What do you call the kind of advice given by someone, such as a sympathetic manager or your friend, who wishes to point out your mistakes and advise you about how to improve in the future?

I am looking for a word, or expression similar to "pep talk," but which more specifically means "to encourage and motivate" in the above context. For example, in a coach-athlete context, or any other kind of context where the advice given is (or, sought, should be) brutally honest.

  • So you're looking for blunt, but not brutal? That could be a fine distinction.
    – mcalex
    Feb 15, 2013 at 14:38

6 Answers 6


I think the phrase heart-to-heart talk (conversation, discussion etc) is the phrase you're looking for. From thefreedictionary.com: adj: (esp of a conversation or discussion) concerned with personal problems or intimate feelings

The phrase can be used as either a noun or an adjective; that is, you can have a heart-to-heart conversation, or you can simply have a heart-to-heart.

After the meeting, I pulled Bob aside for a quick heart-to-heart.

Warning: heart-to-heart can infer an romantic, intimate conversation as well as the pep talk meaning, so make sure the context is understood.

With editing thanks to J.R.


I think the phrase constructive criticism would fit. It is defined as follows:

Constructive criticism is the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one. In collaborative work, this kind of criticism is often a valuable tool in raising and maintaining performance standards.


I think heart-to-heart could work in some contexts, but in many others it would be much too soft, or gentle, to impart the "tough love* meaning OP is seeking--perhaps occasionally bleeding into the romantic, or at least too-tender, connotation mcalex warned against.

I called Bob out on what he'd done, but encouraged him to improve, I cleaned Bob's clock, but encouraged him to grow, I told Bob to pull up his socks, I gave Bob a/his comeuppance, and urged him to improve, I told Bob to get his shit together, among several other alternate expressions, hit closer to the meaning OP is seeking.


A "chewing out" or an "ass-chewing" is an abrasive commentary about someone's mistakes. It is usually given by a superior (such as a father, coach, military officer or NCO, or boss) to a subordinate (such as a son, athlete, junior officer or enlisted man, or employee). This phrase is normally used for conversations between men; it is normal for the conversation to involve cussing and profanity.

There are three typical scenarios in which such a conversation takes place:

  • In a private room, with just the reprimander and reprimandee present.
  • In the presence of a group of people, who are all being chewed out for their error(s).
  • In the presence of a group of people, who are all of approximately equal rank to the reprimandee, and all of whom are of much lower status than the reprimander. (For example, a group of boot-camp trainees, one of whom is being chewed out by the drill sargeant.)

Any other scenario is likely to result in a major "loss of face" for the reprimandee. (The third scenario also results in a "loss of face", but this is intentional. Boot camp is designed to diminish the individualism of the trainees, and replace it with pride in having survived boot camp and loyalty to one's fellow soldiers.)

  • 1
    This does not sound like something that a sympathetic manager or friend might do as was asked by OP.
    – Ast Pace
    Jul 21, 2015 at 20:53

You could call it "coaching". That implies wanting to help you improve. Another word for honest feedback is "critique", though that doesn't have the same positive connotation as coaching.


This type of conversation is called a "come to Jesus." In this context, it is a conversation where the recipient has to make some changes in their behavior, with negative consequences if they should fail to make the adjustments requested/required.


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