How to give praise instead of criticism

When you coach someone or conduct a performance appraisal, where do you tend to focus? Probably on “opportunities for improvement,” right? Sure, you mention some positive things, but we’ll bet you spend much more time talking about faults and shortcomings. If you do, you’re only human. Paying more attention to what’s wrong isn’t wrong-headed or […]

When you coach someone or conduct a performance appraisal, where do you tend to focus? Probably on “opportunities for improvement,” right? Sure, you mention some positive things, but we’ll bet you spend much more time talking about faults and shortcomings. If you do, you’re only human. Paying more attention to what’s wrong isn’t wrong-headed or […]

When you coach someone or conduct a performance appraisal, where do you tend to focus? Probably on “opportunities for improvement,” right? Sure, you mention some positive things, but we’ll bet you spend much more time talking about faults and shortcomings.

If you do, you’re only human. Paying more attention to what’s wrong isn’t wrong-headed or perverse. In fact, you could say you do it because, in your experience, criticism produces better results than praise. Criticism is more often followed by improved performance; and praise is often followed by performance that’s not as good. Hence, you think, praise might be nice and you need to do some of it, but when it comes to improving people’s performance, criticism is the best tool for the job.

Unfortunately, this is one of those areas where the lessons of experience aren’t obvious — and can even be misleading. Your observation that criticism is more often followed by improvement is probably accurate. But what’s going on isn’t what you think. In fact, it’s something called “regression to the mean” and if you don’t understand it, you and your people will be its victims.

Human performance is never completely consistent. That’s true of a violinist, a gymnast, a university lecturer, and it’s true of everyone who works for you — and of you, too. No one performs at their best or worst every day. We all know this and it’s why we assess the true greatness of, say, a soccer player not by her performance in a single game but over a full season or even a playing career. In other words, we look at that player’s average performance over time — or, to use the statistician’s term, her mean performance.

If you track someone’s performance task by task, you’ll discover that a great performance, one that’s far above the person’s average or mean, is usually followed by a less-inspiring performance that’s closer to the mean. It works the same the other way. A terrible performance is usually followed by something better. No one’s making or causing this to happen. It’s part of the variability built into human activity, especially when doing something even moderately complex.

The problems and misperceptions arise when we forget this. Why would we forget something so obvious? Because even when we know performance can vary widely around a mean, we tend to give greater weight to someone’s most recent performance. Unconsciously, we consider it a better indicator of overall capability than what happened two days ago or last week. Our minds tend to overrate the importance or accuracy of the latest, most easily available, or most prominent information.

When you put these two together, you can see why criticism seems to work better than praise.

Consider some important and moderately difficult task performed regularly by someone who works for you. Let’s say you can rate his performance on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best, and that his average performance over the past months has been only five. So you begin monitoring his work and giving him either positive or negative feedback, criticism or praise, after every performance.

Consequently, when he performs worse than average, since performance naturally varies around a mean, he most likely will perform better the next time even if you say or do nothing — because his performance will naturally regress or move toward his mean or average level. However, since you criticized his performance, you will (mistakenly) conclude that he improved because of your criticism, and you’ll be convinced of this because his latest performance (the latest information you have) will receive great weight in your mind.

In the same way, when your person performs above his mean level, he most likely will perform worse the next time even if you say or do nothing — because, again, his performance is regressing to the mean. Yet, because the poorer performance followed your praise, you’ll conclude it was caused by praise.

Even if you don’t notice these apparent connections consciously, you’re aware of them intuitively. And the most likely consequence will be that you criticize far more than you praise.

Unfortunately, that’s a poor recipe for reaching your goal — improving someone’s average performance. A lot of evidence suggests that positive reinforcement — identifying and building on strengths — will produce better results than a relentless focus on faults. This is important. To improve, people need positive feedback. It’s just as important to recognize and reinforce their strengths as it is to point out where they’re falling short. And you need to understand why praise can seem dysfunctional, so you don’t withhold it.

Don’t be misled by experience. Its real lessons aren’t always obvious, and finding them often requires thought, reflection, and analysis. Only when you’re fully aware of what’s happening, and why, can you make the best choice. In this case, that means giving praise as quickly as you criticize.

Reporter, Quartz at Work

Getting feedback from your coworkers is scary. A leader at one of my previous jobs once said that my emotional stability fell somewhere between that of a squalling infant and pubescent teen. (Cool, cool.) Now research shows that not only are most managers bad at giving constructive criticism—they’re even less likely to give constructive praise.

In two surveys conducted by leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman, each of nearly 8,000 managers, 44% of managers reported that they found it stressful and difficult to give negative feedback. One-fifth avoid the practice entirely. Even more surprisingly, nearly 40% of leaders conceded to never giving positive reinforcement, either.

That’s a big problem—both for employees and for their boss’s ability to manage them effectively. The study found that a boss’s willingness to give positive feedback was the strongest predictor of whether their direct reports perceive them to be effective, honest communicators. (Managers’ comfort giving negative feedback barely influenced this perception.) Ironically, managers who report regularly giving negative feedback were most likely to believe they gave “honest, straightforward feedback,” regardless of whether they also used positive reinforcement.

Most leaders “vastly underestimate the power and necessity of positive reinforcement,” Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman, CEO and president of Zenger/Folkman, write in Harvard Business Review. An abundance of research shows that giving positive feedback increases employees’ sense that they’re learning and growing at their jobs, makes them feel valued, and leads to increased confidence and competence. A 2015 Gallup survey found that 67% of employees whose managers communicated their strengths were fully engaged in their work, as compared to 31% of employees whose managers only communicated their weaknesses. One study found that high-performing teams receive nearly six times more positive feedback than less effective teams—evidence that positive reinforcement really does help the bottom line.

So why do managers shy away from a seemingly simple way to motivate their employees? Zenger says that some fear that offering positive feedback will create close relationships with employees they may need to fire in the future. Others think positive feedback will be interpreted as “blowing smoke,” or utterly disingenuous. And unfortunately, some managers see positive feedback as “un-macho”—a sign of weakness in competitive, male-dominated industries.

“The final reason, I suspect, is that when you begin to pass on approbation and positive feedback, you are setting yourself up as a judge toward the other person,” Zenger says in an interview, “and many of us resist being in that position.” It takes self-confidence to tell another person what they’re good at and why, with the underlying implication that you’re in a position to be able to discern such things.

But once you overcome potential emotional barriers to giving praise, there’s a pretty simple formula for offering positive feedback: Be specific, discuss the impact of the other person’s behavior, and show your gratitude.

General compliments like “Awesome job on that presentation,” or “You’re a great writer” may make an employee feel good, but they rarely shape long-term behavior and competency. When praising a colleague, it’s essential to single out the specific behavior or trait you observed and when you observed it, says Zenger. For example: “In last week’s meeting, I noticed you were willing to question the CEO’s vision for our pod’s sales goals—I really appreciate your confidence.”

Such clarity allows the recipient to reflect on and internalize specific behaviors, without over- or underestimating their general competency. This specificity is especially important when offering praise for uncommon behaviors (like questioning a CEO). If employees don’t know that they were right to take a risk, they may shy away from repeating it in the future for fear that they’ll be judged.

It’s also key to communicate why you’re praising someone. Managers should always convey how an employee’s behavior positively impacts the performance of the organization or team, says Zenger. This context helps instill confidence instead of arrogance by linking an individual’s positive behavior to collective goals. It’s always nice to be told you’re talented. But for the purposes of getting good work done, you’re far more likely to be motivated by knowing that because you buckled down and met a tough deadline, you saved the company from losing a big client.

The praise you offer can be short, and should always end with a personalized “thank you,” says Zenger. Employees who feel valued report better physical and mental health, and higher levels of work engagement, satisfaction, and motivation.

And whenever possible, Zenger says, it’s best to give constructive praise in person. “Effective leadership is all about making an emotional connection with people in order to have a greater amount of influence,” he says. “There’s no better platform for feedback, positive or negative, then a face-to-face discussion, given the impact of body language and tone of voice.” We all assign a lot of weight to nonverbal cues, no matter what’s being said: Studies show that people who receive positive feedback coupled with negative emotional cues, like narrowed eyes, feel worse about their performance than people who receive negative feedback paired with a smile.

While I was working on this article, my own team decided on an experiment: We created a Google document where each of us did our best to call out one concrete quality or skill that we really appreciated in our colleagues, and explain how it’s affected the team or our work. Though we get along well and admire each other greatly, the challenge immediately felt foreign. One colleague suggested keeping the feedback anonymous—evidence of how uncomfortable it can be to get honest with your coworkers, even when you’re saying good things.

I found myself periodically refreshing the doc, giddy to see what my coworkers thought about each other, but wary to read about myself. My editor and I both admitted to feeling strangely embarrassed while reading compliments others had given us, perhaps because we’ve so deeply internalized the narrative—especially as women—that modesty and self-effacement are fundamental to success. But we got over it: The exercise was heartwarming, and as one colleague noted, “Reading about other people’s strengths makes me realize the specific ways I want to improve.”

In-person feedback is great, but we also found merit in written praise. “I really liked having to consciously think about and put into words what I loved about my colleagues,” said one editor. “The process of writing it out (versus verbal feedback) made me think about it a lot more and reflect, and knowing it wasn’t ephemeral and that it could be referred back to, and not interpreted in a thousand different ways, is good too.”

One thing is clear: Giving and receiving feedback can make you feel pretty vulnerable. But it’s worth taking the emotional risk to let your colleagues know just what you value about them. As my editor said, “Giving positive feedback is like giving a present—you fuss over it and worry maybe the other person won’t like it, but really, it makes both of you feel good.”

A good leader knows how to give feedback and praise. Just ask Kim Scott, whose TED Talk on Radical Candor, transformed our understanding of what it means to be a good boss. Certainly, criticism may be hard to take, but withholding feedback doesn’t do anyone any favors. Scott’s “radical candor” encourages honesty, but doing it well takes practice.

Feedback vs. Criticism

How to give praise instead of criticismCoaches, trainers, managers and leaders need to find that sweet spot — the middle ground where they share important feedback but also preserve the recipient’s self confidence. The “Feedback sandwich” (say something positive, then critical, then positive) is not necessarily a magic bullet. Luckily, Dawn Holzer and Linda Smith, organizational development specialists, developed CaseCard Situations and Solutions so that managers can practice giving feedback (upward, downward, or peer-to-peer) before they’re face-to-face with a colleague, addressing an important issue. CaseCards provide an array of practice opportunities, as does the Feedback Game, allowing users to try new techniques, make mistakes, and hone their skill.

Praise

If the only feedback you ever give is criticism, your team will quickly know to equate “feedback” with “criticism.” However, positive feedback is also critical for success. Several studies have been conducted over the years, which focus on the benefits of praise. In 2004, Chalk & Bizo found that levels of on-task behavior were significantly greater when praise was given for a specific behavior, rather than general praise. In a 2005 study, Keller, Brady & Taylor found that praise increased student motivation, accuracy of responding & task persistence. So praise is not just about being nice and balancing out your criticism. Praise is essential, in and of itself.

To get the most mileage out of giving positive feedback, consider these 7 tips:

  1. Recognize specific behaviors – keep it credible and meaningful by identifying details that you noticed.
  2. Share praise publicly – extend the praise by allowing others to overhear your recognition. They too, can then reiterate the accolades and be inspired to act in praiseworthy ways.
  3. Offer praise frequently – don’t save praise for a momentous occasion. Instead, recognize small successes, as well as efforts to grow and change.
  4. Praise people behind their back – some suggest you should tell someone else that a person did well. They will inevitably hear about it through the grapevine and the praise will be perceived as more believable. Personally, I prefer the direct method.
  5. Make sure the praise is meaningful – don’t give praise for something silly or too effortless or the praise won’t be valued by the recipient.
  6. Create a culture of appreciation – encourage peers, siblings, colleagues and friends to give one another positive feedback.
  7. Keep it simple – don’t create a cumbersome process for recognition. All you really need is a kind word, a quick note or email.

Great tools for sharing praise

How to give praise instead of criticismPositive reinforcement does not require a huge amount of time or a large budget. Try some of these playful and easy-to-implement resources:

  1. Use your words – I remember telling my toddlers to “use their words.” The same goes for us grown ups! Take the time to say “Thank you!”
  2. Tokens of Appreciation – Share a token that says “Token of Appreciation – pass it along!” The small coin will be a reminder of the appreciated actions and the importance of spreading the sentiment!
  3. Kudos Notes – try a memo note, where all you have to do it check a box and sign your name!
  4. Mini Kudos Notes – leave a little sticky-note that just says “thanks”

The element of surprise

If a teacher was concerned about a student’s progress, he or she would not wait until after the final exam to discuss those observations. Similarly, recipients of feedback, especially “constructive criticism,” should be made aware of issues rapidly, as they arise, and not be surprised months later at a performance review. Positive feedback, on the other hand, is always a welcome surprise and should be given without restraint. For more recognition tools, visit Trainers Warehouse (or our friends at Baudville). You might also want to take a look at Pinterest for tons of do-it-yourself recognition ideas. This link will take you to our collection of favorite “candy kudos” ideas.

As a final note, let me compliment YOU on reading through to the end of this post!

By Derek Irvine March 19, 2013 July 22, 2015

We all know the compliment sandwich is a bad idea as it sends employees confusing mixed messages (“Am I doing a good job or not?”).

We also all know that constructive criticism is important, otherwise how could we improve or know what is most important for us to focus our efforts on to improve?

But what’s the right ratio of constructive criticism to praise and recognition? It’s certainly not 1:1 or even 2:1. The proper ratio is nearly 6:1 praise to criticism.

Research reported in Harvard Business Review’s blog measured the “effectiveness” of strategic business unit leadership teams using the “financial performance, customer satisfaction ratings, and 360-degree feedback ratings of the team members.”

The number one determing factor between the least successful teams and the most successful? – the ratio of positive comments to negative comments.

From the research:

The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6 (that is, nearly six positive comments for every negative one). The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9 (almost twice as many positive comments than negative ones.) But the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one.”

The proper role of negative feedback

That doesn’t mean negative feedback doesn’t play an important role. We all need to know when we’re veering off course so we can adjust and realign.

As the HBR article puts it:

Article Continues Below

Negative feedback is important when we’re heading over a cliff to warn us that we’d really better stop doing something horrible or start doing something we’re not doing right away. But even the most well-intentioned criticism can rupture relationships and undermine self-confidence and initiative. It can change behavior, certainly, but it doesn’t cause people to put forth their best efforts.”

When to use positive feedback

Negative feedback resets direction, but it does not inspire or motivate to greater success. If that’s your goal, then you’d best incorporate positive feedback, praise and appreciation into your communications with your team.

Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity. Perhaps that’s why we have found with the vast majority of the leaders in our database, who have no outstanding weaknesses, that positive feedback is what motivates them to continue improvement.”

In other words, how do you keep motivating your top performers who are already great and don’t need correction? Positive feedback.

What’s the ratio of negative to positive feedback on your team

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

How to give praise instead of criticism

Derek Irvine

Derek Irvine is senior vice president of client strategy and consulting at Workhuman, where he leads the company’s consulting and analytics divisions. His writing is regularly featured across major HR publications, including HR Magazine, Human Resource Executive, HR Zone, and Workspan.

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A good rule of thumb for guidance is praise in public, criticize in private.

Public criticism tends to trigger a defensive reaction and make it much harder for a person to accept they’ve made a mistake and to learn from it.

Public praise tends to lend more weight to the praise, and it encourages others to emulate whatever was great. However, this is a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast rule.

For those of you who find mnemonics helpful, these are the fifth of our six tips for giving Radically Candid feedback. Be HIP, or HHIIPP.

How to give praise instead of criticism

Public praise is great for both recognition and learning. When you share specifically what was great and why it was great publicly, not only does it have more meaning for the person being praised, it helps the whole team learn something new.

Make sure to provide details about what the person did, the impact, and the context so that the whole team learns.

For example, don’t say, “Alex did a great job.” Instead say, “Alex came up with the idea for X and then got budget for it. As a result, you are all 85% more efficient. That means less grunt work and more time for cool projects for everyone. Thank you Alex!”

Private criticism is important in order to be kind and clear. Radical Candor is not the same thing as “front-stabbing”, and it’s much kinder to criticize someone in private.

Public criticism can feel unnecessarily harsh. Private criticism will also be more clear because it’s much less likely to trigger a person’s defense mechanisms.

Defensive reactions make it much harder for a person to accept they’ve made a mistake and to learn from it.

However, “Public Praise / Private Criticism” is a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast rule. The key things to keep top of mind are these basic questions:

Are you showing that you Care Personally?

Are you Challenging Directly?

If the answer to those questions is yes, you’re in good shape, even if you’re violating the rule of thumb. Consider these possible exceptions:

Individual preferences

While the majority of people do like to be praised in public, for a few any kind of public mention is cruel and unusual punishment. When praising people your goal is to let them know what they did well as clearly as possible and in the way that will be best for them — not the way you’d like to hear it.

Remember, Radical Candor is measured at the listener’s ear, not the speaker’s mouth.”

That’s why we recommend a variation on the Golden Rule for feedback. If the Golden Rule is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” it’s better to “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them” when giving feedback.

When you are focused on caring personally, you will naturally be more aware of the other person’s preferences and adjusting for these preferences is easy.

Group learning

You may want to consider the opportunity for group learning for both praise and criticism. Praising in public has the great effect of showing everyone what success looks like so that they can learn from the accomplishments of others.

Whenever I praise in public, I like to be explicit about this public learning, saying something like, “Because I want to make sure all of you learn from what Jane did, I’m going to reiterate what I said in All-Hands today.”

When I want to encourage public criticism so that everyone learns from each other’s mistakes, I let it be self-reported. I try to make people feel comfortable admitting mistakes by building a culture of self-criticism.

You are the exception to the rule

Great bosses don’t criticize in public, and they discourage employees from criticizing each other in public. However, they encourage employees to criticize them in public. Getting criticized in public gives the boss an opportunity to model appreciation for the criticism, to accept it as a gift.

Great bosses encourage employees to criticize them in public.”

It also saves time — if one person has a criticism of you, it’s likely others do as well. You can address that issue for everyone all at once if you do it in public.

Finally, there’s one boss and a lot of employees so it’s harder to get on the boss’s calendar — employees have got to catch as catch can, and sometimes that means in public.

Multiple modes

Praising people at a public all-hands meeting is a great way to share significant accomplishments. Following this up with a public email to the whole team solidifies the praise even more.

But that doesn’t mean you only have to praise publicly. Following up your public praise with another mention of the accomplishment one on one carries a lot of emotional weight and shows that you Care Personally.

What do you think of these exceptions? What are your tips and reminders for praising publicly and criticizing privately?

*This post was updated April 5, 2022

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How to give praise instead of criticism

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“A simple, three-part formula for praise is the secret to a high-performing team.

Getting feedback from your coworkers is scary. A leader at one of my previous jobs once said that my emotional stability fell somewhere between that of a squalling infant and pubescent teen. (Cool, cool.) Now research shows that not only are most managers bad at giving constructive criticism—they’re even less likely to give constructive praise.

In two surveys conducted by leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman, each of nearly 8,000 managers, 44% of managers reported that they found it stressful and difficult to give negative feedback. One-fifth avoid the practice entirely. Even more surprisingly, nearly 40% of leaders conceded to never giving positive reinforcement, either.

That’s a big problem—both for employees and for their boss’s ability to manage them effectively. The study found that a boss’s willingness to give positive feedback was the strongest predictor of whether their direct reports perceive them to be effective, honest communicators. (Managers’ comfort giving negative feedback barely influenced this perception.) Ironically, managers who report regularly giving negative feedback were most likely to believe they gave “honest, straightforward feedback,” regardless of whether they also used positive reinforcement.

Most leaders “vastly underestimate the power and necessity of positive reinforcement,” Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman, CEO and president of Zenger/Folkman, write in Harvard Business Review. An abundance of research shows that giving positive feedback increases employees’ sense that they’re learning and growing at their jobs, makes them feel valued, and leads to increased confidence and competence. A 2015 Gallup survey found that 67% of employees whose managers communicated their strengths were fully engaged in their work, as compared to 31% of employees whose managers only communicated their weaknesses. One study found that high-performing teams receive nearly six times more positive feedback than less effective teams—evidence that positive reinforcement really does help the bottom line.

So why do managers shy away from a seemingly simple way to motivate their employees? Zenger says that some fear that offering positive feedback will create close relationships with employees they may need to fire in the future. Others think positive feedback will be interpreted as “blowing smoke,” or utterly disingenuous. And unfortunately, some managers see positive feedback as “un-macho”—a sign of weakness in competitive, male-dominated industries.

“The final reason, I suspect, is that when you begin to pass on approbation and positive feedback, you are setting yourself up as a judge toward the other person,” Zenger says in an interview, “and many of us resist being in that position.” It takes self-confidence to tell another person what they’re good at and why, with the underlying implication that you’re in a position to be able to discern such things.

But once you overcome potential emotional barriers to giving praise, there’s a pretty simple formula for offering positive feedback: Be specific, discuss the impact of the other person’s behavior, and show your gratitude.

General compliments like “Awesome job on that presentation,” or “You’re a great writer” may make an employee feel good, but they rarely shape long-term behavior and competency. When praising a colleague, it’s essential to single out the specific behavior or trait you observed and when you observed it, says Zenger. For example: “In last week’s meeting, I noticed you were willing to question the CEO’s vision for our pod’s sales goals—I really appreciate your confidence.”

Such clarity allows the recipient to reflect on and internalize specific behaviors, without over- or underestimating their general competency. This specificity is especially important when offering praise for uncommon behaviors (like questioning a CEO). If employees don’t know that they were right to take a risk, they may shy away from repeating it in the future for fear that they’ll be judged.

It’s also key to communicate why you’re praising someone. Managers should always convey how an employee’s behavior positively impacts the performance of the organization or team, says Zenger. This context helps instill confidence instead of arrogance by linking an individual’s positive behavior to collective goals. It’s always nice to be told you’re talented. But for the purposes of getting good work done, you’re far more likely to be motivated by knowing that because you buckled down and met a tough deadline, you saved the company from losing a big client.

The praise you offer can be short, and should always end with a personalized “thank you,” says Zenger. Employees who feel valued report better physical and mental health, and higher levels of work engagement, satisfaction, and motivation.

And whenever possible, Zenger says, it’s best to give constructive praise in person. “Effective leadership is all about making an emotional connection with people in order to have a greater amount of influence,” he says. “There’s no better platform for feedback, positive or negative, then a face-to-face discussion, given the impact of body language and tone of voice.” We all assign a lot of weight to nonverbal cues, no matter what’s being said: Studies show that people who receive positive feedback coupled with negative emotional cues, like narrowed eyes, feel worse about their performance than people who receive negative feedback paired with a smile.

While I was working on this article, my own team decided on an experiment: We created a Google document where each of us did our best to call out one concrete quality or skill that we really appreciated in our colleagues, and explain how it’s affected the team or our work. Though we get along well and admire each other greatly, the challenge immediately felt foreign. One colleague suggested keeping the feedback anonymous—evidence of how uncomfortable it can be to get honest with your coworkers, even when you’re saying good things.

I found myself periodically refreshing the doc, giddy to see what my coworkers thought about each other, but wary to read about myself. My editor and I both admitted to feeling strangely embarrassed while reading compliments others had given us, perhaps because we’ve so deeply internalized the narrative—especially as women—that modesty and self-effacement are fundamental to success. But we got over it: The exercise was heartwarming, and as one colleague noted, “Reading about other people’s strengths makes me realize the specific ways I want to improve.”

In-person feedback is great, but we also found merit in written praise. “I really liked having to consciously think about and put into words what I loved about my colleagues,” said one editor. “The process of writing it out (versus verbal feedback) made me think about it a lot more and reflect, and knowing it wasn’t ephemeral and that it could be referred back to, and not interpreted in a thousand different ways, is good too.”

One thing is clear: Giving and receiving feedback can make you feel pretty vulnerable. But it’s worth taking the emotional risk to let your colleagues know just what you value about them. As my editor said, “Giving positive feedback is like giving a present—you fuss over it and worry maybe the other person won’t like it, but really, it makes both of you feel good.”

How to give praise instead of criticism

Striking the balance between constructive criticism and praise can be difficult to achieve, but both are necessary if you want to help people improve. Whether you’re trying to help a child struggling with homework, improve the quality of a colleague’s work, or help a friend get better at art or sports, knowing how to properly critique a situation is essential. In this blog, we will look at several tips for giving criticism & praise effectively.

Discuss The Situation

No matter how carefully you choose your words or how delicate you may think you’re being, people can be very sensitive to any sort of criticism. Causing offense would be extremely counterproductive, which is why you should discuss the situation as a whole rather than focus on the role they played in it.

For example, telling a retail worker that they were rude to a customer or didn’t push hard enough for a sale would likely hurt them, and could make them less confident the next time around. Instead, you should advise them of how to deal with that sort of customer, or give them a few tips on how to turn things around when a customer says no. Discussing the situation puts a bit of distance between the criticism and the person receiving it, and will make them feel more like you are giving them helpful, insider knowledge, rather than criticising their performance.

Give Actionable Criticism

The very purpose of criticism is to help someone improve, so it is crucial to only criticise those things that can be changed. For example, you may not like the fact that a colleague gets sweaty and red-faced when giving a presentation, but they can’t help that, and bringing it up will only knock their confidence. However, if you feel that the content of their presentation needs to improve, that is something they can work at, and something you can offer help with.

The Sandwich Method

The sandwich method is a very popular way of cushioning the blow from any sort of criticism. This technique involves sandwiching the criticism between two positive statements. It might sound basic or even juvenile, but it is a very effective method as it sets a very different tone to giving criticism alone.

The best way to use the sandwich method is to start off by giving praise, and following that up with ‘but here’s how you could improve’. Then, when you have given the criticism, reiterate the praise and discuss how the situation will have improved once your advice has been taken on board.

Offering praise & criticism can sometimes feel like walking a tightrope, but following the tips above should help you deliver it in a more effective and less offensive way. It won’t always be well received, but as long as you haven’t crossed any lines or been too harsh, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you were being fair.

How to give praise instead of criticism

Giving constructive criticism is something every manager must learn to do. In many cases, the recipient of the criticism will be an employee. But, for professional services directors and client managers, situations may arise in which you need to offer constructive criticism to a client — a daunting task that requires delicate handling.

So, what are some best practices for giving constructive criticism to clients and employees? Read on to find out!

How to give constructive criticism to an employee

For many new managers, the thought of giving constructive criticism to an employee may seem intimidating. Even the most seasoned managers may find it challenging to deliver honest feedback to employees in certain situations. But, the truth is that constructive criticism is a normal and necessary part of the manager-employee relationship.

In a lot of instances, knowing what not to do can be just as important as knowing what to do for a given project or task. If managers simply avoided giving constructive criticism when needed, employees would be at risk of continuously making costly, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous mistakes.

What’s more, it actually turns out that employees want to hear constructive criticism more than they want to hear positive feedback. One Harvard Business Review study found that 57% of workers preferred constructive criticism while 43% preferred praise or recognition. Additionally, 72% of those surveyed said they “thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback.”

Knowing that your employees want to hear honest feedback should help ease your anxiety. But here are a few other considerations to help make the feedback session as smooth and painless as possible.

  • Don’t make it personal
    This is probably the most important tenet when it comes to delivering constructive criticism. Never focus on the employee’s personality; rather, talk about their actions and what can be done to improve.
  • Be specific
    It’s always best to be as specific as possible in your feedback. Instead of speaking in generalities, pick out concrete examples of behaviors or situations that illustrate your points.
  • Ensure you’re on the same page
    Along with being specific, you want to ensure your team member is clear about expectations moving forward. One great way to do this is by simply asking the person to tell you what their takeaways are before concluding the feedback session.
  • Keep it positive
    Keeping the tone of the feedback positive can also help make delivering it a little easier. For instance, instead of saying something like, “you never give any input during meetings,” you could say, “I’d love to hear you speak up more in meetings.”
  • Make it a dialogue
    Instead of making the feedback a one-way monologue, make it a dialogue by asking the recipient for their perspective on things. Not only will this make them feel valued, it will also go a long way in building rapport.

How to offer constructive criticism to a client

As a manager, giving constructive criticism to an employee is a normal and expected part of the job. But delivering constructive criticism to a client can be intimidating for even the most experienced managers and directors.

Fortunately, the same principles that apply to critiquing team members apply when critiquing clients. Here are a few additional thoughts to help you prepare to deliver honest feedback to your paying clients:

  • Keep constructive criticism between you and the recipient
    Just like with an employee, it’s poor form to critique a client publicly or in front of other team members or clients. Make sure you schedule a private meeting, whether in person or via phone or video call.
  • Be accurate
    This one goes hand-in-hand with being specific. Using specific examples will help the client understand exactly what you’re saying. Any supporting documentation you can provide will ensure that you’re accurate in your assessment of the situation.
  • Be prepared
    Of course, you can’t be accurate or specific if you aren’t prepared. It’s never a good idea to give feedback off the cuff, as you’re more likely to be in an emotional state or visibly upset. Give yourself time to cool off by preparing for the feedback session and gathering up any documentation or supporting evidence you need.

How to write constructive criticism

When it comes to delivering constructive criticism in writing, the guidelines discussed above all apply. Being as specific and accurate as possible while keeping things positive and never personal will serve you well when offering written feedback. It’s also important to keep the conversation between you and the intended recipient private whenever possible.

Keeping the conversation private is easy when using email. But many collaborative work management solutions, including Wrike, offer live editing tools on projects. That means that employees and managers alike need to be careful when posting comments on projects with shared visibility.

If you’d like to learn more about how Wrike makes collaboration between project teams and clients a snap, start a free two-week trial today!

You can’t be a Great Boss if you shy away from giving feedback, both positive and negative. When you see something, you must say something. Failing to say something speaks volumes about what is important to you.

It’s probably no surprise that employees would prefer feedback to be positive. But what may surprise you is that employees would rather have negative feedback than no feedback at all. Despite this, many bosses confess that they’re not particularly good at giving genuine praise or helpful criticism.

What Type of Boss Are You?

Although not part of the EOS ® process, below are some insights into the type of Boss you might be. If you recognize yourself in any of the traits below it might be why your employees are not performing to your expectations:

“The Cheerleader” often praises people for their efforts even when goals and objectives aren’t met. They think that criticism demoralizes people while praise motivates them. They run from confrontation, not understanding that healthy conflict creates clarity. Their praise becomes tiresome because it’s disingenuous and unearned. The “criticism vacuum” leads to mediocrity, poor morale and the blame game.

“The Poor Boss” just doesn’t get it. He or she has low emotional capacity and lack of empathy for others. They have a “Just do your job – that’s what I pay you for” attitude. The resulting “feedback vacuum” leaves people wondering how to do things and why they’re doing them.

“The Taskmaster” is afraid that praise will lead to complacency and an expectation that the person will expect a reward … like a pay increase. The “praise vacuum” leaves people wondering if they’ll ever meet expectations because great results aren’t recognized and never seem to be good enough.

How To Give Praise and Criticism Like a Great Boss

Great Bosses give both genuine praise and helpful criticism they understand how vitally important giving genuine praise and helpful criticism is to build a healthy organization and a culture of accountability.

And here’s how:How to give praise instead of criticism

  1. Praise in public and criticize in private – don’t mix these up;
  2. Praise more than criticize – think of it as your checking account, maintain a positive balance;
  3. Praise “period” – never end praise with “but” or “however”;
  4. Criticize the bad behavior or poor results, not the person;
  5. Criticize to help someone improve not to destroy their confidence;
  6. Be timely with both praise and criticism;
  7. Make it real – give examples of how the behavior or performance has helped or hurt the team.

I encourage you to give genuine praise and helpful criticism. So, when you see something, say something. And, make it memorable. Doing so is one of the Management Practices critical to be a Great Boss.

In his internationally bestselling book How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie teaches you how to boost your confidence and master any conversation. Amy Fisken investigates the practical advice he offers to help give constructive criticism.

Amy Fisken

How to give praise instead of criticism

Begin with praise and honest appreciation

If you start your conversation with words of appreciation it will help soften the blow. Carnegie believes, ‘Beginning with praise is like the dentist who begins his work with Novocain. The patient still gets a drilling but the Novocain is pain killing.’

Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly

People too often follow their praise with ‘but’ and end with a critical statement. This makes the original praise appear insincere and contrived. Carnegie suggests that we instead substitute ‘but’ for ‘and’. He uses an example, ‘We’re really proud of you for raising your grades this term, and by continuing the same efforts next term, your algebra grade can be up with all the others.’ Here, we have called attention to the behaviour we wish to change indirectly, and the chances are the person will try and live up to our expectations.

Talk about your own mistakes before criticising the other person

If you do have to highlight someone’s faults, you should do so humbly. If the person criticising begins by admitting the fact that they themselves are far from perfect it will be less difficult to listen to a recital of your own faults.

Ask questions instead of giving direct orders

By asking questions you often stimulate the creativity of others. Carnegie believes that, ‘People are more likely to accept an order if they have had a part in the decision that caused the order to be issued.’

Let the other person save face

The importance of allowing someone to save face can’t be underestimated. Too often people ‘ride roughshod over the feelings of others, getting our own way, finding fault, issuing threats, criticising a child or an employee in front of others, without even considering the hurt to the other person’s pride.’ If we considered the other person’s feelings it would go a long way in alleviating the sting.

Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement

We should take the opportunity to praise even the smallest improvement in ability. By doing so it inspires the other person to make a continued effort and to keep on improving. Carnegie writes, ‘Abilities wither under criticism; they blossom under encouragement.’

Give the other person a reputation to live up to

If there is a certain area in which you wish someone to improve, Carnegie believes you should act as though that particular trait was already one of his or her outstanding characteristics. If you give them a reputation to live up to, they will make a determined effort rather than see you let down.

Use encouragement, make the fault seem easy to correct

Be liberal with your encouragement, let the other person know that you believe in their ability to take the required action and that the necessary changes are easy to carry out. By doing so they will be more inclined to practise and they will not see the problem as insurmountable.

Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest

Ultimately, people are often motivated by personal gain. Concentrate on the benefits to the other person and be empathetic. Ask yourself what it is that the other person really wants and convey to them that they will personally benefit from taking action.

When giving negative feedback, is it better to start with the admonition and end with a compliment, or vice versa?

Gillian Peall, Macclesfield, Cheshire, UK

Definitely give the compliment first. Knowing you have done something right may make the negative feedback more acceptable. Giving the bad news first can make the compliment seem patronising or condescending.

Julia Barrett, Oakhill, Somerset, UK

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When I ran my company, I used a technique called sandwich criticism. You start by commenting on something good about the person, then move to the negative and finish on a positive. If you start with a negative, a person’s defences go up and they can hardly hear anything else you say. This is also true about the use of “but” or “however” as they are triggers for defensive behaviours.

There are those who say that this method is rather stale and can sound contrived, but it is up to you to make sure that it isn’t.

Ron Dippold, San Diego, California, US

It depends on the severity of the issue, and the sensitivity of the recipient. A repeat bad actor will grasp any compliment as a straw to continue their behaviour, so it may be counterproductive.

For best results, the answer is to do both, also known as bookending. Offer a compliment, give the admonition, describe what bad effects it has for them and other people, then end with the positive benefits of fixing the issue.

Robert Willis, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

Various studies have found that employees want more feedback, not less. A global survey by OfficeVibe in 2016 found that 82 per cent of employees appreciate feedback, whether it is positive or negative.

Standard advice used to be to “sandwich” negative feedback between positive comments. This has been shown to be less than effective: employees quickly recognise that the positives are only window dressing and so all comments are considered dubious and disingenuous.

Tactful honesty is the best approach. Being direct and polite makes employees feel respected. Constructive criticism offers both a critique and a solution. Research shows that people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. Learning appropriate people skills can go a long way.

Tim Lewis, Landshipping,Pembrokeshire, UK

The classical sandwich of praise, criticism, praise often fails as the employees cotton on. Asking the employee if they are open to feedback and then asking them for comments on their own behaviour or performance, good or bad, is more productive.

Terry Gillen, Tring, Hertfordshire, UK

Neither. The problem with mixing praise and criticism is that the feedback becomes “contaminated”, causing confusion. A more effective approach is to begin with an objective acknowledgement with which both parties can agree. Then state clearly the change you want, and finally provide a reason to make the change.

As I said to my son once when he was very young and angry with me: “When you speak to me like that, I have difficulty listening to you. If you take a few deep breaths and say it again in your normal tone of voice, I promise I’ll listen.”

Simon Phillips, London, UK

I’ve spent countless hours in training sessions on giving feedback. One thing seems clear: the order in which you give feedback doesn’t really matter. What’s important are your intentions and soft skills.

Do you genuinely want to help the other person by kindly indicating where improvements could be made?

Are you sensitive to the other person’s feelings? Can you see their point of view or sense when someone is becoming defensive? If the conversational flow needs to change, do you have the words ready to effect that change? Can you be funny or engaging? Can you use eye contact and friendly body language to reassure?

If you can master such skills, the order in which you deliver feedback becomes irrelevant.

Pauline Grant, Business psychologist, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, UK

Please consider carefully if feedback is needed at all. If someone has behaved in a way you judge to be substandard or inappropriate, check first how they view the situation. Ask questions – real, open questions – and listen to the answers.

Mostly we know if we have made a mistake, and someone else pointing it out is at best unnecessary and at worst deeply patronising. If they don’t know that they have made a mistake, it may be that a conversation is appropriate. The result will tell you if your feedback is likely to be helpful. Finally, being open and humble will always help with the outcome.

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You can also submit answers by post to: The Last Word, New Scientist, 25 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ES.

How to give praise instead of criticism

Constructive criticism — tactful, thoughtful feedback that balances negative and positive comments — is a vital tool for motivating your finance and accounting team members to keep raising the bar on their performance. Millennial and Gen Z employees, in particular, crave such feedback from managers on a regular basis to help them make meaningful progress toward their career goals.

Effectively delivering constructive criticism is easier said than done, however. Managers must walk the fine line of accentuating the positive while helping employees understand how to address shortcomings in their performance. The task isn’t made any easier by the fact that workers respond differently to feedback.

You’ll likely find most employees take such criticism in stride. Some may have hurt feelings. And some may even be angry to receive critiques of their work or on-the-job behavior.

Here are seven ways to make constructive criticism work for you and part of your organizational culture. Also included are suggestions for working with staff members who strongly dislike being critiqued:

1. Set up feedback meetings in advance

Catching employees off guard with criticism is sure to put them on the defensive. So, schedule feedback meetings with ample notice, letting workers know this will be a time to discuss their performance. That way, they have a chance to prepare and present any concerns of their own about their job progress.

2. Be mindful of your timing

Is your accounting staff racing to meet year-end deadlines? Is your accounting manager preparing for a difficult meeting? These are among the worst times to schedule a meeting where they will get comments on how they’re handling their job. Check your team’s workload and schedule before calling them into a meeting.

3. Get specific

Generalizations such as, “Your customer service skills are falling short,” will come across as vague to your employees and could invite excuses and protests. Prepare for the meeting by compiling a list of examples of their strengths and weaknesses in action. Then, follow up with suggestions for how employees can specifically improve and achieve better results.

4. Offer big-picture context

Too often, busy professionals get so wrapped up in their own tasks that they don’t fully understand their contributions to the organization as a whole. Let your employees know what impact their work has on the company.

5. Implement a call to action that includes autonomy

Wrap up each meeting with questions that invite employees to take charge of improving their performance. For example: “Let’s set up a plan to address these issues. What do you think your first step should be?” By putting employees behind the wheel and asking them to steer their careers in the direction they want, you’re more likely to see positive action and results.

6. Keep meetings short and focused

For some employees, you may have a whole laundry list of areas where you’d like to see improvement. But with each item you tick off your list, you’ll drive up their stress levels, increasing the possibility that they’ll become overwhelmed and brush off all your criticism. So, decide which one or two areas are most important and focus on those until they are resolved.

7. Make it a routine

Schedule a follow-up session to assess progress. What concrete steps and goals should the employee have completed by the time you meet? Also, emphasize that constructive criticism isn’t a one-off event, but an ongoing process. Over time, that will help to make it part of your organizational culture.

Handling adverse responses to constructive criticism

There are many reasons workers don’t respond well to constructive criticism. For example, they might be insecure or fearful of losing their jobs. Some workers might be accustomed to only receiving praise, while others may have been berated by a bad boss in a previous role. And others may be unable to leave their ego at the door, so they can see clearly how they might perform better.

Managers can’t possibly know everything going on inside employees’ heads, but they can take extra caution when delivering feedback. Here are some tips:

  • Stick to the facts. Attempts to sugarcoat criticism might come off as condescending or insincere. Kindly but firmly state an irrefutable fact, such as, “The figures on this account reconciliation are off.” Then, suggest solutions that the employee can apply to prevent this issue from happening again.
  • Be patient. Avoid accusations and make it clear that you’re invested in helping your team members improve their performance so they can achieve their career goals. Eventually, the walls should begin to come down, even for workers who tend to put their defenses way up.
  • Ask for feedback on you. Turn the tables by providing staff members a chance to offer you constructive criticism, from time to time. That will give you insight into not only how you are perceived as a leader, but also what your employees consider to be the ideal way to deliver critiques on performance.

Constructive criticism is an integral part of today’s workplace and, when offered appropriately, can help everyone in the organization to improve. Take care when delivering this feedback, though, since you want to engage and motivate your employees, not deflate them. Also, always offer praise to your workers when it is due. Your employees will be more open to hearing about their weaknesses when you are quick to highlight their strengths and achievements.

Experts say fear keeps us from sharing constructive feedback, but here’s how — and why — you should speak up anyway.

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How to give praise instead of criticism

One thing I want to improve about myself is my ability to tell other people how to improve themselves. I am terrible at giving constructive feedback. I recently hired an administrative assistant, and I find myself far more inclined to praise her for how well she’s doing than to provide suggestions that might help her do an even better job — even though doing so would not only benefit her but also directly benefit me.

This hesitation to speak up sneaks into my personal life, too. I often have a hard time suggesting that my partner try a different disciplinary approach with our kids, even though I have just written an evidence-based parenting book and I know what will probably work best.

Reluctance to provide helpful feedback is, in fact, commonplace. A study published online in March found that most people were wary to share feedback that would ultimately be useful to the other person — even though, the same study found, most people genuinely did want to hear it.

“We really want feedback, but when we see someone else, we’re a little hesitant to give it,” explained study author Nicole Abi-Esber, a doctoral student in organizational behavior at Harvard Business School.

For instance, out of 155 people in Ms. Abi-Esber’s study who interacted with a researcher who had something on her face — chocolate, lipstick or red marker — only four people actually pointed out the blemish. Study participants said they would also be unlikely to give feedback when a co-worker mispronounced someone’s name, made errors in reports or spoke too quickly while giving a presentation.

One reason we rarely share constructive criticism, the study found, is that we underestimate just how much other people want it — an error we make both at work and in everyday situations. Surprisingly, Ms. Abi-Esber and her team found, we hold our tongues just as much with people we’re close to — friends and family members — as we do with acquaintances and work colleagues, which can explain my reluctance to share parenting strategies with my partner.

Another reason we often hold back is that we worry about the impact our comments could have on our relationship with others, Ms. Abi-Esber said. We think: Will telling them this make them resent me? In a study published in February, Lauren Simon, a professor of management at the University of Arkansas, and her colleagues found that empathetic people had an especially difficult time giving constructive feedback. They “might be overly concerned about how providing difficult but constructive feedback could hurt the recipient’s feelings,” Dr. Simon explained.

Yet most of the time, Ms. Abi-Esber said, people really do want to hear our suggestions.

So how do we overcome the unhelpful tendency to stay quiet? Ms. Abi-Esber and her team tested how well various strategies worked to coax people to speak up, and they found that the best approach was — ironically, given that empathy can also hold people back — to try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

If you were the one talking too loudly on the phone at work, or walking around with spinach in your teeth, wouldn’t you want to know? Dr. Simon suggested thinking about the negative impacts of not providing feedback, too. People should “remind themselves that providing feedback is often the most caring option, all things considered,” she said.

Once you’ve overcome your shyness, there’s the question of how best to frame constructive criticism. Some of the things you’ve heard may not actually be helpful — like the often-recommended “sandwich” method, which involves sandwiching criticism between two layers of praise. This approach “is not supported by evidence, and research suggests it may actually have a detrimental effect by diluting or muddying the really important advice,” said Naomi Winstone, a cognitive psychologist who studies constructive feedback at the University of Surrey in Britain.

Giving too much feedback is another common error, which is funny considering that we so often make the opposite mistake. “Providing comments on absolutely every element of performance can be overwhelming,” Dr. Winstone said. “Instead, focusing on the key priorities for improvement, with clear guidance on how to take the next steps, can be the most motivating.”

Research by the economist Katherine L. Milkman and others suggests that we are more likely to change our own behavior when we are specific about the goals we set for ourselves, and the same may be true when setting goals for others, said Catherine Sanderson, a psychologist at Amherst College.

“A coach who says ‘try harder’ to an underperforming athlete might be less effective than a coach who says, ‘You need to develop greater strength, so starting tomorrow you should spend 30 minutes each day lifting weights,’” Dr. Sanderson said.

Try to time your feedback for when people are calm and receptive, too. “Avoid giving feedback when you or the intended recipient are feeling stressed or emotionally charged,” Dr. Simon suggested. Make it clear that you’re commenting on a person’s behavior rather than their character, Dr. Sanderson added. “Don’t make it personal,” she said. “It’s important to separate what the person said or did from who they are.”

What if you want constructive criticism, but no one is offering it? Research by Hayley Blunden, a doctoral student in organizational behavior at Harvard Business School, suggests that asking people for advice, rather than for feedback, often elicits more helpful and actionable information. That’s because advice is future-oriented, which “can open up people’s thinking,” she said, and make them focus on what could be, rather than on what happened in the past. Also, giving future-oriented advice feels less critical than giving feedback on past choices, which might help more empathetic people “let down their guard and share more specific insight,” she added.

The next time I’m feeling nervous about giving feedback to my assistant, my partner or my friends, here’s what I’ll do: I’ll try to imagine what I would want if I were in their situation, and I’ll consider the benefits that my feedback might provide in terms of personal or professional growth. Then I’ll share my thoughts — which I’ll think of as advice — briefly and specifically when they seem receptive to it. And I’ll hope that in the future, they’ll do the same for me.

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Regardless of your role, level, or industry, at some point in your career, you’ll most likely need to know how to give constructive feedback in the workplace. While this is especially true if you manage others, you might also be called on to give this feedback to peers or team members when working on projects with multiple contributors to ensure that the group’s output is ultimately successful. However, giving constructive criticism can be easier said than done – it’s something that many people find challenging, and can be tricky to do well. Here are some of the top ways to give constructive feedback in a productive, respectful way.

Giving Constructive Feedback

Establish Trust

If you are working with someone regularly and know you will at some point need to give feedback to them, whether as part of your job duties (as a manager or supervisor) or simply due to the nature of your work together (as team members or colleagues), it’s important to establish an open, trusting relationship with them. Having a baseline of trust will help set the tone of your future conversations, and will both help you deliver your feedback, and help them accept it and put your suggestions to use. It’s very difficult to accept feedback or criticism from someone you do not trust to have your best interests at heart – you want the receiver to truly know that, first and foremost, you recognize their abilities, believe in their potential, and appreciate their work. This means they’ll be more likely to view your feedback as constructive, and will further open communication channels to make this kind of exchange even easier and more productive in the future.

Balance the Positive and the Negative

When giving constructive criticism, it’s important to make sure you’re presenting a balanced perspective, whether your feedback is ultimately positive or negative. This is more obvious when it comes to negative feedback – while you shouldn’t have to feel like you must paint a picture that’s different from the reality of the situation, especially if you have major concerns about the work or behaviors being discussed, it’s helpful to be able to point out some positives in that person’s attitude or output. For example, if a specific project doesn’t meet your expectations, you could frame the conversation by saying how you’ve been impressed with the individual’s work in the past, which is why you know that this deliverable could be improved. Again, you want to be truthful – don’t mislead someone into thinking their performance is better than it actually is – but giving someone a few positives to help motivate them can go a long way.

When it comes to positive constructive criticism, you want to make sure that you give the person you’re addressing some things to think about or work on, to help them feel like they still have room to grow and surpass expectations. If a piece of work is excellent, simply providing a few suggestions, such as “have you thought about adding in information about X?” or “perhaps this point on Y could be expanded to include some of the details that emerged in last week’s meeting,” or even giving ideas on ways the project could be built upon in future work, can be very helpful. You should also tell them what it was about the work that was so good – be specific! High-performing individuals tend to like having goals to strive for, so simply telling someone something is great without giving them something new to work towards or what elements they can focus on replicating in the future can be frustrating for them.

Observe, Don’t Interpret

Don’t assign meaning or intent to someone else’s actions until you’ve had a chance to hear what they have to say. Present issues as things you are observing, and give them the opportunity to explain their perspective.

Be Specific

One of the best ways to give constructive feedback is to focus on specifics. Telling someone that their work needs improvement, but not giving details on what exactly is lacking or how it might be fixed, isn’t helpful to anyone – the individual won’t know what you’re looking for, so they’ll be frustrated and you most likely will not get the results you hoped for. Again, bringing in both positives and negatives can be key here. For example, telling someone that the structure of their presentation is strong, but is missing key information on a specific topic is a good way to help someone feel good about what they’ve done so far, and give them the specific instruction they need to bring it up to par. This goes for positive feedback, too: instead of just saying “great job” or “nice work,” give a meaningful compliment that shows that you really took the time to observe their work and that you truly appreciate their contribution.

Talk Face-to-Face

Whenever possible, it is almost always better to deliver constructive criticism in face-to-face meetings rather than via email, instant messenger, or phone. All of these technologies, while useful in other situations, are much more open to misinterpretation, because they eliminate important context such as vocal tone, body language, and emotional inflection (such as humor or concern). It’s easy to read negativity into a statement that was meant as neutral, or to dismiss the importance of an issue that has serious consequences, when you’re not talking in-person. Face-to-face conversations also are more dynamic, as both parties can ask questions and dig deeper into the issues at hand.

Don’t Make it Personal

When giving constructive criticism, it’s important to remember to distinguish a person from their actions. Focus on the issue at hand, whether it’s a pattern or performance on a specific project, without making broader claims about who they are (for example, telling someone that you noticed some errors in a recent report, so they should take the time to proofread their work going forward versus telling them that they lack attention to detail or are a careless writer). If it feels like a personal attack, the individual will be more likely to shut down and lose trust in you than to listen to what you have to say.

Provide Feedback Consistently

Obviously, frequency will vary depending on how much interaction you have with the individual you are giving constructive criticism to, but making feedback a regular part of your conversations and meetings will go a long way. That means that you will both be on the same page in terms of expectations and performance, and that when something more significant comes up performance-wise, you’ll be better prepared to deliver the necessary feedback, and they’ll be better prepared to receive it.

Be Timely

Don’t let days or weeks pass by before you give someone feedback on their work, especially when it comes to a specific project. You want the work to be fresh in both their minds and yours, so that the conversation will be relevant and actionable, and any context (such as challenges that came up during the work, what the process looked like, and ideas that emerged for future work) will still be top of mind.

About the Author

Sonya Krakoff

Sonya Krakoff is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist at Champlain College Online, where she is the voice behind the CCO blog and helps tell the school’s story across multiple digital platforms. Sonya has extensive experience in writing, content marketing, and editing for mission-driven businesses and non-profit organizations, and holds a bachelor’s degree in English (with a focus on creative writing) from St. Lawrence University.

How your words can change your child’s behavior

How to give praise instead of criticism

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

How to give praise instead of criticism

Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified pediatric psychologist, parent coach, author, speaker, and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology, PLLC.

How to give praise instead of criticism

Sam Edwards / Caiaimage / Getty Images

Praise is a simple but effective discipline strategy that increases good behavior.   Pointing out when your child is following the rules or telling them that you appreciate their compliance will motivate them to keep up the good work.

Positive vs. Negative Attention

Imagine standing in a room with three children. Two of the children are playing quietly with toys. One child is running around wildly, jumping on furniture and screeching. Which child would be most likely to get your attention? If you’re like most parents, you might give the misbehaving child more attention.

If, however, you praised the children who were behaving, you could change the entire situation. Saying, “Wow, I love the way you are sitting there playing quietly,” may motivate the misbehaving child to follow suit.

But it’s easy to let good behaviors often go unnoticed. And when kids aren’t getting attention, they’ll often do whatever it takes to get noticed—and sometimes, that means misbehaving. When you give your child positive attention for good behavior, they’ll be less likely to act out.  

Benefits of Praise

Praise can encourage a variety of good behaviors. Catch your child being good and point it out. Positive reinforcement will encourage it to continue.

Here are a few specific behaviors that can be especially responsive to praise:

  • Prosocial behavior: Praise your child for sharing, taking turns, using kind words, and getting along well with others.  
  • Compliance: Praise your child for following the rules and listening to your instructions. Remember to pay attention when your child is playing quietly or entertaining themself.
  • Effort: When your child is learning a new skill, praise can encourage them to keep trying. For example, if you praise your child for their willingness to try hard or their ability to be patient as they learn, you’ll increase their motivation to keep trying.

Make Praise Effective

Praise and positive attention are healthy when given appropriately. Here are some ways to make your praise particularly effective in encouraging good behavior:

Offer Immediate and Frequent Feedback

Offer frequent praise if your child is playing quietly for an extended period of time or if they’re working hard on a project for a whole afternoon.

Make Praise Specific

Instead of saying “Good job,” say, “Great job putting your plate in the sink right when I asked you to.” This makes it clear that you are praising their immediate compliance.

Frame Your Praise Positively

Instead of saying, “Nice job not whining,” say, “I’m proud of you for staying calm when I said that you couldn’t go outside.” Point out the behaviors you want to see more of, not the behaviors you hope to diminish. Never mix praise with criticism, or it will lose effectiveness.

Praise Effort, Not the Outcome

Praise can build healthy self-esteem when you use it to point out your child’s effort.   Rather than praise your child for getting a 100, praise their willingness to study for the test.

Offer Genuine Praise

Rather than say, “You’re the smartest kid ever,” or, “You’re the best soccer player in the whole school,” offer realistic praise. Say things like, “You’re a good runner,” or “You do a great job of getting your homework done.”

Avoid Labels

Labels, even when they’re positive, aren’t a good idea. Referring to your child as “your little genius,” or “a soccer star,” may cause your child to think that’s all they are known for. Focus your praise on their behavior, not their traits.

Create a Discipline Plan

You can prevent a lot of misbehavior by catching your child being good. But, when your child breaks the rules, it’s important to provide negative consequences that will deter them from misbehaving in the future.  

When your child is struggling with a specific behavioral issue, create a clear plan for how you can use praise to encourage good behavior. For example, if your child hits their sibling when they’re angry, invest your energy into praising them for using kind words, gentle touches, and problem-solving skills.

A Word From Verywell

Generally, kids want to please and do well—and get attention. When you give them feedback for the behavior you want to see more of, you tend to get it. The key is consistency. It can take a few weeks of regular recognition for the new behavior to take hold and replace (or reduce) your child’s negative attention-seeking habits.

But if given time, compassion, and consistency, praise is likely to encourage new patterns of positive behavior.

How to give praise instead of criticismWe are more inclined to criticize people’s wrongdoings than recognize their good deeds. And this moralistic tendency isn’t just cultural. Indeed, a team of neurobiologists from Duke University have located an area of the brain that plays a special role in our judgement skills. Why is it easier to criticize others?

The study conducted by Lawrence Ngo and his team is the first to use neuroscience research tools to try to explain why people judge actions that lead to negative consequences to be more intentional than those that yield positive results. The young man that helps an old lady to cross the street… “Isn’t he doing it in his own self-interest?” This thought (negative judgement) comes to mind more quickly than positive judgement: “Oh, isn’t he nice!”

For this research, the team of neurobiologists chose this type of scenario, commonly used in experimental philosophy: the vice-president of a company goes to see the CEO and tells him, “We are thinking of starting a new program. It will allow us to significantly increase our profits, but will also harm the environment.” The president answers: “I don’t care about harming the environment. I just want to make as much profit as possible. Let’s start the new program.” Participants are then asked the following question: did the president intentionally harm the environment? 82% of participants answer “yes” to this question. Now let’s replace the word “harm” by “help”… In this case, only 23% of participants consider the effect of the president’s action on the environment to be intentional. Yet in both cases, the CEO is completely indifferent to the environmental consequences. There is no logical reason for us to imagine greater intention behind a wrongful action than a helpful one. This is what we call the “Knobe effect” (from the name of the philosopher that invented the scenario); namely that moral considerations guide how we attribute mental states.

To explain this paradox, the researchers, in addition to two other experiments, used a functional MRI to analyze brain activity in 20 participants (average age: 24; 10 men and 10 women) while they read forty other scenarios similar to the one described above. The participants were asked to rate the degree of intentionality of the action on a scale from 1 (not at all intentional) to 8 (completely intentional). They observed that when a person first reads the story and judges whether the actions of the characters deserve to be criticized, his or her amygdala, an area of the brain closely tied to the control of emotions, is activated. The more the person is affected by the story, the higher the activation in this area. On the contrary, when the actions are considered to be positive, the amygdala is less active.

How can we explain the difference? According to the research team, it’s due to the fact that we are more rational when judging positive actions because we believe them to be the result of other self-serving actions (in the CEO scenario, helping the environment is perceived as an involuntary side effect). And that’s why we’re faster to blame people for their actions than to give them credit.

Criticism is a necessary part of life to grow and improve, but if not given correctly, it can lead to confrontation. Here are the 7 golden rules of how to give criticism without sounding like a jerk.

How to give praise instead of criticism

Criticism is a necessary part of life. You’ll endure criticism for the majority of your young life, from corrections to your penmanship to comments about your performance in a professional setting. Inevitably, many of these pieces of criticism will be purely constructive, helping you figure out what you’re doing wrong and putting you on a faster path to improvement. But some of these pieces will cut you deeply, serving as insults as heavily as they serve as criticism.

When it’s your turn to give criticism, you want to be sure your comments fit the former description. Remaining polite and constructive will help those under you feel better about their work and themselves, and will make a better impression on those above you.

So how do you give criticism honestly without sounding like a jerk?

1. Be Straightforward

You aren’t doing anybody any favors by skirting around the subject. Trying to “hide” your criticism with a subtle hint, or worse, in the form of a passive aggressive comment, will only serve to confuse or insult the subject of your criticism. Instead, don’t be afraid to come out with what you really mean. For example, if a coworker is underdressed for a networking event you’re both attending, don’t try to be clever and indirect with something like, “most people like to look professional when they come to these.” Just come out and say, “I think you’re underdressed for this event,” though you’ll probably want to frame it with a few of these other tips.

2. Be Specific

General criticism almost always sounds like a put down. Something like “you aren’t doing that right” is non-specific, and therefore can be applied to every aspect of the task. For example, if a person is working on a complex spreadsheet and you say something like, “you’ve done it all wrong,” the person will feel terrible about it. Not only have you completely destroyed the person’s work, you haven’t given any indication of something specific that’s the root cause of the problem. Instead, try to be as specific as possible. Drill down to the specific elements that are causing the problem.

3. Focus on the Work, Not the Person

This should be an obvious strategy, but you’d be surprised how many people neglect it. Criticizing a person directly will always make him/her feel bad, and will do nothing to incite or inspire a positive change. For example, let’s say your account manager is struggling with maintaining client relationships because he doesn’t come off as friendly in conversation. Telling him he’s not a very friendly person, even if you do so politely, serves as an insult and doesn’t give the situation chance for improvement. Telling him his word choices and body language make him seem unfriendly diverts the criticism to his actions, rather than himself, and makes the situation more positive and actionable.

4. Don’t Tell Someone They’re Wrong

There are some cases where there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, but for the most part, this isn’t exactly true. For example, even if one of your workers approaches a problem in a way that violates company policies and procedures, there might be some value in doing it that way. Even if a person is in the rare position of being completely wrong, telling them they’re wrong escalates the criticism to a confrontation, and makes your criticism wholly debatable. Instead of declaring a person’s actions “wrong,” instead suggest that they could be made better in some way.

5. Find Something to Compliment

Occasionally you’ll hear advice to serve criticism in a “compliment sandwich,” by saying something nice, giving the criticism, and then closing with something else nice. This isn’t necessary, but including compliments can help soften the blow of criticism and make it obvious that you’re there to help. For example, if your new intern keeps forgetting to include shipping addresses on his purchase orders, you can mention how good he is at remembering all the other information. You can even go outside the task and mention how good they are at some other task or project.

6. Make Suggestions, Not Orders

If you’re in a position of authority, it can be tempting to phrase your criticism as an order, like “you need to start doing this another way.” Doing so demonstrates your authority and practically forces the person to change. In extreme situations, this is a good thing, but if your relationship is on relatively good terms, it’s better to start with a softer approach. Make a suggestion rather than giving a command with something like “you could be more productive if you did this another way,” or “I think you’ll find another way is better.”

7. Have a Conversation

Finally, don’t make your criticism a one-sided blow. Make it an invitation to a conversation. Listen to what your subject has to say on the matter, and if there’s a specific reason why he/she isn’t meeting expectations. Debate the issue, if warranted, and make the other person feel like his/her opinions and feelings are valid. Doing so can make any criticism easier to take.

You’ll be giving and receiving criticism for the bulk of your career. If you don’t find yourself in either situation, you’ve likely hit a dead end. Understanding how to give criticism constructively with these strategies and approaches will help you make a better impression, develop a stronger reputation, and help more people find their way to success.

How to give praise instead of criticism

How to give praise instead of criticism

How to give praise instead of criticism

How to give praise instead of criticism

How do you give feedback to a CEO who’s twice your age? I was 25, a new professor called in as a last-ditch, Hail Mary effort to save a dying company. They had already fired three consultants, so why not try me?

The CEO had been leading longer than I’d been alive. After several weeks of watching him in action, interviewing his senior team, and gathering data from his employees, it was time for me to bring down the hatchet. His company had merged with another firm and he was still trying to figure out where to go. His team desperately needed him to outline a vision.

When I went to colleagues for advice, they all told me the same thing. Put a slice of praise on the top and the bottom, and stick the meat of your criticism in between. It’s the compliment sandwich, as Stewie Griffin called it on Family Guy—a technique for giving feedback that’s popular among leaders and coaches, parents and teachers.

But when I looked at the data, I learned that the feedback sandwich doesn’t taste as good as it looks.

Problem 1: the positives fall on deaf ears. When people hear praise during a feedback conversation, they brace themselves. They’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it makes the opening compliment seem insincere. You didn’t really mean it; you were just trying to soften the blow.

Problem 2: if you avoid that risk and manage to be genuine about the positives, they can drown out the negatives. Research shows that primacy and recency effects are powerful: we often remember what happens first and last in a conversation, glossing over the middle. When you start and end with positive feedback, it’s all too easy for the criticism to get buried or discounted.

Giving a compliment sandwich might make the giver feel good, but it doesn’t help the receiver.

Instead, try these four steps to make your criticism feel constructive:

1. Explain why you’re giving the feedback

Recently, a team of psychologists was able to make feedback 40% more effective by prefacing it with just 19 words:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”

Rather than feeling attacked, now you feel like the person has your back and believes in your future. People are remarkably open to criticism when they believe it’s intended to help them. As Kim Scott observes, people will accept being challenged directly if you show that you care personally.

2. Take yourself off a pedestal

Negative feedback can make people feel inferior. If you level the playing field, it’s a lot less threatening:

“I’ve benefited a lot from people giving me feedback, and I’m trying to pay that forward.”

I’ve been studying great managers, and I’ve noticed that they spend a lot of time giving feedback. I’m working on doing more of that.”

“Now that we’ve been working together for a while, I think it would be great if we gave each other suggestions for how we can be more effective.”

All of these messages send a clear signal: I’m not perfect. I’m trying to get better too.

3. Ask if the person wants feedback

“I noticed a couple things and wondered if you’re interested in some feedback.”

I’ve opened this way many times, and no one has ever declined. Once people take ownership over the decision to receive feedback, they’re less defensive about it.

4. Have a transparent dialogue, not a manipulative monologue

Organizational psychologist Roger Schwarz suggests a thought experiment. Imagine that you’re about to give feedback to two employees, but you have to be transparent about what you’re trying to accomplish:

“I have some negative feedback to give you. I’ll start with some positive feedback to relax you, and then give you the negative feedback, which is the real purpose of our meeting. I’ll end with more positive feedback so you won’t be so disappointed or angry at me when you leave my office.”

It sounds ridiculous. It’s destined to elicit the kind of rage that I haven’t seen since Ross Geller bellowed MY SANDWICH?! Here’s what Schwarz recommends instead:

“The presentation you gave to the senior leadership team this morning may have created confusion about our strategy. Let me tell you how I’d like to approach this meeting and see if it works for you. I want to start by describing what I saw that raised my concerns and see if you saw the same things. After we agree on what happened, I want to say more about my concerns and see if you share them. Then we can decide what, if anything, we need to do going forward. I’m open to the possibility that I may be missing things or that I contributed the concerns I’m raising. How does that work for you?”

Putting it in Action

When I was preparing for the meeting with the CEO, I learned that all three consultants had tried to compliment him, and he saw right through it. It was time to take the feedback sandwich off the menu and be radically candid.

I started by explaining why I was giving the feedback. “Your senior team all believes you’re the right guy to save this company, and I do too. I hope I’ve seen something that can help you do that.”

Next I took myself off a pedestal. “I see this as a two-way street—there’s a lot I can learn from you about leadership. Who are the leaders who have taught you the most in your career?”

He gave me a few examples, and one was a leader with a clear, compelling vision. I took the opening and asked if he wanted feedback: “Your team actually has some pretty consistent views on how you can deliver your vision. Do you want to hear them?”

He nodded and took out a pen. I shared a few of their observations and asked if he agreed. He did—he needed to clarify the vision. A few weeks later, he stood up and rolled out his vision. It was a triumph.

Later that year the company failed anyway. But if I had given a compliment sandwich, it might have failed even sooner.

As an Assessor, Tutor or Trainer, a big part of your job is to give feedback to your learners. Feedback is part and parcel of your learner’s improvement and therefore a vital part of their progress to gain their qualification. There may be some areas in which your learner did well, and some areas, not so well. You will need to touch on these areas for improvement in the most efficient way – by giving constructive criticism.

The best way to give constructive criticism is by using ‘The Constructive Criticism Sandwich’ method. If you are already a qualified trainer, then it is likely that you will have come across this method before. But for those of you that aren’t, we hope you are hungry because we have a rebranded sandwich just for you…

The Constructive Criticism Sandwich

Yes, that’s right. The Constructive Criticism Sandwich (or more commonly known as, The Praise Sandwich). It looks a little something like this:

How to give praise instead of criticism

(Yes, we know that’s a burger, not a sandwich…)

You will be giving feedback to your candidates after every single assessment. The sandwich method is especially useful when you are still getting to know your learners in the first few assessments. However, you will find that it’s best practice to use this method all the time. If you jump straight into the criticism after an observation, you may come across as rude, especially if your learner doesn’t know you that well yet. I mean, honesty is the best policy, yes, but you want to get along with your learners, right?

1. Positive Comments

So, more on the method itself. It’s important to always start with positive comments on what you have just assessed. This isn’t to ‘soften the blow’ on your criticism, it’s the truth about their performance. Tell them what you liked about what you just saw. These positive comments should allow your learner to relax and understand that you aren’t there to test them but to help and support them.

2. Give Praise

Give your learners praise for their strengths. If you have assessed them before and they have improved on something you once criticised them for, you can praise them for their improvements. Don’t do this just for the sake of it – praise where praise is due. Praising them for something that isn’t legitimate will just devalue your comments.

3. Give Criticism

After you’ve showered them with positive comments and praise, you can start providing the not-so-positive feedback, i.e the criticism. These will be the things you weren’t so happy with during the assessment that you feel the learner can improve on.

It’s important not to be too vague at this point. The more detailed the feedback, the more actionable it becomes. You should understand your learner’s needs, capabilities and their situation as there are some things which won’t work for them. Just as an example, advising a learner who struggles with reading to read a long blog just simply isn’t do-able. However, if you were to advise them to watch a YouTube tutorial on the matter, they would be able to do that.

4. Reiterate Positive Comments

Once you have discussed your learners areas for improvement with them, you can remind them of their strengths. At this point, you should be motivating and reassuring them that you are confident that they can improve in their role. It’s fine to reiterate what you have already said, you don’t need to make up new things to say.

5. Offer Support

Now is the time where you will offer support to your learners in their areas for improvement. Perhaps you think they need more training in a certain area. Tell them your thoughts on how they can improve and offer that training and support to them.

In any event, you are not trying to mask over the criticism, but instead, you are offering support and motivation. Even just by providing your learner with recommendations, they will have a strong call-to-action. You want the person to act on what you have shared, not procrastinate.

Do you get why it’s a sandwich now? ‘Praise-Improvement-Praise’, much like ‘Bread-Filling-Bread’…

Some people dislike the sandwich (or burger, whatever you want to call it) method. They say that it’s unnecessary to praise someone just for the sake of it. However, the point of praising someone isn’t to butter them up for what’s to come. Some Assessors can be too quick to criticise, and this downplays what your learner is doing well and the efforts they have put into their work. It doesn’t do any harm to support your learner’s hard work!

If you’re curious to learn more about this, there is more in-depth coverage in both the Level 3 Award in Education and Training and the Assessor Qualifications.

Providing feedback is key to letting your employees know how they’re performing and what’s expected of them, and it’s part of supporting your team’s learning and development. It’s important that this feedback happens on a regular, ongoing basis – not just when performance reviews come around.

So, as a manager or team leader, how can you best approach the kind of constructive feedback that deals with issues or shortcomings staff need to improve on?

We asked David Jones, Senior Managing Director at Robert Half for his insights – here are seven principles for giving valuable constructive feedback.

    Be problem-focused and specific
    An important part of telling an employee what they could do better is to tell them why. For example, starting a conversation with ‘You need to be getting to work earlier’ assumes the employee knows why punctuality is so important. Instead, be clear about the actual problem at hand – which in this case might be that customers are being kept waiting – and structure your feedback around it.

The employee might not have all the background or context on an issue. So, if necessary, give them a sense of how the issue affects you and the rest of the business. The more specific you can make your feedback, the more actionable it will be.

Talk about the situation, not the individual
Constructive feedback is by its nature focused on outcomes and impartial observations – not the employee’s personal attributes. Feedback centred on the individual could be taken as an attack motivated by personal feelings, rather than objective facts.

By discussing the situation itself, rather than your personal opinion about it, you’re showing that you’re most concerned about fixing the problem at hand and not criticising the employee’s own personality.

  • Give praise where it’s due
    Giving employees positive feedback is essential, too – and acknowledging positives among negatives can be a good way to reassure them that you haven’t lost perspective. For example, ‘I think you did a great job with this account – sales are up 13% since last quarter. But we’ve had a few customers tell us that response times have increased.’ This tells the employee that you’re not criticising their overall performance; just that certain aspects of their job need attention. Just be careful not to over-emphasise the positives, as this can make you appear uncertain or insincere.
  • Be direct but informal
    Try not to use technology such as email, text message or the phone to relay your feedback, as this can lead to misinterpretation and make it seem less important than it really is. It’s best to speak in person, by finding a quiet space where you can have an honest and informal one-on-one chat with the employee. If that’s not possible, a phone or video chat could best suit if that’s how you regularly communicate.

    While you want to be informal, it’s best not to beat around the bush – feedback of any sort is most effective when you get straight to the point.

    Be sincere
    If your tone and manner don’t match the context of the feedback itself, you could send out a mixed message that confuses your employee.

    If the feedback is positive, let your emotions also indicate that you appreciate their efforts. For negative feedback, a more concerned tone will show that you believe the problem should be taken seriously. Most importantly, always try to avoid displaying negative emotions such as anger, sarcasm or disappointment.

  • Listen
    When you’re giving constructive feedback, make sure your employee is given a chance to respond. It should be a conversation between you both. This shows that you’re prepared to listen to their concerns and their interpretation of events. It’s also an opportunity for the employee to express their ideas to you and become part of the solution.
  • Make it timely
    It’s best to give praise when an employee’s achievement is still fresh. Timeliness is also important for negative feedback – except in a situation where an employee has done something that makes you feel genuinely bad. In that case, it may be wise to wait until you’ve ‘cooled off’ before taking it up with them. This will help to ensure that your feedback is objective and not coloured by emotion.
  • Ultimately, the best kind of constructive feedback focuses on behaviour or situations, not people and personalities. It’s given in a tone and setting that conveys support and respect. Great constructive feedback helps employees recognise and avoid their mistakes and inspires them to achieve their potential.

    Finally, keep in mind that we all thrive on positive reinforcement, so don’t assume that employees will always know when they’re performing well – come out and tell them. Be it positive or negative, providing staff with ongoing feedback is one of the most important and powerful employee development tools at your disposal.

    • Constructive criticism has become an important life skill.
    • If social media are anything to go by, it’s also one many people lack.
    • Like any skill, constructive criticism can be honed with practice and dedication to some key strategies.

    Copy a link to the article entitled http://Five%20strategies%20for%20giving%20(and%20receiving)%20constructive%20criticism

    Constructive criticism was once the professional coin of a select few. Editors and writers developed the skill to do their jobs, while the rare manager or professor may have honed their feedback craft if they were dedicated. For most though, constructive criticism rarely factored into daily life.

    However, the critical circle has expanded — thanks in no small part to our digital saturation. Today, everyone is a creator, critic, and idea communicator rolled into one.

    Businesses, restaurants, and even complete strangers ask us to review them online. The lifeblood of social media is the content we create and our critical analysis of others’. And the steady march from the manufacturing economy to one based on service and creativity means more of us will need to generate ideas while helping others construct and strengthen their own.

    Criticism is no longer a behind-the-scenes workshop. It’s a social and economic mainstay, a skill front and center for many of our lives. It’s also a skill many of us must refine.

    Can criticism even be constructive?

    It’s worth considering what we mean by constructive criticism, a phrase that seems as paradoxical as a Buddhist koan. To construct is to build something up. To criticize is to tear it down. How can we practice both in a single action?

    Thankfully, you don’t need to achieve enlightenment to criticize constructively. It helps simply to remember the word’s origin. Critic came to English by way of Latin’s criticus, which means “a judge, censor, or estimator.” Criticus itself hails from the Greek kritikos, meaning one who is “able to make judgments.”

    Notice that neither of these etymons is necessarily scowl-faced. A judge can be favorable. An estimator can praise a work’s brilliance and pick apart its bungles. It’s from here that we derive one modern notion of a critic — that being, someone with the expertise to evaluate the merits of films, novels, overpriced entrees, and so on.

    Unfortunately, critic’s English word family has its chippy cousins. Take the adjective critical. Just say the word out loud. You can’t help but hear the irritated toe taps of a censorious supervisor. And those tapping toes connect to critic’s second definition: “one given to harsh or captious judgment.”

    When we qualify criticism as constructive, we signal in advance that we are working within the first definition. Yes, that requires pointing to places of disagreement or that need improvement. But it also means celebrating a work’s value and accomplishments.

    And to reach that mindset, critics and recipients should follow these five strategies.

    How to give praise instead of criticism

    Establish trust

    Author and MacArthur fellow Jacqueline Woodson knows the difference between constructive and destructive criticism. As a writer, she’s had to work with editors to improve drafts of her novels. As a reader and teacher, she’s offered advice to fellow writers.

    In a Big Think+ interview, Woodson shared that she always wants people to start with what they love about the work.

    “It really is fragile, right? When you first put your words out into the world, and for someone to jump on them and start critiquing or criticizing them right off the bat can be devastating. Even for me at this stage, it has to be incremental, and always starting with praise, lots and lots of praise, and then getting to the nitty-gritty,” she says.

    But this strategy isn’t about inflating egos. It’s about establishing trust.

    According to Paul Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, when your strengths are recognized, your hypothalamus releases the neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin. Also called the “love hormone,” oxytocin promotes sexual arousal as well as pro-social behaviors such as bonding and maternal care. Zak’s research suggests it is directly connected to trust, as well.

    I just discovered a great article by Linda Hill & Kent Lineback on why criticism seems more effective than praise in the workplace… but isn’t.

    From the article:

    This is one of those areas where the lessons of experience aren’t obvious — and can even be misleading.

    Your observation that criticism is more often followed by improvement is probably accurate. But what’s going on isn’t what you think. In fact, it’s something called “regression to the mean” and if you don’t understand it, you and your people will be its victims.

    Basically, the article argues that we all have an average performance level over time but actual performance varies from day to day and task to task. But we tend to forget this:

    If you track someone’s performance task by task, you’ll discover that a great performance, one that’s far above the person’s average or mean, is usually followed by a less-inspiring performance that’s closer to the mean.

    It works the same the other way. A terrible performance is usually followed by something better. No one’s making or causing this to happen. It’s part of the variability built into human activity, especially when doing something even moderately complex.

    Consequently, when someone performs worse than their own average and you criticize them for it, they will tend to perform better afterwards, simply because they return to their own average. They would have done so, even if you had said nothing.

    For the same reason, when someone performs better than usual and you praise them for it, their next performance will tend to be worse.

    And this means that:

    Even if you don’t notice these apparent connections consciously, you’re aware of them intuitively. And the most likely consequence will be that you criticize far more than you praise.

    This is a brilliant insight and the lesson is that we must shift our focus from increasing performance on individual tasks to raising people’s average performance. And this is done more effectively by focusing on what people do well.

    A lot of evidence suggests that positive reinforcement — identifying and building on strengths — will produce better results than a relentless focus on faults. This is important.

    To improve, people need positive feedback. It’s just as important to recognize and reinforce their strengths as it is to point out where they’re falling short. And you need to understand why praise can seem dysfunctional, so you don’t withhold it.

    Read the whole article – it’s brilliant and it reinforces the point we’ve made again and again that praising people for their good work makes them happier AND more effective.

    Posted March 29, 2017 | Business

    How to give praise instead of criticism

    Constructive criticism in the workplace can help employees understand what they are doing well and what they need help with. Benefits include professional development, clarified expectations, stronger working relationships and overall organizational growth.

    Workers understand the value of constructive criticism — and they even prefer it to praise and congratulatory comments. By a three to one margin, respondents in a Harvard Business Review study believe that constructive criticism does more to improve their performance than positive feedback. More respondents (57 percent) prefer receiving constructive criticism over positive feedback (43 percent).

    Despite the benefits of and desire to receive constructive criticism in the workplace, the study revealed that managers and leaders strongly dislike giving this type of feedback. The following tips can make this process as simple and effective as possible.

    7 Tips for Giving Constructive Criticism

    Avoid Surprises

    A meeting without notice can cause employees to feel intimidated and catch them off-guard when you provide feedback. Schedule a meeting and explain what you want to talk about. This will give the employee some notice and time to prepare.

    Keep It Private

    Don’t provide individual feedback in a group setting. Giving constructive criticism in the workplace should be done privately, so that the employee doesn’t feel singled out and you have the time to work through the feedback. Public and rushed displays of feedback blur the line and can lead to destructive criticism.

    Be Specific

    Clear and specific feedback is critical. Get to the point quickly to avoid confusing the employee. Illustrate problematic behaviors and actions so the employee has a good idea of what you are bringing up.

    Don’t Make It Personal

    “Focus on actions, not the person,” Charlie Harary says in Entrepreneur. You should be focusing on what the employee is doing and how to improve, not the employee’s personality. For instance, there is a difference between calling an employee disorganized and pointing out how the employee isn’t as structured as needed. The former makes an assumption about the person.

    Don’t Forget the Positive

    When it is relevant to your feedback, you should include positive aspects of the employee’s performance. By highlighting an employee’s strengths, you can help the worker understand what he or she is doing well while pointing out areas of improvement. All of this forms a cohesive unit of feedback for a specific topic.

    Beware of including positive feedback for the sake of keeping things positive. Positive feedback can help the employee become more receptive to constructive criticism, but it should not be the reason why you offer compliments and praise. It’s similar to the rationale behind avoiding the “compliment sandwich” — or sandwiching negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback. These strategies are an insincere way of discussing feedback with an employee.

    Provide Ideas for Improvement

    Provide examples of the employee’s behavior and how the person could have handled the situation.

    “When it comes to helping an employee improve his or her performance, explaining to the employee what he or she did wrong is only half of the equation,” according to the New York City Bar Association. “It is crucial for the manager to be prepared with concrete examples of how the employee could have handled past problems better, as well as solutions for how the employee can deal with similar situations in the future.”

    Make It a Conversation

    Giving constructive criticism in the workplace is an opportunity to coach and guide an employee. If an employee is going to understand what you have to say and how he or she can improve, it needs to be a dialogue. The employee should be able to explain his or her side of the story and ask questions about how to improve. Sometimes you’ll learn something that will help you tailor your feedback and advice to the employee.

    Helping Employees Develop

    Alvernia University’s online MBA provides students with the knowledge needed for management-level positions and other roles through a curriculum that covers topics in marketing, accounting, management, research and more. The fully online program allows students to maintain work and personal schedules.