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How to give constructive criticism

Constructive criticism is feedback that makes specific, actionable suggestions on how to make positive improvements. It is clear, to the point, and easy to implement.

Constructive criticism can be part of implementing an improvement strategy to help employees, apprentices or trainees set and achieve their work goals. It also creates a positive atmosphere where people feel comfortable asking questions, seeking support, and offering their own feedback and ideas. Ultimately, constructive criticism can give your team the opportunity to better understand your expectations and meet or even exceed them.

Giving constructive criticism

Delivering constructive criticism can be an effective starting point for implementing improvement plans, setting objectives for skill development and increasing overall growth in the workplace. Consider the following strategies for giving direct and actionable feedback:

  • Use the sandwich method.
  • Use the “I” language strategy.
  • Focus on the action or behaviour.
  • Include specific positive praise.
  • Provide actionable feedback.
  • Use empathy.

The sandwich method

The sandwich method delivers constructive criticism between targeted statements of praise. This strategy begins with an assessment or appraisal of what the apprentice/trainee is doing well before discussing which areas of the apprentices/trainee’s performance need improvement. The critique then ends with another specific compliment. 

The sandwich strategy can be an effective way to provide actionable feedback. Consider a sandwich strategy for feedback by starting the conversation with compliments on success, high morale, or accomplished goals. Focus on delivering productive suggestions and improvement plans and offering your support before closing the conversation.

The "I" language strategy 

Using phrases such as "I think," "I feel," and "I would suggest" ensures that the person receiving the feedback understands that the criticism is about the situation or behaviour, and not about them personally. It also reinforces your point and lets the other person know how you view the situation. This will make it easier for others to separate the criticism from themselves and understand where you are coming from. 

By using "I" statements to provide constructive criticism, the possibility of misunderstanding is minimised. Focusing on how an action, outcome or work quality impacts your business/clients.  

Focus on the action or behaviour

When delivering constructive criticism, it is important to focus on the specific action, outcome, or behaviour that you would like to see improve. 

For example, if one of your apprentices is not performing tasks as quick as you’d expect, you would focus on a plan of action to help increase their efficiency and output. Speak to the apprentice and give clear guidance around the standard to which they’re being measured.  

It’s important to receive feedback from the apprentice/trainee to ensure their ability and your expectations are in line.  If not, additional training and support is required.  

An example of this would be to give the apprentice/trainee a time ‘budget’ for the assigned task. When giving a time expectation, refer to how long it would take a qualified or competent worker to complete the task.

Include specific positive praise

Offer specific praise for an apprentices/trainee’s productivity, performance, ability to exceed expectations or another success or achievement. This allows the apprentice/trainee to focus on the tasks and responsibilities that they perform satisfactorily or above standard. They can apply those strengths to plans of improvement you may implement for weaker skills or performance. Praising your apprentice/trainee often (when merited) will increase morale and motivation.

Provide actionable feedback

When implementing constructive criticism, it is important to provide feedback that your apprentice/trainee can take immediate action on to improve their performance, productivity, increase their skills or develop in other areas.

As a trainer you should discuss strategies that both you and your apprentice/trainee can use to work towards improvement.

Use empathy

An important key to constructive criticism is empathizing with the person who is receiving the feedback. Put yourself in their position and think about how you would want to hear the criticism and what specific words would be most helpful to you.

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