How to Give Constructive Criticism: 10 Tips for Successful Coaching

Man Grimaces at FeedbackWe all want the best for our team and we each want to succeed. The problem is, hearing what we do wrong, sucks. Nobody enjoys listening to a list of things they could improve. So if you want to help others succeed, here are 10 tips to deliver constructive criticism that help us win, together.

1. Listen First

Before offering your constructive criticism, make sure you understand where the person is coming from. Do you know them well or could you spend a little time understanding their role, expectations and responsibilities better? The better you know someone, the better your feedback to that person will be.

2. Verify Your Perspective

Are you the only one who has the concern or have others expressed similar issues with the individual? This should be done with open-ended questions, such as, “How is John doing?” or “How’s that project you’re working on with Jane coming along?”

3. Have Specific Examples

Based on the insights from others and your own experience, capture specific examples. It’s important not to just list out examples where the individual could have performed better, but how they could have performed better.

4. Plan the Feedback

Write out your thoughts for yourself. This will help frame the conversation. Ask yourself what questions or concerns that individual may have and how will you respond? Proper planning prevents poor performance. This is just as true when giving feedback.

5. Deliver the Message in Private

“Praise in public, criticize in private” is the rule. A great leader should avoid delivering negative feedback in front of a person’s peers at all costs. This is demeaning to the individual and offers no benefit to them.

6. Offer to Help

After you delivered the message and are certain they understand what is needed to improve, offer your assistance. Would they like to check in with you on progress? Could you recommend some professional development materials like courses or books?

7. Follow Up

After you delivered the feedback, check in the individual. Allow them time to address the matter and let them know you’re invested in helping them succeed. Most important, catch them doing something right. We could all use more encouragement, especially when working on problem areas.

8. Go to the Individual First

It is far easier to speak about someone’s failures with anyone but that person, but that’s inappropriate unless it’s their boss or human resources. Always speak directly to the individual about their opportunities for improvement, first. If you’re not giving them the opportunity to improve before you speak with their boss or human resources department, you could use some constructive criticism yourself.

9. Go to Their Boss Second

If you’ve approached the individual with your feedback, given them adequate time to fix the issue and still not seen any improvement, then and only then, should you approach their boss. When providing constructive criticism to a person’s boss, it is typically received as an escalation. Make sure it is and is necessary.

10. Go to Human Resources Last

Your human resources department can be an outstanding support system in providing constructive criticism and helping you grow, together. The problem is many HR departments are required to capture constructive criticism on a person for their “official record”. Therefore, when speaking with HR, make sure you ask for general tips and advice on how to deliver your feedback, without naming the specific person or issue, unless you’ve exhausted all other options.

There you have it. 10 tips for providing constructive criticism that are focused on successful coaching. If you follow these tips your message is likely to be received well and help you all grow more successful, together, as a team.

Question: What other tips would you offer for constructive coaching? Have you seen these tips work before?


Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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