10 Constructive Criticism Tips for Peer Review Groups
Taking constructive criticism can be hard to deal with, but do you really think it’s any easier for the people doling it out? Well, maybe for the particularly sadistic it is. But most of us live in a world where we like to be nice and preserve each other’s feelings.
If this pertains to you and you’d like to get better at it, then you’ve come to the right place. It’s especially useful to offer constructive criticism when you get further along in your schooling or career and have to offer such in a peer review group.
You want to show you have respect for the person you’re criticizing while offering something useful that will make his or her efforts better. That’s a delicate balance. In the following article, we’re going to show you how to get there with our 10 favorite constructive criticism tips. Let’s begin!
1. Ask Yourself Why It Matters
One of the worst mistakes a person can make when attempting to offer constructive criticism is to just jump out with the first criticism that comes to mind. They feel like they have to contribute to the roasting out of a sense of duty and participation, but they’ve thought very little about what they’re actually going to say.
Don’t fall into this trap if you find yourself in a peer review group. Think about what you’re going to say. Really take some time to consider why it will matter to the person hearing it. If you can’t think of a good reason, then don’t offer the criticism. If you can, then proceed respectfully.
2. Turn Negatives Into Positives
Criticism is a word with an inherently negative connotation. As a society, we think of it as only when people tell us what we did wrong. For that reason, it may be easier on you to start out with that negative approach. However, if you do it, do it silently inside the walls of your brain. Let it bounce around in there as you work on a way to deliver that criticism with a positive approach.
- Example, negative: Your thesis here makes no sense. Why would any country want to have an Electoral College over a Popular Vote?
- Example, positive: I disconnected with the thesis a bit. Perhaps you could explain more on this part about why the Electoral College is superior to a Popular Vote.
Both examples essentially say the same thing. However, the language is transformed into a more supportive and proactive approach. Makes all the difference!
3. Be Specific
Don’t just touch on why you hated a certain character or decision or [insert viewpoint of the classmate here]. Get really specific on the elements of something that lost you or that could stand to be fleshed out a little better.
The more specific you are with a criticism, the more your peer review partner is likely to appreciate what you have to say. That’s because he or she will realize that you paid attention to what they were stating and really “got into it,” so to speak. So, while you may be criticizing them, part of them will be flattered that you paid so closely of attention to what they had to say.
4. Challenge the Other Person
When offering criticism, don’t be afraid to dig into the more difficult elements of a story, thesis, paper. Challenge them to do better by showing some enthusiasm for what they’ve done well and then offering some creative suggestions about where they could go from that point.
This approach dismisses the elements of their work that needs to be changed. It also offers a clear path forward for how to improve upon a project.
5. Focus on the Prescription, Not the Person
Your criticisms should always center on the elements of what is not working and reasonable suggestions for how to fix it. You should never use language that could be construed as an attack on the person you are criticizing.
Stay focused on the work. They may not like it, but they’ll certainly respect it.
6. Resist the Urge to Fix It Yourself
There can be a temptation in peer review groups to “save time” by fixing the problem yourself. This is a bad idea. For starters, it gets you off the hook from learning and exercising a very valuable life skill (constructive criticism). Furthermore, it gets them off the hook for having to grow and start pulling more of their own weight on a project.
People who have everything done for them get used to taking advantage of others. When you swoop in and expect nothing of them, freely fixing their mistakes so you can just “get on with it,” you contribute to this unhealthy cycle. Do yourself and your fellow group members a favor and put the burden back where it belongs.
7. Reinforce Their Worth
Some of what we’ve already mentioned can be tough to pull off. It takes a certain degree of backbone and, yes, cruelty, if you want to call it that, towards the element being criticized. That’s why it is important you know how to cushion criticisms in a blanket of positive reinforcement.
Figure out which elements you’d like to address. Then, look for three surrounding elements that you can endorse. When you get ready to give the one piece of constructive criticism, lead in with one positive, the criticism, and then the last two positives.
Three positives usually negate a negative in the mind of a person. That said, the group member will get the point. He’ll realize what he needs to fix but will still feel like a valued member for perceptibly doing more right than he did wrong.
8. Prevent Yourself from Talking ‘At’ Them
Constructive criticism should never be given as a speech. Your job is not to stand there in front of the person you’re criticizing and preach at them about everything they did wrong.
It should be a conversation instead. Everything works better when there is some give-and-take. So ask questions, share thoughts, allow them to ask questions.
9. Watch Tone
Realize that when you’re criticizing the work of someone, there is a good chance they’re going to start taking a few things personally. That’s why it is all the more important to watch the words you use and the way you deliver them.
Use a calm, even volume and little inflection. This “just-the-facts” approach keeps them from reading more into what you’re saying than what is actually there. It also keeps emotions out of things as much as possible.
10. Practice What You Preach
Show your fellow peers that you are as committed to getting your own work right as you are to constructively criticizing theirs. Pick out your own mistakes. Freely admit things that need work or that you wished you’d done better.
When you show yourself on the same level as your peer review group, they’re more apt to consider what you have to say and offer support of their own. This is the type of behavior that, if employed, would bring each such group closer together with each passing project.
Constructive Criticism Works With the Right Delivery
Constructive criticism is vital to the world of school and work. It teaches you how to have backbone, differences of opinion, and a cooperative spirit, even when you don’t see eye-to-eye on every little matter. That said, it’s also a difficult skill to master.
Following the 10 tips presented here will get you closer to where you need to be. Now it’s your turn, readers. What are some of your favorite constructive criticism techniques? Sound off in the comments section below!
[Featured Image by Marines.mil]