How to Critique a Colleague's Bad Decisions in 4 Steps

When you frame it the right way, your feedback can get your colleague on your side. Get-It-Done Guy explains how to criticize without making enemies.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #469

A couple of years ago, my tap-dancing, genius MIT mechanical engineer, New York musical theater actor, and accountabilibuddy Timmy and I started helping each other be more productive. You can read about that in my episode about protecting work/life balance. Timmy is on to a new adventure: he’s learning to program computers. The class he’s taken has put him on a group project, building the control software for a missile that will someday be used by a renegade group of zombie hunters to enslave what remains of the post-apocalyptic world of 2024. They added him to a project team that was already up and running. 

He’s thrilled! His new teammates are great people. They’ve started the project already. They’ve laid the groundwork. They’ve already programmed the foundation of the system and they’ve made a lot of mistakes. Their scripts don’t work. Their builds don’t build. They’ve simply created bad software. 

Timmy is pulling his hair out (which is a shame, because he has pretty much flawless hair, like a Peter Parker crossed with a teenage Clark Kent). He wants to call his team together and tell them, “It’s an honor to be part of your team. Unfortunately you’re all incompetent boobs. Your designs are wrong. Your scripts are broken. You have no idea what you’re doing.” Then, of course, he’ll tell them the right way to do everything. They’ll be so grateful that from then on they'll listen to everything he has to say and adopt all his ideas without challenging them.

They’ll also have him kidnapped, roll him naked in Oreo ice cream cake, and leave him tied to the top of a mound of Texas fire ants. They might even test out the missile on him. This would be a terrible waste of an otherwise scrumptious Oreo ice cream cake. There’s gotta be a better way.

And there is. When you want to give your co-workers feedback that their design sucks, do it in a way that has them thanking you for it. 

Giving Your Coworkers Constructive Feedback

  1. Figure out why you are criticizing them
  2. Ask questions to lead them to the mistakes
  3. Let your colleague propose the solutions
  4. Be prepared to learn

Let's dive deeper into each:


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.