Saturday, August 14, 2010

Constructive Criticism - How to Give it and How to Receive it

Constructive criticism is one of those topics that can really scare people. I'm sure everyone can remember a time they received criticism that devastated them, or gave criticism to the wrong person at the wrong time, and now that relationship is strained. I want to go over some simple guidelines that will help you determine in the future if it is the right person and the right moment to give constructive criticism, as well as some principles that will help you seek out healthy criticism for yourself in the future.

Let's start first by defining healthy, constructive criticism. If it leaves you feeling hopeful and renewed with passion to make something better or try harder - it's healthy. If it leaves you feeling devastated, hurt, torn apart and hopeless, then it's just plain old good for nothing condemnation.

2nd - let's talk about who has the right to give constructive criticism, and why should we pull those people into our lives to give feedback and point out the flaws or weaknesses of what we are doing?

I have a few hobbies I'm passionate about. One of them is photography. I started out taking thousands of pictures of my kids, and that led to a passion to capture many things with my lens. As I grew in my skill, I would notice other photographer's work that caught my eye, and I would ask a lot of questions. I generally chose photographers who took photos in the genre I was attracted to. I love the farm life, the country feel, the dreamy emotional side to life. I am somewhat traditional in my approach and yet I don't settle for boring. So I wouldn't have gone to a high-fashion, edgy, more abstract photographer to ask advice or to ask for feedback on my photos. It wouldn't really make sense to compare apples to oranges. I looked for people who fell into the same genre as me (not necessarily the same exact style as me). And then of course, I found people who had gone further down the road of success so I could glean from their perspective and experience.

The other thing to consider is I am not trying to launch a career with my photography. I cherish it as something that allows me to archive & preserve the best moments of my life, as well as meet my need to create and design something beautiful. So I'm not going to submit my work to the experts of the world and spend hours and hours perfecting and obsessing over it. I take a casual approach, welcoming honest feedback and asking those I
trust to critique. Those I trust would be people who I respect, people who have more success than I do, and people who have my best interest at heart. I would look for those who would want to build me up & not tear me down.

Now, if we are talking about something more important in life, like say, a marriage - then the rules change a little bit. I still look for someone who is more qualified than I am. I look for someone who has my best interest at heart, someone who wants to build me up and not tear me down. I also look for someone who falls into the same genre, or in this case someone who carries the same core values that I do, for example: if I am in a more traditional marriage where God is at the center - I would seek a marriage expert that would uphold and give advice lining up with those core values. However, I don't take a casual approach to the feedback I get in this realm. I hunker down, take serious notes, study and listen very carefully. Outside of my relationship with God, my marriage/family is the most important thing to me in this life. That warrants a very intense, focused approach where constructive criticism is not a luxury, it's a necessity.

Christians tend to get confused with constructive criticism because telling the truth is not always pleasant or fun. Some churches have a horrible worship leader on stage for years because no one has the courage to say "your gifting is not singing, sorry." It doesn't do anyone any good to tell them they are great at something if they are not. But there are things to consider the next time you give constructive criticism. To summarize:
  • Are you an expert or do you have more success and experience?
  • Are you comparing apples to apples?
  • Do you have their best interest at heart?
  • Are you seeking to build up and not tear down?
  • Have you been invited to give feedback or are you just offering?
  • Do you leave someone hopeful with your style of constructive criticism?
  • Are you able to point out the strong as well as the weak?
  • Is the person asking for feedback looking for casual or detailed and intense?
  • Is the person your addressing looking for constructive criticism or encouragement?

Some things to consider when seeking constructive criticism from others:

  • Do you really want the truth or do you just want to hear you are good at something?
  • Are you asking the right people? (those who have more experience/success)?
  • Were you left with a feeling of hope or hopelessness?
  • What's the intensity level you are looking for, casual feedback or detailed & intense?
  • Do you invite people into your life to give feedback or have you built your life to be unapproachable? Are you the singer that's been terrible for years but no one has courage to tell you?
  • Are you seeking out people who carry the same core values to give you constructive criticism (remember - not people who are exactly like you, just carry the same core values)

I hope that helps you to begin to view constructive criticism as something that can be valuable, helpful, and even welcomed into your life with the right motive and the right person.


  1. Well put! Many times it seems as if people are giving constructive criticism to justify putting someone down. I love that you ask, 'Are you an expert?' Not usually.
    I am bookmarking this post for sure!

  2. Thanks Amy! I have said before, "If you have to tear down others to feel good about yourself - that's not constructive criticism...that's insecurity."