remember what you said or didn’t say. What they call gossip might be what you feel is just a conversation. It’s more constructive to set the record straight, rather than to accuse them of lying.

Take action

You might notice constructive feedback sounds considerably more positive to the listener. When comments are negative in tone and sound more like scolding than guiding, people can feel disrespected and are less likely to change their behaviour. You can build mutually respectful relationships by maintaining a constructive approach.

Going forward, practice giving constructive criticism until it becomes a habit. 

Share this webpage with anyone who provides feedback.

Additional resources

Body language awareness. Learn how non-verbal communication – like body language, tone of voice, eye contact and facial expressions – is as important as our words in effective communication.

Choose your words. Learn how your choice of words can make a difficult conversation even more difficult.

Communicating with clarity. Learn how to adjust the intensity with which you communicate to help you get your message across clearly.

Strengthening relationships. Learn to build, maintain and deepen any relationship for a stronger connection.

Contributors include.articlesMary Ann BayntonWorkplace Strategies team 2007-2021

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