Imagine I received the work done by a colleague, and I reviewed it. I realize that it still needs improvement. Consider that

  1. I want to be precise afterwards. I will tell him/her exactly what is not done as expected,
  2. I want to be honest, and tell him/her my true thinking,

It depends on the person

  • A highly skilled expert would be happy to get some feedback, because he is confident of his work, and knows that he is one of the best in his domain.
  • A newbie, who made a lot of efforts to provide a not really good solution, could be offended by the truth.

It also depends on the culture

  • In a country like in Europe/France, people criticize often.

  • But in other countries (like East Asia/Taiwan), you must be more cautious with criticism.

I guess it also depends on the situation, but I have no example in mind.

Is there a wording or a way to say that someone’s job needs improvement that would never be offensive?


7 Answers 7


No, there isn't such a wording. But there are steps you can take to minimize an unproductive emotional reaction:

  • Criticism should be about objective facts, not your interpretation of their causes. That is, it should be about the result of the work, not the way of working that led to it, and definititely not about any human qualities that might have caused the result to be lacking. So don't say "you're lazy". Instead, say "I don't see where you adress X in your report."

  • If you merely suspect, but are not sure, about a feedback item, phrase it as a question. In these cases, don't claim "This is unsafe!", but ask "Is this safe? I mean, usually we do X to ensure Y doesn't happen, but it appears you didn't". This signals a desire for a discussion, which enables the reviewer and reviewee to pool their knowledge to find the best solution, whereas a mistaken statement of fact is likely to be perceived as unwarranted, and pushed back against.

  • Clarify up front the purpose of the feedback, to leave no room for wrong interpretation. People are far more likely to accept feedback if they know you're trying to help them, than when they suspect you're trying to destroy their career.

  • Also point out what they did well (there always are such things), and try to place appropriate emphasis. After all, it wouldn't do for somebody to think they are about to be fired when you have just found many small things they could improve, but are largely happy with their work ...

Also, any negative feedback item should identify what excactly isn't good, and why it isn't. Optionally, you can include a suggestion for how to do it better.

Likewise, positive feedback should identify what is good, and why.

  • Hi @Meriton this is a good answer, especially for a first post! You certainly cover a wide range of important topics here but i think it could be improved upon if you explained the why behind some of your bullet points, for example, why should you phrase it as a question, why is this beneficial? (in point 2). Point 1 of yours says that it should be objective facts, but your last paragraphs suggest giving suggestions for how to do it better, isn't there cases where giving suggestions on how to improve is opinionated? Other than that, welcome to the site!
    – user5305
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 9:07
  • Why questions -> please see my edit. As for subjective suggestions, point 2 applies, e.g. say "Might using X help here?" rather than "Do X!".
    – meriton
    Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 15:59

Would you be offended if your boss tells you that "There is still a room for improvement"?

Certainly not. That's part of my manager's job - to help assess my work, to point out what I'm doing well, to point out what I'm not doing as well, and to suggest ways to improve.

The truth itself is never offensive to me.

I consider that it is not polite, or not correct, to say to someone that the work he has done is not good enough.

If you are talking to someone you manage, you are making a big mistake if you are not being honest about both the good and the bad of her/his work. How will this person know, if someone doesn't tell him/her?

[edited to add an answer to the latest question revision]

Is there a wording, or a way to tell that someone’s job do need improvement that would never be offensive?

No. "Never" is a long time. And there are many "someones" in this world.

Human nature is such that people can choose to feel offended over anything. Unless you remain silent, it's always possible that someone will take offense. Someone may even choose to be offended by your silence in that case.

If you are in a position where providing the constructive criticism is the right thing to do, then don't let your actions be deterred by over concern for offending someone.

  • What if the work is a team effort where it is one persons responsibility to put together the presentation or report but the results will reflect on the whole team? How can I talk with this team member in such a way as to improve the work with out causing offense? Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 15:06
  • I think you assumed this was a boss to direct report but I am not seeing that anywhere in the original question. Just that the op wants to provide the constructive criticism. Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 17:54
  • That question is polling for opinions which is off topic. You are assuming that the op is a boss based off that. I urge you to consider revising your answer Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 18:02
  • 4
    The truth is never offensive. That's not true at all. Saying what is true when the situation does not warrant doing so can offend terribly. Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 18:13
  • 1
    +1 for advocating always do the right thing "If you are in a position where providing the constructive criticism is the right thing to do, then don't let your actions be deterred by over concern for offending someone."
    – Brandon
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 21:18

"There is still room for improvement" isn't all that negative, but it is vague, and that's not OK. Different people will hear this differently. A perfectionist will think "Ah! I'm not perfect! My work is awful". While a person with the philosophy that done is good, and perfection is a waste of time may hear that this is "good enough". So using this fairly pat phrase may not get you the result you want - actual improvement.

I would recommend being direct and being specific. "Not good enough" and "room for improvement" are both frustrating in that they are vague. Instead, be able to deconstruct the expectations into specific targets for what good work is. Then the conversation is "your work is X, it needs to be X+Y".

The thing I think people find demotivating is being told they haven't met the expectations for what good work is, and yet having no idea how to get there or what comprises "good work".

  • 1
    Yes concentrate on the specifics of what in the work isn't acceptable. If you hide behind weasel phrases like this could use improvement, then you as a manager are not doing your job. Yes sometimes being told that something is wrong will hurt someone's feelings. But sometimes it is your job to hurt someone's feelings because they really aren't performing. It will hurt their feelings more when you have to fire them because they didn't improve and they don't understand what they did wrong. Managers often have to deliver bad news (like bad performance) not make everything all sweetness and light.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 19:34

If the best critique of someone's work that you can come up with is "There is still room for improvement" then that person's work is not the only thing that has plenty of room for improvement. This statement is very vague and not particularly helpful.

The best way to critique another's work is to give concrete examples where you feel the work product is lacking and some suggestions on how it could be improved.

  • 1
    ... and also why these suggestions are an improvement. I have lost count of the number of suggestions I received that seemed clearly detrimental to me.
    – meriton
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 1:36

You might want to first check out whether they understood the requirements, and whether the requirements are strong enough to show where the work performed doesn't meet them.

If you find that they didn't meet the requirements, the solution is simple, "This is a great start, it looks like you only have a little more to do to meet requirement X."

If you find that they didn't understand the requirements, the solution is pretty much the same, "It appears that it doesn't meet requirement X. Can you help me understand what you believe requirement X is about?" Then help them understand the real requirement after listening to them.

If you find that the requirements aren't objectively measurable, and there's a wide gray line as to what might be interpreted as "done" then first attempt to narrow that line so it's more obvious, and measurable. If the task is subjective in nature, then decide who is the judge, and have that person give specific feedback and direction in an iterative fashion until they believe the work fits the requirements.

Saying, "This needs improvement" or "I don't think this is your best work" isn't nearly as useful as showing them the goal, and helping them understand themselves the gap between what they've accomplished and the goal.


You would only be doing this if the point needs making - avoid being too picky.

Assuming that is the case then start with the positives, find something good to say about his/her work. Then word the criticism with a longer description of where you stand and why you have to mention that you feel a positive improvement could be made. End with a positive note about the work.

If you feel that might still upset someone then it is unavoidable. It is the role of the manager to politely criticise and improve their staffs work and the employee should want to improve in themselves.


I agree with the other responses that it is fine to be direct in this situation, especially if it is a small issue. I think something that could help make this easier and hopefully make them feel better, is if you are able to find something good in their work.

If you can congratulate them for at least one thing that you honestly like, then it will be a much easier transition to tell them where to improve. Make sure that you are not superficial in your compliment, also don't phrase it like: "This is good here, BUT it still needs works".

Make it separate so you talk about the good, then talk about where to improve. This way can be powerful because people are often to quick to point out the bad but don't spend enough time reinforcing the good behavior.

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