How to Give and Receive Critical Feedback


We are entering into a phase in our society where every action demands some form of feedback. If you go to a restaurant, then you’re encouraged to share your Yelp reviews. If you buy something from Amazon, then you’re asked to rate that product. Even a post on Facebook allows for an instant Like or corresponding emoji response. How many Likes do you give out in a day? How sad do you feel when you don’t get as many Likes in return?

But even outside the ever-expanding cyber walls of social media, critical feedback is a vital aspect of the workplace and academia. We all need to know how we’re doing, and we’re often called upon the share our critiques of someone else’s performance. What often gets lost in that “sea of Likes” are the responsible ways to give and receive critical feedback. Here are some helpful reminders to improve your critiquing skills.

When Giving Feedback:

Ask the Recipient to Rate Themselves

Before delivering your honest assessment on something, ask the recipient of that review how they would rate themselves. This can open the door for a positive exchange, especially if that person recognizes they could have done a better job right from the start. It might also support your criticism if you are merely building upon something they already see as a problem area to work on.

Find the Good

A tenet of professional review writing is that you should try to find something positive to say about the piece, even if it’s a small something. When presenting a critique to a specific person, it would help to follow your criticism with praise. This doesn’t mean you have to make things up, but you should try to find some words of encouragement to layer in with the corrections. This will help promote a sense of cooperation between you and that person. You don’t ever want to send anyone away completely demoralized. That’s not good for the workplace or the classroom.

Base Your Critiques on Actionable Substance

A critique should serve as the foundation for improvement. If someone follows your sage advice, then it should make whatever they’re working on better. It will help if the critique is based on actionable substance, as opposed to vague sentiments. You merely have to watch the Judges Table critiques during any episode of Top Chef. Those judges don’t just say, “I didn’t like the chicken.” Instead, they say, “The chicken lacked seasoning or was undercooked.” The next time that chef prepares a chicken, you can bet they’ll be busting out the salt and meat thermometer. Also notice how that statement focuses on the chicken, not the cook.

Spin It Back to Yourself

We all make mistakes. Although it could help the person you’re sharing feedback with to hear that, it might be stronger if you can relate to them by sharing some of the mistakes you’ve made in the same area. This will make what you have to say more relevant and won’t alienate that person’s feelings about their own shortcomings.

When offering advice, it’s also helpful to use statements like “I would” rather than “you should.”

When Receiving Feedback

Take It All In

Unless prompted, you don’t really need to defend your actions. It is clear something went amiss, at least as far as the perspective of your critic is concerned. You can only understand where they are coming from if you take it all in. If you’re formulating a response in your head, then you might miss half of what they’re saying. Active listening is a skill that can change all your relationships for the better.

Focus On the Benefits

Writers are constantly being critiqued by their peers, editors and even family members who they share their work with. When several people point out the same failings on a particular project, then it would appear that there’s something worth looking into. If the reworking of the project makes it better, then the feedback was really helpful. Stay focused on the goal of making improvements, and you’ll soon forget all about the negativity of a critique.

Ask for Clarity

After reading this post, you’re going to be a brilliant critical feedback giver and receiver. However, not everyone will have the benefit of this sage advice. You might need to ask for clarity to better understand the critique coming your way. Go back to the Top Chef example. If someone merely says, “I didn’t like it,” then ask them to dig deeper and get specific. Two things might happen. They could land on a specific point to help with those improvements, or they could discover that their criticism lacks merit. Yes, that can actually happen, and it’s something else to take in.

It’s also helpful to ask an open-ended question for direction, like “What can I do to improve?” Or “How would you have handled this situation?”

Finally, you want to thank the person for providing feedback. However painful it might have been to hear it, they still took time out of their day to give the review. That time has value, and they should be thanked for sharing it.

Guest Author: Sarah Landrum

Guest Author Bio: Sarah Landrum is a business and career writer with a background in Marketing and Economics. Her blog, Punched Clocks, helps professionals find happiness and success in life and at work. Be sure to subscribe to her newsletter and follow her on social media for more great tips!

Brought to you by Dorothy Tannahill-Moran – dedicated to unleash your professional potential.


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