Constructive Criticism

Understanding constructive criticism

What is constructive criticism?

There are many types of criticism around, such as reviews written by theatre critics or criticisms of forms of literature. Essentially, criticism is nothing more than a way of thinking about something and offering feedback on it. That said, criticism has negative connotations in the eyes of many people which is why the term constructive criticism has been coined. If someone were to say “I don't like your hat,” for example, then this is not very engaging criticism even if it is an opinion that is honestly held. A more constructive approach might be to say, “I prefer it when you don't wear your hat,” or maybe, “I like the way your other hat looks.” As such, constructive criticism still expresses the same feedback as other types of criticism but seeks to do so in a way that does not jar or offend our sense of pride.

Why is constructive criticism a good thing? 

Because criticisms can be so easily interpreted as negative – whether they truly are or not – being constructive or having something positive to say helps to sugar the pill. Of course, you have to be genuinely constructive to achieve this. By merely saying something that omits overtly negative forms of criticism is not inherently constructive. When done well, such criticism is good because it will offer insights that enable people to improve their techniques, behaviours and methods. As such, it is something that skilled teachers will often do with their students.

How does constructive criticism help you?

If you can always accept criticism without taking it personally, then you are among a rare breed. Usually, people can only do so from friends, colleagues and peers they truly trust. On the other hand, constructive criticism is generally easier to accept because it points to ways forward rather than simply focussing on errors of deficiencies. Many people find that constructive forms of criticism can point out where they need to improve and offer a road-map of how to do so.

Is constructive criticism an oxymoron?

Some people believe so, yes. That said, constructive criticism is only really an oxymoron – two paradoxical or opposing words placed next to one another – if you consider criticism to be wholly negative. In many cases, it is not. A literary critique of the work of an author, for example, might be full of praise. Nevertheless, in our personal lives, criticism can be unwanted even if it is meant well, and that's why so many people think of it in oxymoronic terms.

How can you deliver constructive criticism positively?

As mentioned, the idea is to be engaging and positive when offering constructive criticism. Focus on providing feedback that is honest but which points out how someone might improve rather than merely singling out mistakes. If a body of work has good as well as bad points, then give valid weight to what you think has worked well in addition to a critical assessment of what needs to get better.

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