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When was the last time you criticized someone? It could be a colleague, friend, family member, or just about anyone you come into contact with.

In the past 24 hours, I have found myself wanting to criticize someone’s driving, clothing choice, communication approach, and parenting strategy. While totally normal, pointing out the problem just doesn’t work. People get defensive, they justify their actions, and they rarely change the behavior.

Still, that doesn’t change the need to voice your opinion at times. It takes real courage to provide feedback. It’s a risk. So how do you provide constructive feedback so that the receiver is receptive?

Try these 5 strategies to provide constructive feedback:

#1 – Does It Need To Be Said?

George Carlin used to joke that there were three questions that saved his marriage.

  • Does it need to be said?
  • Does it need to be said by me?
  • Does it need to be said by me right now?

Sometimes, the problem will resolve itself, or you might not be the right person to deliver the feedback.

#2 – Provide Solutions

People who point out problems without suggesting a solution are often perceived as whiners. Complaining and problem solving are two very different things. Rather than telling someone what not to do, provide suggestions as to what to do instead.

#3 – Share Context

They say context is worth 80 IQ points. Providing feedback without explaining why it’s important is like riding a bull while putting on lipstick. No matter how you try, it just won’t work.

For example, let’s say a colleague doesn’t meet a deadline for something they’ve promised to deliver. You can get upset, criticizing them for their tardiness, you can become passive aggressive, or you can explain why it’s important and provide a solution. Rather than saying, “I guess it’s just not that important to you”, try “It was important for me to be able to turn this in on time. It’s a new customer and I really want to make a good first impression. Can you let me know next time if there will be a problem meeting the deadline?”

#4 – Your Approach Matters

Pay attention to your tone, body language, volume, and facial expressions. More often than not, if you come across looking frustrated or upset, your body communicates that more than the actual content of your message. While there is some debate over the exact statistic, non-verbal communication makes up at least 90% of your message. If at all possible, avoid providing constructive feedback via email. Ideally, you should deliver it in person.

#5 – Be Open to RECEIVING Feedback

The only thing worse than being criticized is being criticized by someone who isn’t receptive to feedback themselves. Make it safe for people to approach you. Ask for feedback, then just listen. Don’t get defensive or justify your behavior. Ask for specific examples and be open to ideas and suggestions.

 Whether you are at work or home, providing feedback is an essential part of relationships. There is a difference between criticism and problem solving. The next time you find yourself getting ready to criticize, try these five strategies.

Have other tips or techniques that work well? Please share!


  1. Thanks so much for this information. Very often, I find myself in the “whiner category.” I know what the problem is, but I restate the problem without a solution. And often, the problem doesn’t need to be stated by ME! It’s not MY problem to begin with! Needed this today!


  2. Anne…I have been told that my face and my body language tells 100% of how I am feeling. I don’t know how to change that so I often result to deliver constructive criticism to the whole staff via email. I express myself better that way so it is always wrong? I have been told that I do not ever need to prove that I am the boss….everyone knows it by my demeanor. Any suggestions on how to soften that?

    • Hi Julie,

      This is a tough one. Our nonverbal communication is so powerful. Try keeping a visual reminder or mirror around to stay aware of your facial expressions. I realize it’s tempting to want to provide feedback via email, but you run the risk of further aggravating the situation. Try having one-on-one’s with your team members. Ask them for feedback as well.

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