Conversations can be tricky, tough and inconvenient. Especially if a conversation includes criticism, if it points out weaknesses, if it covers different opinions or if emotions are involved.

Moreover, the relationship between the people involved influences the structure of communication. The following blog provides advice for handling tricky conversations, especially how to handle criticism.

There are many ways how to react to criticism. It doesn’t matter if the criticising person is your coach or your teammate, friend or a stranger:

  1. You can decide if you actually want to hear the criticism or if you are not ready or if it isn’t the right moment/ place. 
  2. You are responsible if you want to accept the feedback or if you just want to listen to it.
  3. It is you who makes the decision if the criticism is valid or not.
  4. It is all about you if you want to change your behaviour in the future or not.
  5. You can always ask for more information and clarification.

If you want to give somebody constructive feedback successfully or if you want to talk about something delicate (e.g. if you feel like somebody treated you badly) consider the following steps:


First of all, set a date and time by asking the person you want to talk to. Next, clarify and write down your 3 main goals in your conversation. Think about the necessary steps to achieve these goals. Write down what’s in your mind to get a mental structure for your conversation. Positive self-talk can help to decrease or avoid insecurity and nervousness during the conversation. For example, tell yourself before and within the conversation “I am okay the way I am, I will stick to my plan, I won’t let myself be talked over, I won’t rise to provocation”


Don’t spend too much time on small talk and try to speak in a calm and objective way. Inform your partner about the content, your point of view and about the structure and the goals of the conversation. Finally, ask for his or her consent. You can also mention feedback rules (read our last blog to find out more about this) or let the person know that it might not be convenient to talk about the following topic.

E.g. Conversation between a coach and an athlete: “Dear Bob, I would like to talk to you about the last training session. First of all, I will listen to your impression of the last training session and then I will tell you what I observed. Afterwards, I invite you to set goals for the future how to improve the team spirit, which at the end will have an impact on your climbing performance.”

  • STATING THE SITUATION (from the point of view  person who's giving the critique)

Give a detailed description of the flaws/missing quality/wrong behaviour and their impacts/consequences. If your conversation partner is trying to justify him/herself, accuse or tries to distract from the topic you should point out the structure of the conversation. Use I-statements instead of you-statements. For example: “I think it could work better if you tried to be more patient” Instead of “You are not patient!” Don’t waste time by talking about unimportant or unrelated stuff.


Give him or her the chance to take a stand. Ask open questions and don’t get into comparing people, for example, other athletes or coaches who behave the same way.


Discuss the desired behaviour in detail. Step by step, find a solution that will work for both parties.


Write down objective goals and sub-goals that can be measured. For example use SMART-goals: Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Reachable, Time. (More about goal-setting here).


Set dates to meet for reassessing the agreed goals and sub-goals.

Let us know how your constructive criticism worked! What worked well, what didn't?