business across cultures

Giving Constructive Criticism: Phrases and Tips

How are you at giving constructive criticism?

Giving praise to someone, for example on a job well done, is easy and direct: “Well done!” – but what about doing the opposite, giving constructive criticism when someone’s performance is unsatisfactory?

The problem is that if the constructive criticism you give is too negative or direct, you might risk destroying a good working relationship with a valued member of your team.  Working  internationally means you also have to consider cultural factors when delivering constructive criticism, and it is very important to handle this with sensitivity.

Below are some standard phrases for giving both praise and constructive criticism, as well as some tips which can be used in a variety of cross-cultural situations to help you make your point sensitively and ensure that you get a positive outcome. After all, the reason for giving the criticism is to improve things in the future, right?

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Phrases for giving constructive criticism


Praise:  This team works very well together.
Constructive criticismI’ve noticed that the team has some problems communicating.

Praise: The performance of the database is excellent.
Constructive criticism: The database performance needs to be improved so that

Praise: That sounds like a good idea.
Constructive criticism: I’m not sure that idea would work because

Praise: I love this application.
Constructive criticism: I can see some difficulties with this application, it could be improved.

Praise: You are very well-trained in ABAP.
Constructive criticism: How about getting some training in ABAP?

Praise: The project was a great success.
Constructive criticism: What do you think is the reason we had problems with this project?


5 Tips for giving constructive criticism

  1. Where possible, give concrete examples for your criticism. This helps the other person to really grasp what you are saying.
  2. Give the other person a chance to explain and to fix things if possible, make sure this is a two-way conversation.
  3. Say what you would like in future – and why. Let the other person see the bigger picture and get an understanding of your perspective.
  4. When discussing lessons learned, make sure you get input from the other person i.e., the expert, on how to solve the problems.
  5. Agree on specific targets and timelines. That way, the person receiving criticism walks away with a concrete guide on how to move forward.

By making sure your criticism is truly constructive and culturally sensitive you can have more meaningful discussions and avoid damaging relationships. Just remember, in most cultures you can be more direct when complimenting people than when giving constructive criticism. Let us know if you have any other tips that have worked for you in the comments areas below.  Do you want to improve your ability in communicating difficult news?  Click here to learn more.

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