Sunday, December 17

How to Criticize a Peer's Work

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Knowing how to criticize a peer’s work can be critical, and especially an important concept to grasp before approaching a co-worker to say, “This sucks. You must be so stupid.” That sort of language will only cause more problems, and instead a professional should seek to speak in a manner that will provide optimal benefit to everyone involved.

Polite Offer

Firstly, mastering how to criticize a peer’s work involves knowing how to approach another worker before the criticism is even offered. For example, this means rather than walking right up to their desk and unleashing a torrent of negativity, there should at least first be some form of consent. Those looking to offer criticism can take an approach as simple as asking an opening question, such as “Hey, I noticed one or two things in your latest report that I’d love to go over with you. You mind if I show you what I’m thinking here?” This at least allows the other employee to decide another time would be better; or, if this indeed is a good time, gives them the opportunity to adopt the necessary mood and frame of mind necessary for the oncoming conversation.

Constructive Comments

Some people are just brutally honest, others blunt to the point of being abrasive, but no matter how difficult it may be, part of figuring out how to criticize a peer’s work is learning how to frame criticisms in a way that is constructive, in addition to delivering such words in a positive tone. Rather than crudely point out how terrible something is, an open-ended question can be very effective, for instance. A phrase such as “What if you were to try this instead?” can do wonders, as it gives the impression of a helpful suggestion rather than a stark accusation. The other benefit is that it makes the criticism process seem more like a dialogue than a one-sided monologue. Additionally, it provides the opportunity to present the case for the correction, and actually illustrate why this supposedly better idea really is more ideal.

Sandwich Method

Just as customer service letters must be very delicate and neutral-toned, so too is a graceful voice necessary in how to criticize a peer’s work. The sandwich method is a classic tool of how to deliver information that could be regarded as unpleasant, which is a category that criticism will often fit into. The basic idea of the sandwich method is that a piece of bad news should be delivered between two positive notes in order to reduce the negative impact, open on a good note, and close in good graces. For criticism, this can mean offering a compliment on the project to begin the conversation, then using a “however,” “but,” “although,” or other appropriate transition to switch to the critique, then ending with an affirmation of an overall job well done.

No matter what specific strategies or disciplines or used in practicing how to criticize a peer’s work, perhaps the most important thing to remember is this: Criticism will always be received better if the reasoning behind it is explained. If a worker can truly show a co-worker how to be moreefficient or more productive, they have an inherent incentive to take the criticism seriously. On the other hand, if the criticism is purely coming from a source of frustration, a petty disagreement, or clumsy political maneuvering, it should probably be kept quiet and never brought up to begin with.


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