6 Steps to Delivering Constructive Criticism


I have always disliked confrontation and every time I am nervous and have to force myself to do it. I thought that after a while I’d get used to it, but I still battle those feelings, even after 20 years of being a senior pastor. To be honest, I think that fear is healthy and I think anyone who likes criticism is unhealthy. We should hate it. But with that being said, I have learned to hate the results of not confronting situations or people when it needs to happen more than actually having to do it. It’s unhealthy to like confrontation, but it is even more unhealthy to avoid it altogether because you fear it so much.

Set Clear Expectations

I think the most important thing you can do as a leader is to create a healthy culture of accountability so that constructive criticism is normal, expected and healthy. This means three things:

  1. Failure is penalized.
  2. Success is rewarded.
  3. Mediocrity is challenged.

Without these three things in place, a culture will be dysfunctional. The clearer you are with your expectations and desired results, the more leverage you have as a leader to hold your team accountable. In fact, if your expectations are crystal clear, then your team should hold themselves accountable. 

Create Safety

When the other party feels frightened, nervous or otherwise unsafe, you can’t talk about anything. But, if you can create safety, you can talk to almost anyone about almost anything.

I have learned that people feel unsafe when they believe one of two things:

  1. You don’t respect them; or
  2. You don’t care about their goals.

I have to start with what is important to both of us—not just what’s important to me. Understand their expectations and natural tendencies and then establish a crystal clear culture within your organization based on your expectations as the leader.  

When establishing a culture, you must remember that what you tolerate will become your standard.  Make sure you establish clear boundaries and then enforce those boundaries with healthy accountability. Reward what you want to be repeated and correct what you want to be changed.

[bctt tweet="What you tolerate will become your standard." username="kellystickel"]

Wait for 24hrs

I try to wait to confront for at least 24 hours after the problem has presented itself to rid myself of as many of the explosive emotions as I can. This way, I can be frank and stick to the facts rather than drift and say things I’ll regret later because I’m too worked up. 

Establish a Plan

During that 24 hours, I establish a plan. I prepare for the meeting and write out as much of what I want to cover in the meeting as I can, in the order I want to deliver it. 

We need to remember that excellence in a confrontation is a learned skill. I don't think this comes naturally to anyone. I’d highly recommend the book “Crucial Accountability” as a starter on how to confront with excellence. 

Don't Play Games

You may be familiar with the practice of sandwiching constructive criticism between compliments. Games like the sandwich method are often way more destructive than helpful. The key is to get right to the point. Start the conversation with "I want to talk about this problem."

Clearly Define the Problem

Conflict is the space between what I expected and what I experienced so I must define that space. Define the problem before the meeting so you are prepared going into it. 

[bctt tweet="Conflict is the space between what I expected and what I experienced." username="kellystickel"]

Many times it is a systems problem rather than a leadership problem. When that’s the case, I help the leader identify the problem and aid them in solving it. Next time, they will identify it quicker and solve it themselves without coming to me.

At the close of the confrontation, I aim to develop win-win plans. These are plans that are going to benefit both of us. They often begin by remembering who does what by when and then who will follow-up.


If you have questions you would like answered in an upcoming podcast, please email leadership@myvictory.ca