How to Criticize Gently in English

Criticism can hurt when used badly. However, when used in the correct way it can be a useful learning tool. Use these tips to make your criticism constructive and turn something negative into a positive experience for you and your colleagues.

Avoid direct accusations

Phrases like “You’re wrong!” and “Your presentation was terrible!” are personal attacks and make people feel defensive. When people feel defensive they are unlikely to accept criticism and will gain nothing from your feedback. Avoid direct accusations to make people more open to criticism.

Soften with compliments

Before starting with the criticism, warm the person up with compliments. If you are discussing their work, find several things you truly like about what they have done. For example, “I enjoyed your presentation today. You presented a lot of good and helpful information in it, and I can tell you put a lot of effort into it. I appreciate your hard work.” This will lower their defenses and make them feel appreciated.

Don’t continue with ‘but’

Using the word ‘but’ lets people know a contrasting idea is coming next and unless you have given a sincere, detailed compliment first it will immediately put the listener on the defensive. After you’ve shared your compliments, allow them time to be absorbed. Once the listener has understood the compliments, start a fresh sentence to explain your constructive criticism.

Give advice to keep criticism constructive

Remember that the goal of constructive criticism is to help someone develop. Use advice to make the experience supportive rather than destructive. Phrases like, “Next time you might want to…” or “I find it helpful to…” take away the blame while still leaving an impact.

Stay specific

When criticism is too general, people learn nothing from it. The whole point of giving criticism is that you have extra knowledge on this topic that you want to help another person benefit from. Use your expert knowledge to identify clear points for improvement then give clear guidance on how the person can improve those points or what resources he or she can use to find out how to improve.

Remember, your goal with your criticism is to keep the other person motivated and improving their skills and abilities. Follow the tips above and don’t leave them feeling defeated!

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