Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch New York
Courtesy of Deutsch
By Val DiFebo
September 9, 2015

The Fortune 500 Insider Network is our newest online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch New York, has answered the question: How do you make criticism constructive?

For most industries, ideating and executing innovative ideas is a critical part of business. Day in and day out, groups work together to birth, grow and execute the best ideas they can for clients, and it’s very much a team sport. That means that constructive criticism is an absolutely crucial tool in the everyday process. Without it, we’d be left spinning our wheels, unable to work toward the best possible solutions. However, there is a thin line that separates constructive critique and negative criticism.

When ideas are flowing freely, it’s a given that they won’t all be executed. But each and every one is valuable because they all lend something to the creative process. A less-than-great idea that is constructively, respectfully criticized is a crucial step on the ladder toward finding the best idea. The insights that come from critique don’t just provide guidance to the person presenting the idea, but help everyone in the room hone in on the right way to proceed.

Here are some ways to deliver critique in a way that’s not just constructive, but can lead to better ideas from your team:

Keep the lines of communication open
Let everyone’s voice be heard, from new hires to the top of the chain, and allow time and space for feedback from multiple parties. When team members see each other as collaborators and have the opportunity to learn from each others’ insights, critique feels more like a conversation between equals that’s happening throughout the creative process. The result is that everyone feels more comfortable presenting their next round of ideas.

Let it be expected
When constructive critique is a normal and necessary part of your everyday process, no one feels put off by a healthy dose of feedback, even if it’s less than positive. Teach your employees by example that critique is useful and something that everyone deals with. Frame it as something that’s to be taken as helpful advice that can act as fodder for the creative process, rather than a personal attack.

See also: What to say when your manager doesn’t like your idea

Be direct and specific
When giving feedback, it’s crucial to take the time to explain exactly why something is not the right solution for the challenge without sugarcoating it, instead of just dismissing it out of hand and moving on. Remember that there’s a difference between directness and harshness. Directness gives the signal that everyone is on the same team, working toward the best solution. Harshness does the opposite.

Deliver with respect
Employees need to know that while their ideas and solutions might be judged, they are viewed with more value than any one of their ideas. You hired your employees because you believe in what they can do. Remind them of that frequently, and make sure they know that you expect them to get to the right solution eventually.

Balance it with positive feedback
Taking the time to point out the positive aspects of an idea or solution is just as important as pointing out what’s not working. If you don’t, the good parts of ideas get discarded and useful insights that can be used on the next round of solutions are lost.

Constructive critique is much more effective in an environment where employees feel that their accomplishments and good ideas will be highlighted and rewarded. It’s much easier to stay motivated and turn negative feedback into your next great idea when you know that you’re part of a team that will show their appreciation for hard work and fresh thinking.

Read all answers to the Fortune 500 Insider question: How do you make criticism constructive?

3 easy ways to make criticism sting a little less by Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobile & Business Solutions.



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