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What to Do When a Peer’s Feedback Annoys You

We recently received a listener question about peer feedback, and it’s one that I come across often in conversations with readers. Russ and I talked about why peer feedback is so important in episode 23 of the podcast. Here, I’ll give some additional advice about how to approach peer feedback.

…this has to do with a part-time job in retail. I am 56 and have a coworker who is 22 or so. She has been there 3 years and I only 6 weeks. I’m still learning and she is often there and expected to train me. She is a horrible communicator. One quick example: A customer did an online order in the store with me and left. A few minutes later the young co-worker approached me and said the customer was back and “you forgot to print a receipt”. She rubs me the wrong way all the time. She needs to be taught to say, “she left without a receipt”, i.e., non accusatory language. So here’s the question: When dealing with a peer, is it my job to teach them better ways of communicating? Or, do I go to the boss and tell them the individual needs coaching in communicating? Thanks!

Thank you for sending in this question! Here are my thoughts:

Give Feedback Directly to Peers, Not to Your Boss

I think it’s always best to talk to somebody directly. When you go to the boss without having talked to the person directly first, it can feel like you are trying to get them into trouble rather than to help them improve. It doesn’t feel Radically Candid — Challenge Directly and Care Personally at the same time — it feels like Manipulative Insincerity, or like back-stabbing. I know that is not the intention you’d have going to your boss. But that is what it would likely feel like to the other person.

Let Your Emotions Cool Off First

One thing you may be struggling with right now is that you feel so annoyed by your coworker’s communication that it’s pretty hard to go into a conversation in a Radically Candid way. When you’re really annoyed it’s hard to Care Personally. Try to take some time to let your annoyance cool off before having the conversation, and remember to go into it with the intention to be helpful.

Treat Criticism as a Gift

Also remember that when you get feedback from a coworker, it’s really important not to criticize the criticism. Even if you don’t like the way she told you, she did tell you that you made a mistake. Start by simply trying to feel glad she let you know. Aren’t you glad she didn’t go to your boss and tell your boss instead of telling you?? If you are, tell her that.

Ask for Feedback

Next, try to imagine what you might be doing that could be contributing to her poor communication. Try asking her to give you feedback. “Is there anything I could do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?” But only ask this question when you’re ready to hear some feedback. And buckle your seatbelt because you probably won’t like the way she says whatever is on her mind. Your goal is to model how to receive feedback well: to listen with the intent to understand, and then to reward (not punish) the candor.

Focus on the Good Stuff

Before you launch into criticism of your peer, try to think of what you do like about working with her. Often, by the time we’ve decided to give somebody criticism, we are so annoyed that we shift into “you’re a horrible human being” mode without meaning to. If you take a moment to think about the things you like about your peer, to see her as another human being who you basically care about it will help. If you can give voice to some of the things you like — if you can offer a bit of sincere praise — so much the better. But don’t mingle the praise with the criticism or your message will get muddled, and you risk sounding insincere.

Share Your Perspective

Now, hopefully, you’ve shown her that you appreciate feedback, that you care about her personally, and you care about your working relationship. Now it’s safe to offer some criticism.

Try telling her, “Sometimes, when you tell me I’ve screwed up, it’s hard for me to hear. May I explain why?” And then explain to her that you feel she’s accusing you rather than trying to help you when she tells you about mistakes you’ve made.

Does that make sense? Let me know how else I can help with giving feedback to your peers.

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Kim Scott

Kim is a co-founder at Candor and author of "Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity". Kim has built her career as a leader at Google and Apple and as an advisor at numerous other Silicon Valley companies. Her goal is to help people love their work and their colleagues (appropriately of course).

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