How To Deliver Criticism - The Right Way

14 May 2018 by Kieran McLoone

Receiving or delivering feedback is vital in progressing your career. No man (or woman) is an island, and it’s only with the guidance of others that we can improve and achieve our goals.

But sometimes, feedback can feel like little more than a personal attack...if it isn’t delivered correctly. How do you go about constructively criticising somebody, instead of berating them?

Comment on Actionable Issues

Providing feedback that can be put into use immediately is the way to solve issues and move a project forwards.

It’s important to note things that can be fixed, and establish how to fix them. Rather than simply picking up on faults, good team-players and leaders offer guidance on how to improve.

Instead of: “Your blog headlines are scaring readers away.”

Try: “I think this might scare the audience, could you be slightly less fearmongering?”

Be Specific with Feedback

When giving feedback on an issue, make sure to be specific with what’s wrong so that it can be corrected as soon as possible.

If you’re vague when critiquing something, then whoever is receiving the feedback is left unsure of precisely what you want. This can lead to further issues – which is unnecessary, for what is a relatively easy fix.

Instead of: “I hate this, I don’t even know what it means.”

Try: “I’m not sure about the complex wording; have you tried something more simple?”

Focus on the Situation, Not on the Person

It’s easy to blame somebody for a mistake – that’s why scapegoats are so popular. But by pinning everything onto a single person or team, it demotivates them and increases the chance of problems in the future.

Instead of: Your project isn’t working and you need to delegate more.”

Try: “This project isn’t coming along as well as it could, so let’s try delegating work more.”

Use the Sandwich Method / PIP

The ‘sandwich method’, also known as Positive-Improvement-Positive (PIP), is a way of delivering criticism that prioritises positive enforcement.

It works in that whoever is receiving the feedback has an awareness of what they succeeded in, so that their shortcomings can be adjusted to be more in-line with their successes.

By initially giving praise, you make any feedback more digestible. Then, by following criticism up with praise or a suggestion, you make the whole experience a positive one.

Instead of: “You need to fix this, because it isn’t right.”

Try: “I like what you did with X, but perhaps Y needs something a little more exciting. If you do this, then Y will be up to the same standard as X.”

Use Passive Sentences (Instead of Active Ones)

It sounds simple, but framing the way you deliver feedback in a passive way, rather than an active voice, can make it come across as more empathetic.

Considering the ultimate goal of feedback is to help somebody improve, it’s always good to speak to somebody in a way that encourages positivity.

Instead of: “You could do it this way.”

Try: “It could be done in this way.”


Changing your methods on giving feedback could be the difference between 'Tyrant' and 'Friend'. Remember, happiness is always linked back to productivity. If you put someone down about their work when it needs changes, their mood won't inspire much improvment. 

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