Giving criticism – the good, the bad, and the ugly!

photo credit: Dunny

When it comes to giving criticism, some of us are tight lipped and timid while others are blunt and outspoken. Yet if there is one thing we all share in common when it comes to giving criticism, it’s that most people are not very good at it! For example, have you ever been asked for your thoughts on something only to say “I like it!” when deep down inside you’re indifferent or you actually dislike it? Or, have you ever criticized someone or something and it led to an argument? Unfortunately, it’s in our nature to let our emotions speak first and our logic speak second, and this can lead to some big nasty problems when left unchecked. So how does one criticize without causing a fuss? Use constructive criticism!

Why giving criticism can be a good thing!

The good form of criticism is known as constructive criticism, it offers valid feedback both positive and negative. Giving constructive criticism can lend much needed assistance to an individual by giving them feedback on things that can be improved and issues that can be avoided. Giving constructive criticism can also help establish your credibility and expertise by ensuring that you know what you’re talking about, and the people who benefit from your constructive criticism will be more likely to credit you in some way or form for playing a part in their success. Constructive criticism can also keep feelings from being hurt by focusing on things that can be improved while avoiding personal attacks or insults.

So how does one give constructive criticism?

The most important thing to keep in mind when giving constructive criticism is to focus on valid and unbiased feedback. By valid feedback we’re talking about feedback that is tangible, credible, and well-founded. By unbiased feedback we’re talking about feedback that is free of individual opinion or personal tastes. The theory behind this is that your criticism is focused on concrete feedback instead of personal tastes or opinions because let’s face it, everyone has a different opinion on how something should be done. Ultimately you want to give criticism that is going to offer a potential improvement, and avoid criticism that is going to satisfying a personal desire (…because that’s just plain selfish, you egomaniac).

Another important thing to keep in mind when giving constructive criticism is to make your criticism clear, understandable, and relevant. Giving criticism can be stressful enough, so try not to make it worse by being ambiguous and have the conversation spiral out of control. If you’re going to criticize someone’s logo, elaborate on what exactly needs improvement or could be better; is it the font, letter-spacing, line-spacing, contrast, hue, size, style, alignment,et cetera . If your only response is “I don’t like it”, then chances are you’ll start an argument or get beat. The less ambiguous and more clear your criticism is, the better your chances of getting your feedback across and helping out your friend/acquaintance. So to recap:

If you want to give good constructive criticism, then…
1) focus on valid and unbiased feedback and…
2) make your criticism clear, understandable, and relevant.

Now for some examples!

The poor way of giving constructive criticism:

  1. That logo design sucks, who the heck would pay for something like that!?
  2. I hate red and green, why not use black and white instead!
  3. I can’t read the text.

The sexy way of giving constructive criticism:

  1. The balloon font used in the logo seems a bit too playful for your business, do you think a serif-font might be more professional?
  2. 10% of the male population has red-green colorblindness, you might want to ensure that your color scheme won’t turn away potential customers.
  3. There isn’t much contrast between the background and text color, and the font size is a bit small, so the text is difficult to read.

In closing…

Everyone has a different idea about the way things should be done and sometimes it’s not going to be possible for someone to implement a change for all the criticism you’ve suggested, so don’t take it personal if your constructive criticism isn’t implemented. Instead, rest assured that giving good constructive criticism will serve as a future resource and guide to whomever receives your feedback.

Just remember, in all its forms, criticism is an act of finding faults with something. When done badly, criticism can be devastating to a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. Yet when done correctly, criticism can result in positive benefits for all parties involved. As long as your constructive criticism remains valid, clear, and unbiased, you can be confident that your feedback will be gold!

The Closet Entrepreneur

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  1. Actually, I am looking for some criticism myself right now, along with some improving tips.

    But I have always found it a little difficult to criticize someone else. I feel like I don’t really have a right to do so in many cases; it is not like I am some sort of super expert.

  2. TOMAS

    J David, I know what you mean. Although keep in mind that you’re not trying to tell someone what they should or should not do, instead you focus on things that can be helpful and constructive. And it’s okay if you’re not an expert, even sharing lessons you’ve learned can be very helpful. Ultimately, it’s up to a person to make use of the constructive criticism.

    BTW, what kind of constructive criticism are you looking to get? Let me know if there’s anything I can help you out with, I’d be more than willing to lend any insight I have.

  3. Tracy

    Criticism is easier to offer however, the person on the receiving end of criticism has the tendancy to become defensive, upset, and unwilling to accept your feedback in the initial stage. The second stage is in processing criticism, the third stage is when the person begins to take action; make changes that prove to be beneficial to the receiver.

    Tip: Give criticism then close the case.

  4. Criticism, either destructive or constructive, do we really have the right? They say that everybody is entitled to his/her own opinions, shall we keep them to ourselves or tell people what we really think? Well, I think we should put more weight on our reasons of criticizing others. Whether the end justifies the means.

  5. Great blog post,

    I’ve been working on a web project (as the client) and it’s important to let others (internally) and the external (designer) know what this design might say or feel vs another.

    Thomas, I actually saw this blog post (recommended from my friends) on another’s blog where I was giving what will hopefully be seen as constructive criticism.

    Likewise I solicit friends and people who aren’t friends but are willing to give me CC. How can one improve w/ out feedback?

  6. doc

    As someone who has trouble both giving and receiving blunt criticism; here are a few things I have found to work and not work well:

    1)Make sure the setting is at least reasonably professional. Don’t start the criticism when the employees’ office door is wide open and they are due to see a client or patient who has arrived. Please try to show some sensitivity and empathy; barging in to an office pretending to be “casual” is asking for a defensive reaction.

    2) Try asking your colleague whether they would prefer to hear the “constructive feedback” or “positive performance comments (or however you want to put it) first. This way, you make clear that the employee will not be receiving a falsely skewed evaluation, but you give them some degree of control in their own learning process at the same time.

    3) Anonymous peer evaluations and e-mails are a terrible way to initiate constructive criticism. Absolutely terrible. And notes on someone’s desk are even worse. I even left a job over this once from the wounds it caused, and know others that did the same.

    Love your examples, BTW, thanks for sharing!

  7. Susan

    Thank you now I know how to give constructive criticism! ^^

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