6 Tips for Accepting and Giving Constructive Criticism

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4 min read

Constructive criticism can often feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, and even unproductive. It can seem like a roadblock to completing a project or your overall work. However, if framed correctly, constructive criticism can be one of the most helpful ways to move forward in your work, and can also be an opportunity to support your peers. When accepting constructive criticism, it’s key to be open to feedback and willing to create a plan of action based off of it. If you’re asked to give constructive criticism, it’s important to be specific—and kind—with your input and to tailor your feedback to the correct context. 

Learning to graciously accept constructive criticism, and thoughtfully provide it to others, can greatly elevate your learning. Keep reading to discover six tips for accepting and giving constructive criticism.

Tip #1 for accepting and giving constructive criticism: be open to change

When receiving constructive criticism, it’s easy to become defensive about your work. While it’s completely human to shield yourself from discomfort, and it can be vulnerable to share your work, the key to getting the most out of constructive feedback is to be open to change. Constructive criticism may include suggestions like:

  • Deconstructing a project
  • Discarding certain parts and starting over
  • Trying a drastically different strategy within your piece of work

Helpful feedback is structured in a way that encourages you to see the full potential of your work. This perspective of trying something new can help unlock things you hadn’t previously thought of.

Tip #2 for accepting and giving constructive criticism: plan action steps

Receiving criticism can be overwhelming. To help with this, reflect on any feedback by free-writing, chatting with a classmate or colleague, or even meeting with your teacher or supervisor. Then, make a plan of concrete steps to take next. Break down large steps into more manageable tasks. Remember, especially if you’ve received conflicting feedback, you don’t need to follow each piece of advice from classmates. It’s more important to synthesize the input and take steps toward what you see as important for your project. 

Tip #3 for accepting and giving constructive criticism: remember the nature of criticism

While receiving constructive criticism, remind yourself that this feedback is only for your specific project or performance, and does not have any bearing on who you are as a student, a person in your field, or as an individual in general. While this many seem obvious, it’s easy—especially in vulnerable moments of receiving feedback—to incorrectly apply the criticism to a bigger picture. In these moments, remind yourself that the scope of the feedback is limited. 

Tip #4 for accepting and giving constructive criticism: be specific 

One of the most helpful ways to give feedback is to be specific. Give exact examples from the work—for example, if you’re peer-reviewing a classmate’s essay, quote actual lines and examples from the rough draft. Also offer specific strategies that your colleague can try—in the same scenario, suggest, for example, a rewording of the thesis or adding more evidence to support a claim. Specificity is important in both positive and critical feedback. Pointed positive feedback helps us understand what we’ve done well and can continue doing, while specific constructive feedback shows us specifically what we can focus on moving forward. 

Tip #5 for accepting and giving constructive criticism: don’t be afraid to ask questions

Tone is often misunderstood in written, or even oral, feedback. To help you convey your feedback more effectively, use language that centers around your experience of engaging with the work, rather than on what the person did wrong or could’ve done better. You can use questions to both understand your colleague’s project better and potentially help them better understand their own work, such as: 

  • “What do you mean by this?” 
  • “I’m confused by… can you clarify?” 
  • “What are you trying to convey here?”

Tip #6 for accepting and giving constructive criticism: tailor feedback to the context

When giving feedback, keep the larger context in mind. Consider the desired outcome, as well as appropriate etiquette for this context. More specifically, you’ll want to refer to a rubric or other established feedback protocol to guide both your wording and the amount of feedback you give. Lastly, keep in mind that your classmate’s work is not your own. While you might have done the project differently, your classmate has a unique vision for the work that could produce a strong, though different, outcome than one you would’ve come up with yourself.

The discomfort of constructive criticism can often stymie a project or lead you to avoid any instances that involve it altogether. Thinking of it as an opportunity to reinvigorate your work is a great way to receive feedback. Don’t forget—giving feedback also develops your own critical perspective that you can apply to your own work. 

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