Vivek Ravisankar.

How to critique?

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Vivek Ravisankar
Vivek Ravisankar

I chose to say “critic” vs just saying “feedback” because feedback can be appreciation too, but rarely viewed that way. Criticism is generally disapproval of something. It’s engineered in our DNA to gain social acceptance & hence critiquing is generally hard to do. In most cases, we keep quiet with the pursuit of a harmonious outcome. However, holding back does two things: (a) it doesn’t let the other person get better (b) over time this feeling festers into a dislike of the person. Ironically, it makes the outcome less harmonious.

So, the question is how do you constructively critique? Everyone has a different style but I’m going to share mine. It has 3 parts:

Substance over the person

There’s a lot of difference between “I disagree with you” vs “I disagree with your hypothesis” or “you can be crisper” vs “your presentation can be crisper.” Oftentimes, we actually mean the latter but we end up saying the former. Critiquing substance is accepted way better by people.

Express how you feel

Let the other person know how you feel about the situation. It’s hard (almost impossible) to debate with your feelings. “I don’t agree with your hypothesis and I am worried that we are going to spin up a bunch of work for my team.” Interestingly, when you express how you feel it usually brings people closer.

Offer a recommendation

Third, offer a recommendation. “I don’t agree with your hypothesis & I’m worried that we are going to spin up a bunch of work for my team. How about we poll customer A, B & C who have been vocal about this and then decide go/no-go? Would you be okay with it?

It is hard to consciously do this & consumes a lot of mental cycles. I have been practicing this for over a year and still slip up. But as you try this more, it becomes embedded into your muscle memory and gets easier. It’s liberating because you don’t hold back. All said, there’s a big caveat: adapt the concept but tune it to your style. You have to retain your authenticity.

Next time, don’t hold back your feelings. Try the above technique. And if it doesn’t work, you know how to tell me :)

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