It’s so hard to criticize a coworker or manager. Even if you think that your feedback would be helpful, you’re still saying something negative – and it could easily cause the person to become upset and defensive.

But what if it can’t be avoided? Is it possible to deliver constructive criticism without hurting anyone’s feelings? Author Susan Steinbrecher believes it can be done. Just follow these seven steps:

  1. Get permission – Ask the person if it would be OK if you shared an idea or suggestion. You might say something like, “Do you have a minute to talk about…?” It’s a polite thing to do. And if it’s not a good time, it would be better if you waited. If the person is busy or distracted, he or she is not likely to be receptive to what you have to say.
  2. Be balanced – Sure, you’ve got some negative things to say. But try to balance them out by saying positive things as well. And if you do pay the person a compliment, don’t immediately follow up with a “but.” (For example, “You do great work, but the clients think you’re difficult.”) Your compliment will be lost. All the person will hear is the criticism.
  3. Highlight the benefits – Why are you criticizing this person? How will your suggestions benefit that person, your working relationship, or the project that you’re both working on? Talk about the benefits of your ideas. You might be criticizing this person, but it’s for the best!
  4. Choose your words carefully – Say “I” rather than “you.” (For example, you should say “I feel unhappy when…” rather than “You make me feel unhappy when…”) Focus on the present rather than dredging up the past. And don’t use words like “always” or “never.” Saying things like “You always do this” or “You never do that” will only make the person feel angry and defensive.
  5. Prepare and practice – Work out what you want to say before you talk to the person. And then practice saying it. Run it by a trusted friend or coworker to see what he or she thinks of your message and delivery.
  6. Do it in person – Talk to the person face-to-face. If that’s not possible, talk on the phone. Definitely don’t send a text or an email. Written messages can easily be misinterpreted.
  7. Stay calm and keep an open mind – After you’ve delivered your prepared statement, the person might respond by providing you with some constructive criticism. Try to stay calm and listen carefully. Be open to what the person has to say and embrace the suggestions that seem helpful.


Steinbrecher, S. (2017, April 18). How to criticize anyone (yes, even your boss) and maintain your relationship. Inc. Retrieved from: