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Being Mean vs. Constructive Feedback: How To Do It Right

by Shamita Linganathan. |

Now I’m sure we have all faced situations in life where we have gotten negative feedback about a certain something we did or perhaps we have given this negative feedback. This negative feedback is always either given because a person wants to give us constructive criticism or either the person could come off mean.

How do we differentiate between the two and how do we try to form feedback in a constructive manner that will actually be of help?

Understand and know the full scenario before forming a judgement.

Without knowing the backstory of a certain situation, it is very difficult to provide concise constructive feedback due to the lack of information. When one lacks knowledge on a certain topic, you wouldn't be able to provide useful comment. Hence, be fully equipped with information before stating your feedback as you can't take your words back.

For example, if you feel like your team mate could buck up on their presentation skills but even you lack proper knowledge on how to present well, then perhaps you should equip yourself with appropriate knowledge prior to approaching them.

Put yourself in their shoes.

Try thinking of how you would feel if someone said the same thing to you. This method may be very subjective because what seems mean to someone may not necessarily seem mean to another person. Regardless, this is a good exercise to practise to make sure you do not hurt anyone’s feelings intentionally and stir up unintentional tension. If you feel motivated and determined to fix a problem after saying it to yourself then it is perhaps the right way of forming constructive feedback but if you wouldn't want anyone to say those things to you, then it shouldn't be something you should say to others as well.

This tip should not only apply to constructive criticism but it goes well for when generally speaking, always be sure to run through and filter your words before spitting them out.

Form appropriate sentences and use proper words.

When giving constructive feedback avoid using words like “this is wrong” and “do not do it this way”. Instead, use words like “this situation felt uncomfortable so maybe you could change it to…” and “I would suggest for you to change the tentative to…”.

By using the right words at the right time, you are able to provide a healthier exchange of ideas and thus provide constructive feedback that could possible better a situation. Sometimes, it isn’t about what you say but it’s about how you say it.

Try to provide a solution for the problem.

I’m sure we had that one teacher who has been downright mean and told us things like “Your maths is bad.” or “You’re always so lazy” and simply made our days even worse than they already were. Instead, provide solutions and construct better sentences instead.

For example:

“Your maths isn’t so good. Please do more exercises and hand in your work on time.”


“Don't be too late. Please try to engage more in class next time.”

We would have felt much better and also been able to do these things to better the situation. At the end of the day, constructive feedback is simply to help someone and not to make anyone feel small and degraded.

Focus on the solution, not other factors.

So, maybe we managed to get a hold of ourselves and we know how to string the right sentences at the right time. But it doesn't mean we should "force" our thoughts and solutions to them.

Often times, we tend to think we are providing constructive criticism to help and we could get carried away. We can only comment to make situations and problems better instead of trying to heavily inflict your thoughts. Focus on ways to solve the problem instead of trying to fix what you see is wrong in someone as well. For instance, when working on a team project or presentation, try focusing on how to solve the existing problem of “there’s not enough time” instead of focusing on the fact that your team mate is being lazy. This would prevent you from throwing out words and would help you think critically.

At the end of the day, constructive criticism should be feedback that will be beneficial and helpful; not to stir up even more confusion and tension for both parties. Not everyone will be aware of their wrong doings, hence you should come of respectful.

You may find out more about Shamita through her Instagram too!

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