How to Critique a Colleague

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Critiquing a colleague may seem difficult at first. Many of us wonder how we can maintain supportive relationships with our colleagues if we also critique their performance. But a study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information in 2005 found that workers in a hospital who raised issues directly with each other were quantifiably more satisfied, committed, and effective coworkers. Feeling confident about critiquing your colleague’s performance in a positive manner can actually strengthen your relationship and increase your own job satisfaction.

A Two-Way Street

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Constant criticism never builds trusting relationships, so it’s necessary to know when to critique and when to praise. Only offer a critique of a colleague with whom you already have a supportive relationship, and whom you praise for his/her work often. Your colleague may then trust you enough to ask for your honest opinion, in which case you have been invited to make suggestions. If your opinion hasn’t been invited, decide whether the issue is important enough to warrant an unsolicited critique. Then, make sure to ask for and value your colleague’s advice on your work performance, to emphasize that critique is a two-way street.

Praise Sandwich

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"Sandwich" your critique by starting and ending with words of praise. If you must critique your colleague’s latest presentation, begin with a sincerely positive evaluation, for example, “Your visual aids were very well executed and enhanced the presentation.” Once your colleague knows that he or she is doing something well, you can provide some thoughtful suggestions before wrapping up with some reinforcement for his/her positive contributions to the workplace.

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Phrase your criticism in a constructive manner, focusing on questions or suggestions for improvement instead of problems. Gregg Walker of Oregon State University’s Department of Speech and Communication recommends that you stay positive by focusing on issues in the present instead of the past, critiquing the person’s specific actions and avoiding vague or personal criticisms, and inviting collaborative problem-solving. Saying “I wonder what would happen if you put this part of your presentation first instead of last,” will elicit a much more positive response from your coworker then a negative comment, such as “You shouldn’t have ordered the presentation that way."

Be Direct

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A 2010 study of nurses and midwives by the Family and Community Health Research Group from the University of Western Sydney in Australia found that indirect criticism through gossip was one of the largest contributors to workplace adversity and coworker discomfort. However, when colleagues addressed issues of gossip directly, they developed stronger relationships and became more open to constructive communication with one another. Always critique colleagues in person instead of going behind their backs, and you will develop respectful relationships that will improve performance for all involved.