Coworker is not taking constructive criticism well
June 28, 2013 9:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm working on a group project that involves the group doing a lot of review and critique of each other's work before it becomes the final product. A coworker is not taking the criticism well and I'm trying to understand what is the best way for *me* to handle this and also what is reasonable for me to expect from the coworker.

We started out with a larger group but due to vacation etc. I am now often working alone with just one other group member. He happens to be the weakest performer at the sort of work we're doing so his work requires a lot of critique(*see below). We have sessions where I just seem to give him a list of things that are unacceptable in the work and suggestions for how to fix them.

I am used to getting this kind of critique myself -- usually I take notes of the list, make sure that I understand the items, and ask questions about things I don't get or don't agree with. I feel like I learn a lot from these kinds of things. I know part of it is that I really like my boss because I think he's smart and genuinely wants me to learn from my mistakes -- I don't really feel like they're mistakes at the ends of these session; I just feel like he's shown me how to do things better.

The person I am critiquing NEVER takes notes, mostly says uh-huh to all my comments (i.e., there is no discussion), and I feel like he just gets angrier and angrier as we go through the work. Then he comes back later wtih the 'fixed' version and only some of my suggestions have been incorporated, sometimes in a way that shows he didn't understand what I meant.

I am sensitive to the fact that it can be unpleasant to just be endlessly criticized, so sometimes, for example, I have tried pointing out things that are "unclear" etc. and reminded him of what the goal is, and said what other way could we format this slide to get the message across? His response to my prompts for discussion like that are that we should just do it the way I want. I will say that I am not particularly 'gentle' about the whole thing - I certainly don't spend much time pointing out things that are correct, like I would with, say, an intern; I think we are both way too high on the professional ladder to expect this kind of coddling. I also don't think I could do that sincerely, and honestly, very little is correct even now....

I mean, the easiest thing here would be to just take the info I need from him and redraft everything correctly and just leave him out of the process. But another goal in this project is to bring the less experienced group members up to speed on the techniques we're using with the end goal that the less experienced people will take over and I will move onto something else. The project had been languishing for a while with the less experienced people on it, so I and the other experienced coworker were taken off other work in order to 'rescue'. Just doing it all myself is not an option.

So this whole process is awful -- I know he's unhappy, he's not getting any better at what he's doing, and he probably hates me now. I am incredibly frustrated at the way that he doesn't appreciate the huge amount of work it is for me to give him a critique. I am also a little worried that his lack of improvement will reflect badly on me (although, see below, I know my boss will not totally blame me). Is there anything I can do to make this work better????? Or is he just a big baby that can't be expected to improve?

*this is not my opinion -- I and another coworker have been doing this kind of work for a long time, and our managers told the whole group that we know what needs to be done and that our work is what to emulate -- I also feel like this message was communicated in a very polite and respectful way to the less experienced group members. Privately, one of my managers has expressed frustration about less-experience coworker because he doesn't seem to be improving with his exposure to seeing how things 'should be done' and also is really passive when we talk as a group about what needs to be done -- less-experienced-coworker is always very agreeable about doing tasks, but when push comes to shove, he has some crazy excuse or has done some half-assed job that shows he clearly did not agree with what he was told to do (or didn't understand??? But he never asks questions....)
posted by Tandem Affinity to Work & Money (23 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Have you tried physically marking up the work, and giving him something to pattern from? I always found it excruciatingly difficult when my manager who had been there for decades would tell me how to format a document/write something because she knew it all implicitly and what she said often didn't make sense to me, or when it did it would be missing some crucial component which meant I didn't understand it at all actually, or she was talking about a different document entirely. The only way we could work the issues out together was physically editing the document because even when I took notes I did not have the same knowledge base she was using for reference. I only had what I had picked up in my short time there and it just wasn't enough.

Like, the injunction to use 'correct grammar' actually didn't touch on double spacing after the full stop because our house style was different to what I'd learned at uni. And font changes were a bugbear. And document structure between the different versions. And how to format for which higher ups.

Your critique may be not hitting home because it isn't coming across in a way he can understand. Or he may be unable to take criticism. But verbally dissecting a document has never ever worked for me, even when I took notes, because I cannot process aural instructions the way I can visually.

And yes, compliment sandwiches aren't a sign of weakness. It adversely impacted my performance with that particular manager because she could never let me leave the office on a high note, she always had one last thing to say that was negative. It was wearying, and honestly, I got to a point where it never seemed to matter what I changed, what I edited, because she would find something, say something, add something. So why wreck myself when she was always going to tell me I was wrong (admittedly, this was sometimes a 'I feel like changing it, no wait, change it back, what do you mean now it's different, I want that edit back except with that sentence')? So my performance got worse and worse because there was never a point where a document was okay - even if it was acknowledged as faultless, she had to change something, some phrase, some formatting, to appeal to her preference - so I gave up on trying too hard. I didn't send stuff out with deliberate errors, but I stopped line editing because it never changed the way she took the documents so I decided it was a negative use of my time. That could have been mitigated by both using compliments AND by her accepting there is a difference between correctly done and done her way.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:26 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Sounds like your coworker is being passive aggressive because he cannot handle the critique you're giving. When this type of behavior happens repeatedly you have to have a frank discussion about it along the lines of, "here's how I feel when you do|don't do x. If there's something wrong with my approach to critiquing your work, please tell me. I'm also open to suggestions. If we can't solve this I suggest skipping the critique altogether because it doesn't seem to do any good while wasting time for both of us".

Ultimately your coworkers problem seems to be that he's incompetent and not that willing to put in the required work necessary to fix this, and I'm not sure there are any nice ways of handling that.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:29 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I certainly don't spend much time pointing out things that are correct, like I would with, say, an intern; I think we are both way too high on the professional ladder to expect this kind of coddling.

It's not "coddling" to communicate clearly to someone what they have done right as well as what they have done wrong. It's part of any good, professional-level critique.

I've come to be really annoyed by the idea that acknowledging work done well is a "nice" thing to do, or something we do to make other people feel good. I mean, yes, that can be true; but if that's the only purpose of acknowledging work done well, then it implies that acknowledging work done poorly is a "mean" thing to do and something we do to make other people feel bad. Both assumptions are counterproductive in an environment where we're trying to collaborate with people or teach them.

I've written about this before on a couple of Ask Metafilter questions about teaching. I spent about eight years teaching writing at the university level. I used to mark essays by putting checkmarks next to good passages and writing more descriptive comments on the things students had done wrong. I found that I got noticeably better results when I changed tactics and told students clearly and specifically what they had done right in their essays as well as what they had done wrong. Their writing improved faster and more consistently over the course of the semester. It makes sense: they have to understand which writing techniques they should keep doing, and why, as well as which ones they should stop doing.

In addition to telling students what they were doing right, I also told them explicitly what they should work on in their next essay, and I told them I would be looking for it. Then I saved a copy of my notes to the students and referred to the notes when grading the next essay. This seemed to make a big difference. You would think it's not a big leap from "I did X wrong in this essay" to "I should work on X in the next essay." But somehow, just having someone say "you should work on X, and I will be checking your work on X" gave them the motivation to actually work on X.

What motivation does your colleague have to try to improve? His subjective experience of this situation is probably "I do everything wrong, I can't do anything right, I can never win with these people, I am always the worst one in the room—so why bother." Although making people feel bad is not the purpose of critique, it can be demoralizing to get your work torn down over and over.

You should not praise his work insincerely for the sake of creating a "praise sandwich," but try hard to think of something he has done well, or at least attempted to do well, and acknowledge that. If his work is inconsistent in quality, note the passages where it is done relatively well; explicitly identify what makes it good; and encourage him to do more work like that.

It might help after each critique to make a checklist of things for him to work on in the next cycle. Do not make this a very long checklist—if it's a laundry list of ten or twenty things, it will be too much. He can't master that much at once. Very few people can. I would say pick out two or three well-defined areas of technique or effort for him to work on, write down a list, and say that you will start your next critique by focusing on those areas. They should be areas of technique or effort that are important to his work but also areas where improvement is attainable. ("Write more elegant sentences" is probably hard to attain. "Check the spelling of all our clients' names" should be easily attainable.)

Then follow through. Keep a copy of the list and refer to it first thing at the next critique. Give him credit for any improvement he shows on those areas. In the next cycle, you can re-use the same list or make a new one. Lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by Orinda at 9:44 PM on June 28, 2013 [66 favorites]

Have you considered just being blunt with him? "Over the last few times we've met to go over this project, the feedback I am giving you is not being incorporated into your part of the project. This is seriously impacting our pipeline and our ability to get things done in a timely manner, and I am concerned that you are not interested in putting forth the effort necessary to get this job done. You are an excellent worker; what resources and supports do you need to incorporate the feedback I've given you completely and in the time frame specified, and how can I help get you those things so you can demonstrate the skills you have?"
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:55 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think I've got this!

Problem #1: Coworker does not understand your meetings are about generating discussion, learning, and solutions.

Can you ask him what he thinks the purpose of your meetings are for, really listen to his answer, and use the as a jumping off point to hone a process for future meetings you BOTH will find productive? Do that.

But you have to listen, not just give direction - OK?


Problem #2: Coworker has baggage!

Maybe he's incompetent, or shy, or isn't a team player. Maybe he has anxiety issues, or he's never been treated as an equal before, so he doesn't know he's being asked to meet you halfway?

I'd give rebooting your relationship a good hard effort. If that doesn't work, have a supervisor step in and start documenting. He might turn out to be a bad fit for your company, but I hope not!

Good luck.

FWIW, I think you can mentor this guy and solve this, plus do something really really kind for a fellow human being, to boot.
posted by jbenben at 10:31 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you're not his boss.

He resents being criticized by someone who is ostensibly his equal. You probably resent that you lack the authority to make him improve.

While people above are right that being 100% negative is not the way to give a critique, that's not the main problem. The main problem is that critiques between equals don't usually work, and this kind of vague "mentor" relationship is doomed to fail unless both people are incredibly enthusiastic and diligent about it.

A boss needs to be involved.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:05 PM on June 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

I guess what I'm trying to say is this:

I'm working on a group project that involves the group doing a lot of review and critique of each other's work before it becomes the final product.

Should not happen in a professional situation. It's not grade school. Your boss needs to do his or her job.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:07 PM on June 28, 2013 [7 favorites]

I have spent years giving critiques to peers and subordinates and can indeed echo what everyone else has said. Just telling someone what they've done poorly or what isn't working even if it's true, never, ever goes over well. Kindness, consideration and acknowledgement will go a long way further towards achieving your goals and making the person happy to help you out and do a great job, which can only be beneficial for the work.

I use something commonly known as the sandwich technique. The way it goes is thus, you start the conversation by praising one aspect that is working, follow it with the critique of what you think needs to be improved and how you could achieve this (the main crux of the whole thing), and end the conversation with another thing that they've done well. That way they start off feeling recognised, know where they've fallen down and how to get back on track and end on a high.

It might go something like this, "John, I really like the way you've used the company corporate colours subtly throughout the branding of the ad, it's nice integration and the client will love it. I'm thinking that the message of what we're trying to get through might be getting lost a little. Do you think you could rework the headline and give me more options as at the moment it's not clear exactly what you're trying to saying and it isn't working so well with the image (go into more detail.) The visual and art direction is bang on, it really jumps off the page and once the headline integrates with it, the ad should sail through the client meeting. Any questions and when do you think you can have these revisions back to me?
posted by Jubey at 11:32 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your approach is not a good one. For a start, you're not a superior and yet you're acting like one. Secondly, you're slowly demoralising your co-worker by only providing negative criticism.

Picking up a book on managing people might be a good start (even though, keep in mind, you're not a manager).

BTW, he doesn't ask questions because why bother? That's what happens when you constantly criticise someone's work and provide no encouragement whatsoever because you feel it's 'coddling' to treat someone decently.
posted by heyjude at 11:50 PM on June 28, 2013 [16 favorites]

The post reads as self-focused and arrogant.

I am incredibly frustrated at the way that he doesn't appreciate the huge amount of work it is for me to give him a critique.

I am sensitive to the fact that it can be unpleasant to just be endlessly criticized, so sometimes, for example, I have tried pointing out things that are "unclear" etc. and reminded him of what the goal is, and said what other way could we format this slide to get the message across?

Saying something is unclear is obviously a critique. I am among those who find the "What other way...?" approach to be childish.

Have you thought about relating to this person that the efforts to get things sorted, going in the right direction, etc., aren't going as well as they need to, and asking his perception of where things stand and why, what form and style of feedback would strike him as most effective?

Also, it's not entirely clear what the work involves and what the problems are, if there are factual mistakes like typos, using fonts other than those specified in a style guide, writing things like, "The chairs is big." It sounds like there's at least some matter of opinion involved in the reviews, and a steady diet of "Your opinion is wrong" gets tiresome in a real hurry.

That said, I recently worked with someone (didn't supervise him, thank my lucky stars) and there was some weird stuff going on. The guy was plenty smart in some respects, hard to understand in others. Things like the need to write 100-character product descriptions would be made as clear as day, with no real problem if they went to 110-115 once in a while, and he often enough wrote more than 250 characters. It pretty much came down to, "You will work within the guidelines or you will no longer be employed here."
posted by ambient2 at 12:05 AM on June 29, 2013

Best answer: While agreeing with the posters above that colleagues should not be acting in a managerial role as it is not effective in most cases, you also can't discount the fact that many men do not like to be criticised by women and there may be issues on his part regarding your gender/power dynamics.
posted by saucysault at 3:22 AM on June 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

I certainly don't spend much time pointing out things that are correct, like I would with, say, an intern; I think we are both way too high on the professional ladder to expect this kind of coddling.

Done right, the point of drawing attention to elements that are particularly good is not to make the person feel good. The point is to use the fact that they will (hopefully) feel good about the comment to get them to do the same sort of thing again. It's not coddling, it's positive reinforcement. It works.
posted by jon1270 at 3:49 AM on June 29, 2013 [15 favorites]

Best answer: If your boss thinks that your coworker's performance is not up to par, and that you should be mentoring your coworker through this project, it is your boss's job to communicate this, clearly, to the coworker- not just to you in private. It is your boss's job to deal with this kind of pushback, and to clarify expectations, and to generally be a boss. It's not fair for them to place that responsibility entirely on you, nor is it professional on their part- dealing with subordinates is what your boss gets paid for. You shouldn't have to manage your peers- only the people below you.

I think you three need to have a meeting about this. It's not surprising that you're getting pushback from a peer who probably thinks you're overly controlling, and likely doesn't understand that this process is for their benefit!
posted by windykites at 6:27 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: group project that involves the group doing a lot of review and critique of each other's work You sound more like a supervisor than a colleague; is that the case? Is this person critiquing *your* work?
People definitely need to be what's right with their work so that they know what to keep doing right. In addition, criticism is very difficult to receive. When you meet, take turns taking minutes. Present criticism as 'this would work better,' ''the preferred structure for this is,' 'make this more like the way you did X,' 'let's review this section for consistency.'

If he's getting angry, he's having a hard time hearing you. 'I know this is frustrating' helps, as well as praising good work. Go out to lunch together, or bring donuts or snacks to meetings - you need to have some compatible time together to balance the tough time. You have the opportunity to act like a manager, even if that's not your defined role here. Managing is about being effective, not worrying about coddling or thinking a staff member is a baby. It's about bringing out the best in people, not beating them up. Use Orinda's excellent information. It's a lot of work. Being a good manager to a staff member who needs a lot of help is a lot of work.
posted by theora55 at 7:13 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here's my honest and sharp critique. And I'm not "coddling" you on my part, either.

You sound like you're not a very good leader, nor a very good critic, and that your feedback, while it may be truthfully accurate, is poor, unhelpful, and actually detrimental to the process of work. This sounds like it stems from your belief that "showing another person the right thing" is what constructive criticism stands for.

In fact, nothing about your question sounds like it's "constructive criticism", as per your title. Constructive criticism isn't about correctly pointing out the things that are wrong; yet it sounds like that's only what you're doing.

This is especially evident when we examine the way you've responded to the situation.
1) You've engaged with a co-worker in critiquing his work.
2) He responds poorly.
3) You continue to engage in the same way, except with more intensity
4) He responds poorly.
5) You become frustrated because he's not appreciating the work you're doing.

A good collaborator/manager/colleague, in that situation, would recognize that the current way of interaction isn't working, and would seek to modify the situation. However, you've chosen to continue doing exactly with you do, somehow with the hope that things will change if you just turn up the intensity. Clearly, this won't work.

Instead, you should think about ways in which you can change the way you interact with him to change the situation.
posted by suedehead at 8:54 AM on June 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

He happens to be the weakest performer at the sort of work we're doing

Hooo boy. Let's see, I am incredibly good at what I do - professional, bright and fast. I was placed on a team halfway through a project and the team was filled with very intellectual insensitive types who quickly labelled me the "weak" member of the team (without even bothering to help me catch up to speed in the first place, or answering my phone calls when I needed help) and began to speak to me as such, getting angry and frustrated with me for not reading their minds and giving them what they wanted. They treated me as a punching block for their frustration over the project and no one had the balls to stand up for me, except myself. So my performance dropped into the toilet. This is a classic HR problem, but all they did was blame me for being a stupid little shit. When the project transferred over to someone else almost 2 years later and I was put on a different project, well lo and behold, I was proactive and my work was complimented and passed around to other projects as 'hey can you do it more like how St. P did it?' Because I wasn't being denigrated every single day by people who thought I was useless! (Oh and the guy who took my place? For a while he was a *star* but as soon as he pissed off the leader by pointing out the same flaws I had pointed out, he got the "stupid little shit" label and is now hated by the team.)

By the way I took an HR course that said team project issues break down as follows
- 80% of the problems are because the goal is unclear
- of the remaining 20%, 80% are because the roles are unclear
- of the remaining 4%, 80% are because the procedures / processes are unclear
- the very very last problem is that you have a bad apple that has to be removed.

So maybe you can stop hating this person as a "weak" member and see them as a competent professional, and speak to him as such. Stop hating him for making *your* life difficult. Apologize to him: "You know, I don't like how I've been talking to you lately. I'm so frustrated by this project, and it's been coming out in my tone and manner. I'm really sorry." Recognize that you're kinda being a controlling haughty "I'm the experienced member here, do it exactly as I say" type person.

Start being a manager / leader - figure out what he needs to be successful (tools, praise, understanding, explanation, big picture background, procedures) and give it to him. Maybe he is in over his head, but at least you'll have treated him as a proper manager would.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:01 AM on June 29, 2013 [14 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's pretty hard to know what's going so wrong just from your question - it sounds like it's mostly that this guy has some growing up to do about how to function in a workplace, like your communication and working style (which may be the dominant style in the org) doesn't align with his, and that you two have gotten into a negative, non-productive rut.

This seems obvious, but maybe you haven't done it yet. Send him an email saying you'd like to chat about how things are going on this project. Then set a separate private meeting and say, "John, I'm really concerned with the way our feedback review sessions have been going. I've done these for years with Boss and I take detailed notes and ask questions and learn so much from them. It's really a key way that folks learn and improve in our org. Ours haven't been going well, and clearly we are both frustrated. What can I do to make them better? What's not working for you? How can I give you this important feedback in a way that works for you and helps you grow here at Org?" Then shut up and listen and take those detailed notes, because your colleague is about to give you an INVALUABLE critique of your management style that you would be smart to pay close attention to if you want to advance in your career. Don't be defensive.

Some ideas to try:

Can you have him sit in on a meeting where you are getting feedback (start using the word feedback instead of critique/criticism) from your boss? Let him see how you take notes, ask questions, etc.

Have your boss give him feedback one day, just to change things up. You could also frame this as the boss giving both of you feedback, giving you another chance to model the behavior you want to see.

Take careful notes on how your boss does this - I suspect in those sessions you like so much you may be getting a lot more positive coddling than you think. I manage people, and the negative/corrective feedback comes a LOT more easily than the positive; I have to constantly consciously remind myself to give positive feedback.

Change up the tone, pattern, and structure of these feedback sessions, with his input. Maybe he needs to run the critique sessions and come in with a list of 5 questions. Maybe you need to have a set of checklists and templates for him to use in doing the work. Maybe you need to review the product in private first and do your feedback in writing because his brain gets overwhelmed hearing it all verbally. Maybe he really thinks you're a jerk and you need to work on your tone, facial expressions and word choice.

Good luck.
posted by amaire at 10:10 AM on June 29, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for taking so much time in answering my question! First off, I hear you all loud and clear that I can always be more supportive during critique and give out more praise, and that it's unlikely I'm ever as 'nice' as I think I am. I have taken all of your admonishments about that to heart, and I'm going to keep in mind that it never hurts to be more supportive. I have worked very hard to be able to accept criticism in a non-personal way, and I think I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to criticism at work; I need to remember that not everyone has had the opportunity to develop that skin.

As I read through all of your comments and saw some of your questions and misunderstandings due to details I left out, it became very apparent to me that a lot of the frustration I'm having is due to the situation and not all because of the coworker. I am definitely NOT his manager. We are equals, and my role versus his is that I know how to do something he needs to learn. On the other hand, he knows how to do *other* things that I do not. Our two managers have been working together and that's why we are working together. They have been somewhat absent lately, though, and that's when it got really frustrating. They do need to play more of a role. The suggestion that I am resentful of not having authority is true too - I realllly do not want to be his manager and I am not, but I feel like I have some responsibility for his performance here. That just doesn't work, and it's what is causing me the stress.

Amaire, your suggestion that the coworker witness me getting the same kind of critique is great, and actually, that is exactly what we did right at first, and on a few separate occasions. My boss has also done this kind of critique for the coworker too. Then afterward, I revised my work according to my boss's suggestions in the presence of this other coworker, requesting his input through the process. I thought it was going well at that point, because it made really clear what our managers were going to nitpick about and what sort of things we could all watch out for. Thinking back, though, during the post-critique rework, there was an attitude from my less experienced coworkers that it was going to be impossible to ever get things right. When more of our equals were around, I and others also participated in a lot of back and forth about how things should be done. It's pretty common to argue and dispute things, but I never felt like things were personal or emotional until we started this one-on-one work.

I also think you all had a lot of great suggestions about how the critique process could go better. We actually did begin with more of a written system, but this coworker and another did not do anything with the comments made on documents. They sometimes deleted them and sometimes just replied in the docs, "no that will not work" without more info. Indeed, my work is also supposed to be equally subject to their critique, too, but they could not find time to read through my work and/or they would not make any suggestions or comments. So it was decided by the managers that we needed to do the face-to-face critique.

Some people said I came off as arrogant and looking down on this guy. It does seem a bit high and mighty to expect appreciation, but my (bad) attitude is based on the fact that this coworker is going to get the same feedback from our managers (and he has already). By going over his work with him beforehand, I am trying to help him produce better work, and thus help him look better in front of higher ups, and he is ignoring me. As I said though, I agree this situation is a little messed up, and so I should stop feeling so much responsibility for how his work looks. I will try to be more detached about what he chooses to do with info I give him. I am going to focus more on how he is helping my work versus my frustration. He is a wealth of information that I need; he has been somewhat passive from the start volunteering any of that info, but I guess more aggressive questioning to get that info is a good opportunity to point out his talents. I don't think we are doing to him what your awful group did to you, St. Peepsburg, but I will keep in mind your description. The less-experienced people have been at this a while and have been getting bad feedback for much longer than I've been on the project, so I should remember that they may not be operating at 100% just because of what's happened before my time. And then I am probably not helping on top of that.

Also using words like 'weaker', I don't think of him as a bad worker or a bad person and I don't look down on him for his 'weakness'; I mean it in the most neutral way that he has no experience doing this stuff and so he is not very agile about it. I know that I have not cast him in a good light, but my bad opinion of him right now, whether right or wrong, stems from the passivity and inaction he shows toward my comments, not from his 'weakness'. My 'critiques' are also not really any kind of subjective opinion that are somehow meant to belittle him - we are scientists and we're designing experiments. There is some art and subjectiveness to that, but not much -- there are hard and fast requirements that we need to adhere to. The critiques I make are things like "There are no controls in this experiment; I would suggest A or B." Or "I think this is the wrong reagent; is it supposed to be the base and not the acid salt?" They are not opinions really. The experimental plans also need to be formatted a certain way -- that is where the coworker is 'weaker' because the format is a custom in-house thing that he just hadn't had exposure to. I think that Orinda's comment that I might not always be clearly explaining what I mean is a good point too -- however, I am actually a free lance copy editor on the side, and so I am required to explain exactly to clients what is 'wrong' with sentences and how to edit and why, etc. I use the same practices I do freelancing with this person....I can't ignore the fact that clients ask for my critique, while this guy may not want it, so I will think about altering my tone a little for this. You also did not like my attempt to prompt discussion with the 'unclear' critique; I probably explained that poorly, but what I am trying to express there is that I know that our managers will find this 'unclear' although I too am stuck on how to make it better, so let's discuss what could be done...I will think about how to better prompt this kind of discussion.

OK, well, sorry to have addressed your suggestions and criticisms so verbosely, but I really want you to know that I do appreciate all of them and that they will help me to change my actions starting Monday morning. If nothing else, this is all a huge learning experience. Thank you.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:48 PM on June 29, 2013

Argh I hate this scenario. Been there. there now, in a way.

And back to St. Peepsburg's excellent comment:
- 80% of the problems are because the goal is unclear
- of the remaining 20%, 80% are because the roles are unclear
- of the remaining 4%, 80% are because the procedures / processes are unclear
- the very very last problem is that you have a bad apple that has to be removed.

To that I add one more- sometimes you don't have the tools you need.

There is really only one step to take RIGHT NOW. Your boss, or the PM/person in charge of this project (if that is not your boss), needs to be told clearly and succinctly that you need direction. The success of the project as it relates to you depends on you getting this direction. THAT IS HIS JOB. To direct you when you need it and help remove obstacles that get in your way. In theory, he/she has the authority to make decisions that can relieve you of the need to make them yourself or try to make judgment calls in the moment. Bogging down in this type of interpersonal crap is what dooms so many projects. In fact, actually writing this reply is helping me see more clearly that I need to fix some things about my own current project....

Frame your communication about needing direction in terms of the aspects listed above- goal/role/process/tools - and present it as a problem for him to solve. Take emotion out. If he cannot respond to that appeal in a way that provides you action items/specific direction to remove the obstacles that are preventing success of the project- then he is failing you. Your burden here is to write your request for direction in a simple, succinct way that reminds your boss of his obligation and his ownership of the project. If you can't get this right- which it sounds like you can't until things improve - then the project may fail. Does your boss care? Does he have any skin in the game?

If your situation is truly the last bullet point- your co-worker is a true "bad apple" - then this method will reveal it because you will have addressed things in a way that truly applies objective techniques to analyze your frustrations in the context of the PROJECT. And it will be on your boss to take action. Again- that revelation will be a product of the direction your boss has given you, so it's not YOUR CALL and it's an objective, rational outcome of the whole situation.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:50 AM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Maybe it's my mood right now projecting, but from what you wrote, I'm seeing this more as an engagement problem than a competence one. He doesn't like doing this and doesn't care to get any better at it. (Or, he has personal issues taking advice from women, or, or, or... who cares; same effect.)

Fucking fire him. Ain't nobody got time for that. Do his critiques by email, and when he doesn't fix what you said, complain to the boss. When the same things keep coming up over and over, complain to the boss. Doing it by email will alleviate the need for him to take notes, and give you evidence to show the boss.

You say your boss will not be surprised by this. Just pull the trigger already.
posted by ctmf at 1:14 PM on July 1, 2013

(I would say, have a conversation with him first about that before jumping right to drastic measures, but if you don't have a supervisor relationship to him, that's your boss's job, not yours.)
posted by ctmf at 2:17 PM on July 1, 2013

I can't help but point out that you have marked all the comments that blame him as "best" while the bulk of the favorites have gone to comments that offered you constructive criticism. It is rare to see such a disconnect between favorites and "best" and it may indicate that you are yourself bad at taking constructive criticism. Perhaps this will help you come to a better understanding.
posted by callmejay at 12:05 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hmm, callmejay, I see your point about the disconnect between Best and favorites, but on the other hand, I see that some of the answers I didn't mark as best, I specifically called out in my response as good suggestions. I may be bad at taking constructive criticism and/or I may be bad at connecting my Best marks with what I actually thought were Best :) In any case, I took the criticism to heart and I do believe I am being a more sympathetic coworker lately.

Orinda's comment is especially glaring, but I didn't Best that because her advice was mostly applicable if I were a manager of my coworker, at least where I work - I didn't really adequately explain that I am not the manager. I hope her answer will help someone who is a manager, but I couldn't really use most of the advice.

As for the 'solution' to the problem, I did feel most strongly that really, it was just a bad situation, with one peer critiquing another. I pointed this out to my manager very briefly ('I think it's difficult for X to get so much feedback just from me; it would go better if we could leave some issues for a time with 3+ people present and have a discussion to get more input). He understood immediately and has taken only a slightly more active role (mainly popping in regularly) and yet it has helped immensely. There is now much more camaraderie between us 'equals' united 'against' the management, and the process is moving right along.

So again, thanks all for your help and I apologize for any unintentional bias in Bests!
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:29 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

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