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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.

By
Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #469
How to give your coworkers feedback and constructive criticism

1. Figure out why you are criticizing them

The first step to lovingly criticizing your loyal teammates is to understand what you want to criticize them for.

When you think someone’s work is no good, that’s because you think it falls short in some way. It’s supposed to accomplish something that it doesn’t. For example, a marketing report may be intended to give readers a good overview of market trends, but it has no graphs that illustrate the trends. Or Timmy can see instantly that the way the team has designed the guidance system, aiming the missile anywhere in the northern hemisphere will erroneously cause it to detonate on the launchpad. 

If there are several shortcomings to their solution, pick the one that is easiest to understand and will cause the greatest damage if not fixed. But keep notes on the other shortcomings. You never know when they’ll come in handy.

2. Ask questions to lead them to the mistakes

You can’t just point out the flaws to them. “Gee, you imbecile, can’t you see that your marketing report doesn’t even show any trends?” That won’t work. I’ve tried it. I didn’t make any friends at all. Fortunately, fire ants hadn’t yet appeared in North America.

Instead, make it seem as though the problem is you, and you just can’t figure out how the heck all that high falutin’ stuff works. You’re just not quite as bright as they are, and you really need their help.

“Hey, guys. I don’t really understand the guidance system here. Can you walk me through what happens when we aim the missile in the northern hemisphere? It seems to cause the detonation system to go kaboom. Could you help me understand where I’m going wrong?”

Now instead of you coming across as superior, talking down to them from on high, you’re the meek, newbie team member, asking the Knowledgable Old Ones for their sage advice. 

3. Let your colleague propose the solutions

When they answer your question, listen. Even though you know where the conversation is going, let them be the ones to take it there. You know they’ll spot the problem that was obvious to you, only they’ll think they found it. They’ll feel great about their own brilliance. You, the meek, will quietly marvel at their grand accomplishments. You’ll also inherit the Earth. 

4. Be prepared to learn

There’s also the chance that their answer will surprise you. Perhaps the missile’s autodestruct capabilities are intentional, because the plan is to sneak the missile into the zombie encampment, and let them blow themselves to gobs of zombie goo. 

Maybe there are no graphs in the market trends report because the author doesn’t want it to be obvious that the trends are negative, and historically, bearers of bad news at this company have been burned at the stake.

A few well-placed questions got the group unstuck.

Whatever the reason, as the Knowledgable Old Ones answer your concern, you need to be open-minded enough to accept that maybe you’re wrong and they’re right. If that turns out to be the case, now you can praise their brilliance in earnest and they’ll think you’re just the cat’s meow.

Which is a good place to be. Because as you recall, you made a list of all of their design’s shortcomings. Now choose the next most important one, and start asking questions that will lead to those being uncovered and fixed as well.

When you’re right and they’re wrong, they don’t want to know it. No matter who “they” are. So instead, let them discover it on their own. Identify the shortcomings in their solution, and ask them questions about that shortcoming, framing it as your shortcoming instead. Listen to their answer, and help guide them to your answer, which was (of course) right, all along. 

A few well-placed questions got Timmy’s group unstuck. The missile was not intended as a trojan horse to destroy the zombie army from within. The accidental detonation was, indeed, a bug. Now the team is so grateful to Timmy that they’ve asked him to take the lead designing their new Zombie Body Part Recycling Center. I’ve looked over Timmy’s design and it’s flawless. Well, except for one teeny, tiny problem that I’m sure he’ll want to hear all about.

Follow Get-It-DoneGuy on Twitter and Facebook. I give great keynote speeches on productivity, Living an Extraordinary Life, and entrepreneurship. Find me at http://SteverRobbins.com

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins 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. 

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