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Productive praise and constructive criticism

For praise to be productive and criticism to be constructive there are essentially two things required from the appraiser: first, the right mindset, and second, the right skills. So far as mindset is concerned, intention is everything. What is the intention behind the praise or criticism? Is the praise intended to support the motivational development of the appraisee and highlight skills and behaviours they can build on further? Is the criticism intended to provide an objective basis on which the appraisee can consider and plan improvements to their future performance? Too often the real intention behind praise is nothing more purposeful than routine encouragement, and in many situations praise is used to compensate for other negative comments. And all too often the intention behind criticism is blame. So, get the intention right and remember to think through what you are really trying to achieve in giving the praise or criticism. Is your praise productive and is your criticism constructive?

The following are some pointers on productive praise:

  • Make it specific – a general ‘well done’ is meaningless
  • Don’t praise everything – it becomes devalued
  • Add some depth to your praise with clear and detailed feedback using examples – superficial praise can seem patronising
  • Avoid adding conditions to your praise – for example, using the praise as a lever to ask for or require something else
  • Let each piece of praise stand on its own – avoid mixing in a bit of criticism or using praise as a sweetener for some negative feedback
  • Use clear, descriptive language to make it very clear what it is you are praising and why


The following are some pointers on constructive criticism:

  • Try to use the self-assessment approach described above – skilful questioning can help the appraisee to recognise mistakes and articulate criticisms for themselves and thereby learn from them
  • Self-criticism will help the appraisee want to change – this is constructive
  • Make your criticism descriptive and objective by using clear examples and linking the performance to pre-defined criteria (e.g. areas of Good Medical Practice)
  • Focus on the impact and consequences of the behaviour, the effect it’s having - be descriptive
  • Lead the appraisee back over the incident or events in a neutral atmosphere
  • Avoid imposing a solution. Try to use questions to draw the solution out of the appraisee – this will help them to both learn and commit to the improvement
  • Remember, the problem is the behaviour, not the person. So, aim to focus on criticising the behaviour.

See Guidelines on giving and receiving feedback in the Teachers’ toolkit and the How To Give Feedback module for further ideas and guidance on giving and receiving feedback.

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