Ever been in a work situation where a colleague is presenting a stellar campaign idea to you — or at least, they think it’s stellar. Their eyes are shining as they speak, and they’re clearly very excited about it. As they come to the end of their presentation, they pause expectantly, waiting to hear your perspective. The only problem is, you have no idea how to tell them. You’re a passive person; you don’t even return wrong orders when you’re dining out! Forget asking a colleague to scrap an entire campaign.
This, my friend, is exactly the kind of situation where some well-thought-out constructive criticism can save the day.
But before we get into it, let’s make it abundantly clear what constructive criticism actually is.
Constructive criticism isn’t just feedback, it’s actionable feedback.
It’s about identifying the weak points in someone’s work and effectively communicating your opinion on how they can make it better.
Put simply, it means getting your point across without offending the other person.
There is a certain level of empathy you need to have, to be naturally good at giving constructive feedback. For most people, the problem with constructive criticism begins when they skip the constructive part and jump right into the critique. After all, it’s not exactly a skill that can be taught in school; it’s something you pick up on the go.
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And while we’re on the subject of business communication, knowing how to give feedback constructively is, in fact, an extremely important leadership skill in the business world. Knowing how to receive feedback is, in turn, equally important.
In a way, these concepts overlap; you give criticism the way you want to receive it. Simple enough, right? No? Let us break it down for you -
1. Lead with the good
There is something so vulnerable about putting work up for open critique. You don’t want the other person to feel discouraged about their work. This means pointing out the positives before getting into the negatives. Let them know that the work they’ve done is appreciated so that they feel encouraged to continue working on the project. Try ending on a good note as well, so that they don’t feel cornered. Lead with the good, end with the good, and wiggle in some constructive criticism in the middle.
2. Present actionable feedback
It is not enough to tell someone that their idea doesn’t work; you have to tell them exactly why it doesn’t work and what they can do about it.
For example, constructive criticism can sound like:
“I like how you’ve structured your idea, but it would connect better with our audience if you did this.”
And not, “This idea doesn’t work because it won’t connect with our audience.”
Remember, the aim is not to point out the flaws in their work but to highlight any room for improvement.
3. Objective over the subjective
When you take on the role of a critic, you need to put all your biases behind you. Whether you have a tiff with the person whose work you’re reviewing, or whether they’re your work bestie. Your personal relationship with them shouldn’t reflect in your feedback. Which means not going all Gordon Ramsay on your office rival.
Set objective parameters to benchmark the work against and give constructive feedback based on that. Think from a rational and neutral perspective rather than a personal one.
If you keep these points in mind, giving feedback at work will be a breeze. More importantly, people will come to trust your opinion and rely on you to give their work an honest look over.
When it comes to knowing how to receive feedback, of course, it’s a whole other story. Receiving feedback positively is equally essential when it comes to the workplace. You cannot always be the one doling out criticism with no room for self-improvement.
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4. Compose yourself
Let’s face it, none of us want criticism to begin with. Because we all treat our work and our ideas as our babies. These are the little creatures that our brain has created and, as it goes, we’re awfully fond of them. If someone comes up to us with criticism, our brain automatically sees them as Conan the Barbarian and goes into defensive mode.
But this is precisely the kind of mindset you have to tackle. You need to accept that criticism is the necessary evil your work has to go through before it becomes the best version of itself. Once you have this down, you can open up to criticism with a neutral mind.
5. Be a good listener
If your first reaction to criticism is to rebut the feedback, then you’re doing it wrong. Criticism isn’t a gateway to an argument; it’s simply a chance for you to get a third person's perspective on your work.
Remember, criticism doesn’t benefit the critic; you are the sole beneficiary here. So keep an open mind, listen to what is being said, and treat it as an opportunity rather than a challenge.
Of course, we’re not saying you shouldn’t fight for your work. The key is knowing where the line lies between valid criticism and uninformed feedback. Once you have these points down pat, you’ll be an absolute pro at giving and receiving feedback at work.