How to Offer Destructive Criticism

My post title is not a typo. This is a crash course for leaders in how to tear someone down.

how to offer destructive criticism

If you want to offer destructive criticism, use these phrases. (Great ways to fail as a leader)
(Click to Tweet)

As I have mentioned numerous times, my first true leadership position happened at the age of 26. I was a punk. I thought I was something special, perhaps even God’s personal gift to mankind…or at least the company. I also had a major issue with offering criticism. I really sucked at it.

To this day, I am still not sure if my real point in offering criticism was to help the person, vent my anger, or make myself feel superior to them. I am sure that it was not to help them at least.

Criticism should never contain any of the following statements or questions. If you want to offer destructive criticism, use these phrases.

“What were you thinking?”

(At no point in human history has this been an actual invitation to share one’s thought process. This is more of a statement along the lines of “you’re thinking sucks.”)

“Is this the best you can do?”

(No, boss, I figured what I would do for you, since you are so kind and loving to me, is give you like 30% effort and try to pass it off as my best. Then, who knows, you might love it, and I have time to watch more episodes of Doogie Howser on Hulu.)

“I want to beat you with a blunt instrument right now.”

(I learned quickly…this is one of the few things I actually learned quickly…that threatening people with physical violence is probably not a good idea.)

When Your Team Says You Suck - How to Get, Give, and Use Feedback for Leaders

Want to be a better leader? Get Your FREE BOOK here to learn how to get, give, & use feedback to be a better leader.

“Could you have screwed this up anymore?”

(Yes, I could. Watch me next time, scooter. I will utterly blow your mind with my ability to screw this up more.)

“Next time, just freaking let me handle it.”

(OK. I assume my paycheck will still be the same and I now have more time to study for my fantasy football draft, right?)

“A [insert politically incorrect physically or mentally disabled term] could have done this.”

(You can also substitute the more politically correct “trained monkey.”)

“I need to talk to you….NOW!”

(This is the grown up equivalent of being called to the principal’s office. Everyone knows nothing good is going to happen…thankfully no one walks back funny and asks to stand for the remainder of class in the business world though.)

“[Deep sigh] Where do I even begin?”

(Well, next time you could save us both a lot of time by preparing for this meeting and getting right to the point, but since you asked…)

While this list may be extreme, it is meant to highlight some of the many ways we offer destructive criticism. Nothing good comes out of these or similar statements or questions. Soon, I will write about the effective way to give feedback (not criticism) that certainly does not involve any these destructive methods.

Let the record show that I was once called to the principal’s office for a good reason.

Have you ever offered or been offered destructive criticism? What was the result?

8 Signs You Have a Crappy Job

Free Affiliate Training from Matt McWilliams
  • Spot on there, Scooter! I think I owned the copyright on one or two of those at one time. Don’t worry, you are free to use them now. I’ve got many, but this one was my goto :
    “Next time do this. Just as if your IQ were normal.” I’m not proud, but I’m sure Mozart banged out a few displeasing tunes before he got it right too. Serious subject… funny post. Well said.

    • Love the Mozart analogy! Not really comforting but nice LOL :)

      And your goto putdown…yeah…that is pretty epic.

  • OK…first we so weird that we used the same two guys for are pics in different posts this week (

    Second, for me, the worse is when I can sense that someone is unhappy with my work and doesn’t say anything. I would rather have someone like you tell me “Is the best you can do?” Than be thinking that and just put up with me. Agggh. For me just give it to me straight. But that is just me.

    • Yeah those guys are popular. Wish I knew their names haha.

      “Is that the best you can do?” is a good one. “Nope. I’ve got plenty more in the tank, boss, but I ain’t giving it to you.”

  • Yeah these are terrible. I cringed just thinking about using them on team members especially a team of high Ss. Nasty.

  • It can definitely be a challenge. I generally don’t use this type of “destructive criticism”, but honestly I wonder if it’s the only way to get through to a couple of my direct reports who seem more thick skulled than others. I’d love to hear your advice on getting through to the more challenging team members who we have either inherited or mistakenly hired.

    • I write about in a post coming up on October 22. Look for that. It might help some.

      I am working on a bunch of posts about working specifically with certain types. Right now I am focusing on how to work best with “geeks” like programmers but am studying some other types as well. Keep reading…I am learning a little myself here and will share.

      • I’ll be looking forward to this. I work with a bunch of engineers, so your focus on “geeks” could be very helpful.

  • Pingback: 12 Steps: Leadership Lessons from a Recovery Group - Matt McWilliams | Life. Leadership. Love. Learned the Hard Way.()

  • Pingback: Why Some Teams Stay Motivated While Others Crash and Burn()