23 Constructive Criticism Examples

23 Constructive Criticism ExamplesReviewed by Chris Drew (PhD)

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

constructive criticism example and definition

Constructive criticism refers to providing feedback to a person or group that is delivered in a positive tone with the intent of helping others improve.

Examples of constructive criticism include the sandwich method of feedback, using the 3×3 method, and ensuring you provide genuine suggestions for improvement.

The distinguishing characteristic of constructive criticism is that:

  • The goal is to provide support for growth.
  • You avoid damaging a person’s self-esteem.

Constructive Criticism Definition

Constructive criticism is honest, genuine, well-meaning feedback that provides a critique of the strengths and weaknesses of something or someone.

The criticism should be specific and offers clear suggestions on how to address deficiencies. Remarks should are clear and the suggestions provided should be feasible and reasonable.

Professionals working in a management capacity need to be masters of delivering constructive criticism.

As Nash et al. (2018) point out:

“In almost any profession or pastime—from education, to business, to sports and the performing arts—being able to improve our skills can hinge on receiving good quality feedback from others.”

(Nash et al., 2018, p. 1864)

Constructive Criticism Examples

1. Being Specific in your Feedback

To ensure your feedback is constructive, focus on specific actions or behaviors that could be improved. If you fall into the trap of making generalized statements or personal attacks, the criticism stops being constructive because there’s no clear path for improvement.

Examples could be:

  • “At the five-minute mark of your presentation, you stopped making eye contact with the audience.”
  • “The problem with your golf swing is your hip placement. If you square your hips, you may find more success.”
  • “The third paragraph of the essay is where it goes off track. I would recommend re-writing that paragraph to make sure it clearly links to the previous paragraph.”

2. Using “I” Statements

The use of “I” statements tends to help frame critique more gently. “You” statements, on the other hand, tend to come across as aggressive and accusational. Expressing your feelings and observations allows room for discussion rather than conflict.

Examples could be:

  • “I feel like you interrupted me during my presentation and it led to a less productive meeting. Can we implement a strategy for minimizing interruptions in the next meeting?”
  • “I liked what you said, but I wonder if you’d consider making a quick change to improve your output. Would you like to discuss it?”

3. Offering Suggestions for Improvement

If you simply criticize, you’re not being constructive. Rather, you’re being destructive. To be constructive, you need to think up ways to build the person up. After all, constructive comes from the concept of “to build”.

Examples could be:

  • “Great job at the beginning, but in the middle of your presentation your voice started getting soft. Can I suggest you focus on maintaining voice projection throughout the presentation next time?”
  • “I have written down three ideas for improvement of your essay. First, make sure you provide references to academic sources in each paragraph. Second, I’d suggest you write a conclusion that sums up your arguments. Third, make sure you edit your work before submitting to remove spelling errors.”

4. Encouraging Open Communication during Criticism

People who offer constructive criticism aren’t there just to criticize then walk away. They want to help the person improve. So, it’s important for you to let the person ask questions or give responses so you can engage in communication.

Examples could be:

  • “Okay, I will tell you what it looked like you did from my perspective and then can you tell me if you agree?”
  • “I’m going to make a few suggestions then after that can you let me know how you feel about implementing the changes I suggest?”

5. Offering Opportunities for Growth

You might be noticing a theme: constructive criticism is always about helping someone get better. It’s not about cutting them down or making you feel good about being better than someone else. So, reflect on your criticism and have a think about whether it’s provided the person with opportunities to grow.

Examples could be:

  • “I think there’s potential for improvement here. Let’s talk about some steps you can take so you do better next time.”
  • “This wasn’t your best work, so let’s go back to basics and talk about getting those fundamentals right again.”

6. Providing Praise along with Criticism

If all you do is give negative feedback, the person you’re giving the feedback to is going to feel deflated. So, good constructive criticism looks at both the positives and areas for improvement so the person feels you’re not there to bring them down, but there to help.

Examples could be:

  • “I found 2 things I felt you did really well and 2 that you could improve on. Let’s start with the strengths.”
  • “You did a great job with your tone of voice in the presentation, but the subject matter needs a bit of work. If you can improve on the subject matter, your presentation could end up really strong.”
  • “I really appreciate that you had the courage to give this a go. I have some feedback for you that will make next time you try even better.”

7. choosing an Appropriate Time and Place

Make sure your feedback is given in a context that won’t embarrass the person or make them feel confronted. For example, you could try to give the constructive criticism in private. Or, you might want to take a break between the task and the feedback to make sure the person is relaxed and has some objective space.

Examples could be:

  • A professor asks a student to stay back after class to give the constructive criticism rather than doing it in front of the rest of the class.
  • A wife is frustrated at her husband, but doesn’t express it in front of the kids. Instead, she waits until they’re in bed that night and having a debrief to gently discuss the issue.

8. Maintaining a positive and supportive tone

Anger, sarcasm, or condescension have no place in constructive criticism. This is because aggressive tones and postures are not constructive. Rather, they will lead to conflict.

Examples could be:

  • Harry is really angry that John said something offensive. But instead of yelling or retaliating in anger, he stops, takes a breathe, and uses an “I” statement to express his feelings.
  • A teacher is frustrated at a misbehaving student, but she puts on a big smile and says “Sam, I know you’re better than that! Remember last week when you sat politely through the class presentations? I know you can do that again this week.”

9. Focusing on the Behavior Rather than a Person’s Character

Personal attacks or criticisms of a person’s core character are not conducive to positive feedback. Constructive criticism focuses on the task or behavior that needs to be improved upon, not on the person themself. This is fundamental to the concept of unconditional positive regard.

Examples could be:

  • “Okay, let’s talk about the task at hand and push other things out of the conversation for now. I believe you can improve on the task with a few simple steps.”
  • “This assessment task wasn’t done to the best of your ability. I know you have the right growth mindset to see some improvements, so let’s talk about some ways to improve your work.”

10. Following up on your Feedback

Constructive criticism is supportive. One of the best ways to be supportive is to let the person receiving the feedback to know you’re there to help them through the process of improving. To do this, tell them you’ll follow-up, then actually do it.

Examples could be:

  • “Now that we’ve talked about three ways to improve, let’s put in place a timeline. Could you suggest one thing you could do this week before our meeting again next Monday?”
  • “Hey Tracy, I’m just following up on the feedback I gave the other day. Did you have any more thoughts about those weaknesses we discussed?”
  • “Okay, let’s focus on the first step for improvement and push the other two aside for now. Could you drop me an email once you’ve fixed the first issue we discussed so I can give you some feedback on the improvements?”

Strategies for Providing Constructive Criticism   

1. The 3×3 Method

One key to providing effective constructive criticism is to not overwhelm the recipient. Instead of listing all 17 things you saw wrong in their report, it is better to prioritize the feedback and narrow that list. It is much easier for a person to remember 3 key points than a long list.

The 3×3 method takes this basic principle one step further by recommending highlighting 3 strengths and the 3 ways that each of those strengths could have worked better.

For example, highlighting the organization of the presentation, and then following up with suggesting that it could have had greater impact if delivered with better intonation and emotional appeal.

The first half of the statement is positive, and accurate, and the second half offers a suggestion to make the first element even better.

Limiting this to a total of 3 statements gives the employee something to focus on, as opposed to them trying to do too much.

2. The STAR Method

The STAR method identifies 4 main components that each feedback session should include. The acronym stands for: Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

This method is effective because it is clear, specific, and offers a feasible suggestion on how the employee can improve the situation. The systematic nature of the process takes some of the negative emotional impacts out of delivering bad news.

Here is a breakdown of each component.

Situation/Task: the supervisor describes the situation or task being evaluated

Action: the supervisor then describes the action, specifically, either positive or negative, the employee displayed

Result: the employee then hears an explanation of the consequences of those actions so they understand fully

If the actions were negative, then a follow-up statement regarding how the employee can improve should be explained. Of course, being specific and reasonable is helpful.

3. The “No Feedback” Approach to Providing Feedback

When a supervisor is working with staff that are responsible and motivated, it is much easier to offer suggestions on how to improve. Because the personnel are professional, their priority is to improve and help the organization prosper.

In this scenario, it may not be necessary for those in a leadership position to deliver any criticism at all. Experienced professionals, that take their responsibilities seriously, tend to be reflective and self-critical.

Therefore, sometimes the best approach to delivering feedback is to not take the first step. For example, a supervisor can simply start the performance evaluation meeting by asking the employee to identify their strengths and weaknesses.

What follows can be quite enlightening. In fact, the employee may be more cognizant of their own shortcomings than what an observant supervisor is able to identify.

4. Use Reflective Questioning

Teachers deliver feedback to students on a routine basis. For instance, teachers make brief comments as they walk around the classroom monitoring students’ progress.

The results of quizzes, exams, term papers and oral presentations are graded and often include evaluative statements. Ideally, teachers can present that feedback in a constructive manner.

Teachers can deliver effective feedback by considering three reflective questions:

1. Where is the learner going?

Both teacher and student need to have a clear understanding of the learning goals and make sure they are achievable and challenging.

2. Where is the learner right now?

Student progress should be assessed and carefully tracked in relation to goals so that both teacher and student know the current situation.

3. How does the learner get there?

The teacher should be specific about the steps the student needs to take to accomplish the learning goals.

As Black and Wiliam argue:

“Feedback to any pupil should be about the particular qualities of his or her work, with advice on what he or she can do to improve, and should avoid comparisons with other pupils” (Black and Wiliam, 1998, p. 143).

Conclusion

Constructive criticism is a way of communicating to students and staff that takes a positive tone when identifying ways to improve. The goal is to facilitate growth so the individual has a greater chance of achieving success.

There are several structured techniques that can be applied in a feedback situation. Most have several common characteristics. For instance, starting out by identifying the individual’s strengths helps establish positive rapport.

This is followed by identifying specific errors, being sure to not use personal statements or strong language.

The path to success will point to specific actions that can produce better outcomes. It is important that those suggestions are reasonable and suitable for the individual receiving the feedback.

Constructive criticism can foster a positive environment and encourage continued effort towards improvement.

References

AbdulAzeem, A., & Elnibras, M. (2017). The criteria of constructive feedback: The feedback that counts. Journal of Health Specialties, 5, 45-48.

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom Assessment. The Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), pp. 139-144, 146-148.

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2005). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Granada Learning.

Fong, C., Warner, J., Williams, K., Schallert, D., Chen, L., Williamson, Z., & Lin, S. (2016). Deconstructing constructive criticism: The nature of academic emotions associated with constructive, positive, and negative feedback. Learning and Individual Differences, 49, 393-399. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2016.05.019

Lashley, F.R., & de Meneses, M. (2001). Student civility in nursing programs: a national survey. Journal of Professional Nursing: Official Journal of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 17(2), 81-86.

Luparell, S. (2005). Why and how we should address student incivility in nursing programs. Annual Review of Nursing Education, 3(2015), 23-36.

Nash, R. A., Winstone, N. E., Gregory, S. E. A., & Papps, E. (2018). A memory advantage for past-oriented over future-oriented performance feedback. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 44(12), 1864–1879. https://doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000549

Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (2nd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Niederriter, J. E., Eyth, D., & Thoman, J. (2017). Nursing students’ perceptions on characteristics of an effective clinical instructor. SAGE Open Nursing, 3, 2377960816685571.

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Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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