DIY Thinking 1.8: Constructive Criticism

Okay, I hear you say, “What about constructive criticism”? Personally, have never been at the receiving end of “constructive criticism” and felt good about it, although I may have changed my ways because of it. 

An attack on YOU

If your boss says something like: “you are a disruptive influence in the office”, or “your report is not fit for purpose” or “I am putting you on warning, you are always late” or “you talk so loudly on the phone no one else can concentrate on their work” or even, as I once heard someone say “your desk is a pigsty – is this to make you feel at home” how would it make you feel?

Using the pronoun, YOU when criticising makes the person being criticised feel attacked. A tool that often works when you need, or want, to change someone’s behaviour is to get them to explore how it feels to be in someone else’s shoes and a recipient of the undesirable behaviour. Talk about how the behaviour makes others feel. Get them to say how the behaviour would make them feel, explain how the behaviour makes you, or the target group, feel. Next, discuss why this is counterproductive and invite suggestions on how the behaviour could, and should, change. 


You need to tell one of your staff that the way she speaks to other people upsets them, and they do not want to be in the same team as she is.  You could say: “Bonnie, your colleagues don’t like the way you speak to them and as a result don’t want you in the same team. You must treat people with respect, including speaking to them decently.”  This will probably just put Bonnie on the defensive and hurt her feelings. One possible result is that in a fit of bravado, and to show she is in not hurt or upset by the criticism, Bonnie may exaggerate her unacceptable behaviour with her colleagues. Another possible option is that she may feel embarrassed and try to avoid dealing with her colleagues. When she does, the dealing is awkward and may lead to even more misunderstanding.

As a manager or colleague, you need to always consider what is best for the company. It is therefore important that you manage the situation in a way that neither damages Bonnie’s self-confidence nor negatively impacts her working relationship with her colleagues. Instead, it is the role of the person handling the situation to ensure that bridges are built, and no-one loses face.

Exercise 5

If you want to put the interests of the company first and ensure an engaged and productive team, what would you say to Bonnie. Remember that you want to avoid using the accusatory word “you” which may well make the situation worse.

Remember, there is a relationship between productivity, happiness, self-confidence and purposefulness in the workplace. A negative atmosphere, damaged self-esteem and discord all reduce productivity, especially in teams. As a team leader of any sort, you want to ensure good relations amongst people. Not everybody will like each other, but everybody needs to work with everybody else. The higher the levels of emotional intelligence and trust are, the easier this is.


Criticism is usually about behaviour, but it can be about character or ideas, and it is usually damaging. Constructive criticism may sometimes be necessary but like “destructive” criticism it often emotive (arousing intense feelings) and is more successful if both parties have a high level of EI (emotional intelligence) and a trusting relationship. It is the latter two points that change criticism into feedback.