How to Give Constructive Criticism to Your Employees

Successful Meeting

The word “criticism” is often seen as a negative term. That is truly unfortunate, since the word, at its most basic level, just means “to pass judgment.” Over time, we have taken that definition and made it entirely negative, only focusing on when we must state that someone needs to be corrected for doing something wrong.

When one is dealing with employees, though, he or she needs to offer every possible kind of criticism, both positive and negative. Both will help workers know better what is expected, and will provide motivation to do the job properly. This is only true, however, if the criticism is given in the proper way.

So, how can you give constructive criticism to those who work for you? Here are some suggestions.

1. Balance the positive with the negative.

No one wants to be given negative after negative. Even if someone is not doing his or her job all that well, make a special effort to look for any positive sign and offer positive reinforcement of that action.

When we provide balance, our negatives are more clearly heard, and respect is gained because the worker knows that the boss is not just looking for things that are wrong.

2. Think before you speak.

This is especially true if you must give negative criticism. We have all spoken words in anger or frustration that we deeply regretted afterward. Though this is a boss/employee relationship, you are still dealing with a person who has feelings. Take a moment and consider what you are going to say so that you speak clearly, but not cruelly. After all, if the roles were reversed, wouldn’t you want to know that the words being spoken had been carefully considered, even if they are somewhat heated?

3. Utilize a job description.

It is simply unfair to negatively criticize someone who does not know what his/her job is! If a worker is not following through on an assigned task, you can simply show that person what is expected. But this is also true in positive criticism. When a worker meets quota, exceeds a requirement, or simply does the job well, you can show that in black and white.

4. Let the employee speak, as well.

Criticism should be a give and take conversation. Often, a mistake is made out of simple confusion which can be answered in a brief conversation. Do not turn the meeting into a monologue. Encourage a dialogue.

5. Do not give negative criticism in front of others.

Go to the person or bring him/her into you. Be in private. The worker is already upset and embarrassed.

6. Praise in front of others.

Let as many coworkers see that you praise a job well done. That not only motivates the other workers to do well, it brings the reputation of this “praised one” up in their eyes. Be very vocal with positive criticism.

7. Show how to improve.

It is not enough to simply say, “Do this.” As a leader, you need to offer the way to accomplish the task. Maybe it is simply connected this employee with a fellow worker. Maybe it is just answering a few questions on how to get the job done. Maybe it is offering your own experience and wisdom. A good leader helps show the way, so that trust is gained.

Very few people like confrontation. If you will build up employees and be fair when giving negative criticism, though, you will probably have less confrontation! People will want to work for you and do their best when they hear you praise them for a job well done (and if you are fair and helpful when they come up short).

In reality, the way to offer criticism is simple: remember the Golden Rule. What would you want a real leader to do for you? Do that for your employees. Over time, see if that simple principle doesn’t lift both the morale and the effectiveness of your workplace.

Are you a boss? Have any more effective tips? Leave a comment!

  1. Mike

    Effective communication excepts that it’s not what you say but rather what others hear. Vocabulary may well be missunderstood. However its the communicator’s job to change vocabulary to match understanding of concepts to their audiance. Trying to reducate is a waist of valuable listening time. Efective communicator must also except and adjust to the severe lack of attention span as well. Adapt and over come or fail. ” Brevity is the ket to wit “

  2. Lesli


    Great article! One of my least favorite tasks is to correct an employee and you have some fantastic suggestions. I love the way Christ, Our Lord offered direction… through His parables. I would always try to tell a story, making the employee the “boss, wealthy person, leader, king/queen etc. and the employee, servant, subject etc. the offender, offer a few workable suggestions and then ask what their solution might be. Almost always they recognized themselves as the offender and took my favorite solution. At that point, I would ask them, what they might need with regard to resources or assistance to accomplish the change and quantify or set a date/time that the change would be expected to be complete etc. in writing so that we were clear on the expectation. I would also point out their strengths and let them know that I cared about them, their future, and I wanted them to succeed, otherwise I wouldn’t waste my precious time trying to correct a situation.

    While they were usually embarrassed or offended initially, many have become good and long lasting friends, even after our work relationship came to an end and a couple came to know the Lord.
    Thanks again for your insight. May the Most Holy Trinity richly bless you and yours.

  3. Mike

    I never knowingly hire the unsaved. Liability is unsurpassible otherwise so why bother?