Two people on a balcony passing a folder, representing constructive criticism.
Getting Comfortable with Feedback: How to Use Constructive Criticism to Improve Your Career
Two people on a balcony passing a folder, representing constructive criticism.

Getting Comfortable with Feedback: How to Use Constructive Criticism to Improve Your Career

At the start of your career, getting constructive criticism from colleagues or managers can feel like you did something wrong. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed and discouraged when receiving feedback — especially early in your career. But learning how to accept constructive criticism is a crucial tool for advancing your career. Approaching critiques with an open mind and a willingness to grow will help you take on challenges head-first, allowing you to turn any kind of feedback into forwarded action for success. And then, when it’s your turn to give constructive feedback to a manager or another team, you’ll be ready.

Here’s how you can get comfortable with feedback and use it as an opportunity to better yourself at work.

What is Constructive Criticism?

Constructive criticism is a form of feedback given to someone with the aim of helping them to improve a specific aspect of their work, their overall performance, or their behavior. Constructive criticism is specific and looks to the future, offering a path to improvement. It is not aimed at belittling the recipient or making them feel guilty about the quality of their work. The goal is to provide helpful suggestions for improvement. It should be well-thought-out, but honest.

For example, if you notice that a developer on your team isn’t contributing to bug fixing nearly as much as they should, you can use constructive criticism to help them refocus their efforts. If you find that their time management skills are the issue, you could say something like: “I’ve noticed that you don’t seem to have enough time in the day to focus on fixing bugs. I’d like us to work together on getting you some of your time back.” Compare this to an example of destructive criticism: “You’re not spending enough time fixing bugs, and you’re impacting the whole team. Figure it out.”

Constructive criticism shouldn’t demoralize the recipient. It should focus on providing helpful advice and strategies that can help the individual better understand what needs to be changed and how they can go about changing it. When giving constructive criticism, be sure to explain why you think certain things need to change and offer suggestions on how this can be done. Your message has to be clear and concise.

This kind of criticism includes positive reinforcement, acknowledges the effort put into a task or project, then highlights areas where improvements could still be made.

Why Learning How to Receive and Use Constructive Criticism is Important

Constructive criticism keeps you accountable and gives you a chance to learn from your mistakes. Receiving that feedback can be tough, but not receiving it can put you at a huge disadvantage, both personally and professionally. As you grow in your career, constructive criticism will become invaluable.

For starters, being able to accept constructive criticism shows maturity. Refusing to take critical feedback implies that you think you know better or are above taking advice, which can convey arrogance. It also sets a precedent for future interactions and could make it more difficult for others to approach you in the future. On the other hand, open-mindedly receiving constructive criticism will give off a more positive impression and encourage people to come to you with helpful suggestions in the future.

Furthermore, accepting constructive criticism can benefit both your personal growth and career progression. Not only will listening carefully to critical feedback help you identify areas where improvement can be made, but it will also help build relationships with colleagues. Additionally, those who can learn from their mistakes are usually more successful than those who ignore any potential flaws in their work.

Taking critical feedback seriously allows you to identify your weaknesses while simultaneously earning respect from your peers. Using that feedback is essential for professional development and scaling a business.

Accepting Constructive Criticism from Colleagues or Managers

Constructive criticism from colleagues or managers can be difficult to accept but it’s essential. Start by keeping an open mind; this will keep you from getting defensive. If you’re defensive, people are less likely to give you the feedback you need to grow.

If you struggle with criticism, first take a moment for yourself. That can mean turning off your camera for a minute, or taking a quick walk around the block. This helps keep emotional reactions at bay. Once you are calm, actively listen and take note of what is being said, keeping in mind that the goal of constructive feedback is improvement rather than put-downs or judgments.

Try showing your appreciation by thanking the individual for taking the time out of their day to provide honest feedback. Even if you don’t agree with everything they have said, validate their opinion and thank them for caring enough about your work performance to give advice on how you can improve. Ask questions if there is something you need clarification on but remain polite throughout the conversation.

If the conversation becomes heated, you are well within your rights to put an end to it. A simple “I’m sorry, but I don’t think this is productive,” communicates that you’re done with the conversation without being disrespectful. If, instead, you’re growing uncomfortable with the conversation as it goes on, thank the other party for the feedback and excuse yourself.

Giving Constructive Criticism to Managers

You don’t just need to be good at taking criticism, you also need to work on giving it. It can be especially important to learn how to do this in conversations with your manager. Constructive criticism is important, since it helps managers improve their skills and performance just like you.

When giving constructive criticism to managers, it’s important to focus on the subject of the criticism rather than the person behind it. This can be difficult if you feel strongly about the issue. However, if you frame your feedback in terms of how behaviors and actions can change to achieve better results, rather than simply pointing out what was wrong or didn’t work well, your criticism has a better chance of being well-received.

It may also help to provide specific examples that illustrate your point by referring to past situations when things worked correctly or went wrong due to certain behaviors. For example, if you are trying to explain why micromanaging can lead to frustrated team members and lower productivity levels, you should bring specific examples where the manager’s tendency to micromanage has affected projects negatively. You can also bring positive examples of delegation working its magic in other projects.

In addition, try to present solutions or suggestions for improving behaviors and practices. This can help managers move forward in a positive direction. You could even suggest resources such as training programs or reading materials that could benefit them in their role as a manager. With this approach, it is possible to give feedback without coming off as overly critical while still getting your point across effectively and helping your manager learn from mistakes.

Giving Constructive Criticism to Other Teams

Constructive criticism challenges teams to confront difficult issues and encourages them to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. But giving feedback to other teams can be especially challenging because, often, your view of the situation doesn’t match up with theirs exactly. Here are a few things to remember when giving constructive criticism to other teams.

Remember to keep it to actions and behaviors

Just like any other constructive criticism, it’s tempting to extrapolate from the actions and behaviors you’ve noticed to the person carrying them out and start judging them. It’s important to avoid this when giving feedback to other teams. You just don’t have enough context on what’s going on with them to make these assumptions. Keep it to what you can see, and don’t try to guess the reasons behind what’s going on.

Focus on the impacts on collaboration

When criticizing another team’s work, it can sound like you’re trying to come in and fix something that doesn’t need fixing. After all, you don’t know what their workday is like. That’s why you need to focus on how their actions affect your collaboration with them. When you bring the focus away from them and to how both teams work together, you’re highlighting problems that directly impact you, and your feedback is more likely to get through.

Find the way forward

Just like any other instance when you’re giving constructive criticism, it’s important to focus on next steps. Don’t just take this as your chance to complain about something someone else is doing. Focus on what you can do together that’ll improve future instances of collaboration. You’ll be surprised by what you can accomplish together.

Constructing better criticism

Learning how to give and take constructive criticism is an important skill to have. The ability to give feedback effectively can help improve your working relationships, while also helping you develop professionally. On the other hand, learning how to receive feedback with grace and professionalism can be difficult, but it is a crucial part of professional growth. So don’t hesitate to give feedback to your manager and other teams, but be ready for the pendulum to swing the other way, too.