Keep It Productive: How to Provide Constructive Criticism Without Coming Off as a Jerk

Have you ever received constructive criticism or “feedback” in the workplace? No matter your industry or area of expertise, receiving feedback—much of which isn’t as positive or uplifting as you’d probably like it to be—is just another part of being a working professional.


But what about when the shoe is on the other foot—have you ever been tasked with providing constructive criticism before? Whether you’re a seasoned sales manager with years of experience under your belt or have recently received a promotion and are now overseeing a team of employees, at one point or another, you’ll need to offer constructive criticism.


Needless to say, this is one of those things that’s easier said than done. Yes, The Sandwich Method is a great tool for helping smooth over the harshness of constructive criticism, but listeners are able to spot its application from well off in the distance.


So, what can be done? How can you have difficult conversations with the very people with whom you spend the majority of your time? There’s no need to be a jerk; there’s no need for things to be awkward. Below, you’ll find a few tips to help you provide constructive criticism without coming off as a grad-A jerk:


Talk About Situations and Characteristics—NOT Individuals


With this one, the key is detachment. When you attach poor performance, negativity or anything else of an unflattering nature directly to a person’s name, you often come off as being aggressive or confrontational. Naturally, in this kind of situation, people immediately go on the defensive, putting up figurative barriers all around them. Change can’t happen in this environment.


Instead, link your constructive critiques to situations and characteristics. Situations come and go and, though difficult, everyone has the ability to change or adjust a few of their more undesirable characteristics. Increase detachment by using passive voice and talking specifically about how the topic at hand affects you personally. Needless to say, be soft and considerate at all times.


Be as Specific as Possible


Here, the tendency is to dance around an uncomfortable issue, approaching it in the most roundabout way possible. While easier, rarely does this lead to long-term growth. Simply put, the more specific a person is with their feedback, the more actionable it appears.


Ultimately, what you’re looking to accomplish is a healthy level of mutual understanding. When an employee truly understands where you’re coming from and how his or her actions, attitude or poor performance is hindering workflow, they’re likely to not only listen, but adjust. Be direct and precise, but be sure to speak to others only in a way you’d want to be spoken to, as well.


Provide Actionable Recommendations for Improvement


This last point feeds off the one that precedes it—be specific. But don’t only zero in on the problems you’re regularly seeing; make it a point to provide concrete takeaways to fix the issue that’s being discussed.


You see this in politics and mass media all the time—anybody can point out problems. Take your pick; they’re all around you. Don’t take the easy way out. Be the kind of leader people want to follow and provide actionable recommendations for timely improvement.




Constructive criticism isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so the more quickly you can learn to use it as an effective teaching tool, the better. Remember—these are real conversations with real people. Whenever it comes time to have a less than favorable talk with someone, show how much you genuinely care. There’s no substitute for kindness.


I’ve said my piece, and now it’s time for you to say yours! In the comments section below, let me know what methods you use to make your constructive critiques more helpful. Or, if you’d rather reach out directly, feel free to connect with me through Facebook, Twitter or email. Talk soon!



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