How do I offer criticism without hurting someone?

Some background, some drama

The art of giving critical feedback encourages a person to grow and to not feel bad. Constructive criticism improves a person's behaviour and avoids blaming and personal attacks. Constructive criticism has a positive tone and focuses on clear, achievable objectives.

Do’s and Don’ts

Nobody likes being criticised but, unfortunately it is a fact of life. To be able to offer criticism with detachment is an important life skill, which few people have. We are all perfectly imperfect. Hence it important to offer criticism well. The “How Do I" series tries to list down a few Do’s and don’ts to guide and help you to offer criticism without hurting someone.

Do’s

  • Give constructive criticism which improves a person's behaviour, encouraging positive changes. Destructive criticism condemns and discourages the person.
  • Determine whether you are the right person to criticize. Is the criticism warranted?
  • Choose a peaceful time and place to deliver your critique alone.
  • Begin in a positive way. Then move forward and offer constructive criticism.
  • Keep your emotions out of it. If you're giving feedback on a personal matter, you may feel emotional. Otherwise the person may become defensive and less likely to consider your criticism.
  • Smile and use warm body language. Let the other person know that you are empathetic.
  • Watch the tone of your voice. Keep your voice even and friendly.
  • Be specific. The more precise your feedback is, the more actionable it is for that person.
  • Encourage self-critique. It’s more appropriate to let the person come up with his or her own solutions before giving your opinion.
  • Give recommendations on how to improve.

Dont’s

  • Don’t lose your cool. Remain calm. You may feel anxious giving feedback and anticipating the other person's response.
  • Don’t focus on the person, but on the behaviour. Think carefully before critiquing someone's personal appearance or character traits.
  • Don't say too much at once and overwhelm the person. Even if your criticism is couched in positive terms, eventually it may feel negative.
  • Don’t make personal attacks which come across as accusatory.
  • Don’t use active voice; use passive voice. Passive voice shifts the attention away from the person and brings it to the subject matter.
  • Don’t make assumptions. When providing criticism, do so within the domain of the facts that you know about the person and the subject in question.
  • Don’t raise your voice or let any edge sneak in. Make the person comfortable.
  • Don’t use negative language, blaming and personal attacks. Be constructive, not destructive.

Last words

Whether at work or in relationships, sharing and receiving feedback is part and parcel of improvement. If you have ideas on how someone can improve, don’t hold your ideas back – rather, share your criticism constructively. However, it’s important to remember that the criticism be constructive, not judgmental or destructive.

Sources and citations