Turn criticism into constructive feedback

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Last week I wrote about how to effectively give feedback. Even though most of us welcome more feedback in order to improve in our professional as well as personal lives, we give and are given feedback way too seldom. More often than feedback we are given praise, and even though this “pat on the back” is great to receive, it doesn’t really help us improve like feedback does. In this article, I wanted to give you some advice on how to effectively receive feedback and how you can turn criticism into something constructive that you can learn from.

Show with your entire body language that you welcome feedback

Since giving feedback is challenging for most people, it’s very important that you actively encourage the person who is giving you feedback. You can encourage someone by just thinking about your body language, facial expression and tone of voice. If someone asks if they can give you feedback and you take a step back, frown and say “yes” in a questioning, dragging tone of voice, whether you mean to or not, you are sending a very defensive signal which does not welcome feedback. Instead, if someone asks you if they can give you feedback, smile, lean towards the person as if you are really eager to hear what they have to say and say “yes” in a positive and energetic tone of voice. This might sound very simple and silly, but I can tell you, it really makes the entire process of giving and receiving feedback so much more pleasant.

Feedback shouldn’t be confused with praise or criticism

The sole purpose of feedback is to impact future behavior; whether it is a good behavior that should be continued or a negative behavior that needs adjusting. If given correctly, feedback is factual and non-judgmental. Unfortunately, proper feedback isn’t very common in workplaces. What you do hear more of is praise or criticism.


Giving praise is indeed very positive. Both the giver and the receiver feel good and it increases the energy and improves the atmosphere among people around who hear it.

Examples of praise:

  • Good job leading that meeting!
  • Great report, I really enjoyed reading it!
  • Well done, that was a very good presentation!

The problem with praise is that it isn’t very constructive. You don’t really know what you did well and what you should continue doing.


Unlike praise, there is no positive outcome of criticism. No one likes to receive criticism. Criticism is judgmental and it really drains the energy out of the receiver and anyone else who hears the criticism.

Examples of criticism:

  • That was lousy – you can’t lead a meeting!
  • What an awful report, it was a torture getting through!
  • That was a really boring presentation!

When you hear criticism like this, there is no way for you to know what you can do to improve. It is also quite natural to feel upset and become defensive.

Always be thankful for Input – in whichever form you get it

No matter if someone is giving you feedback, praise or criticism you should express your gratitude by saying “Thank you”. Remember that feedback is something given to you in order for you to develop, someone else is showing that they care about you. If you are given praise, saying thank you comes quite natural. Even if you would like to dig a bit deeper, don’t use the praise as a means to seek feedback. The person might not be ready to give you constructive feedback and in that case, he or she might just feel awkward that they gave you the praise in the first place. If you continue to ask for feedback when given praise, people might refrain from giving you praise in the future, which is not the result you are looking for!

Even when you are given criticism you should be grateful and smile and say thank you – even though what you really want is to punch the person in the face! Unlike with praise, if someone gives you criticism you should turn it into an opportunity to seek feedback.

Turn criticism into constructive feedback

The key to any type of feedback is to understand the underlying behavior. If someone gives you criticism, after you have thanked the person (genuinely, without being sarcastic) you should ask the person to clarify the behavior.


  • Can you help me understand what I could have done differently?
  • What specifically was it that you didn’t like in the report?
  • What can I do next time to improve my presentation?

Hopefully, the person who gave you the criticism will answer your question by developing a more constructive feedback. If he or she does, you can help by restating the feedback.


  • Ok, so please let me know if I understand this correctly: When I don’t stick to an agenda everyone gets frustrated and we won’t achieve the objective of our meeting. So next time I’ll make sure to prepare and agenda and stick to it!

This way you are actually following the feedback model that we discussed in the previous article and you have successfully turned toxic criticism into something beneficial!

Remember that positive feedback is often better than praise

I’m very good at giving praise – to family members, co-workers and employees. I often say; Good job today! Excellent teamwork! Thank you for a good meeting! And so on. Something I need to remember is that even though praise is good, it doesn’t help the receiver to improve, so instead of giving praise, I should be giving feedback. I think we can all benefit from replacing some of the praise we give with feedback. This way it also makes it a lot easier to give correcting feedback, since the people around us will have a positive experience to feedback overall.

(If you have difficulties reading this article, you can access the full article in pdf here)