Don't make it awkward! Here are some tips to help.

Don’t Make Peer-To-Peer Constructive Criticism Awkward: 11 Tips

Posted October 16, 2015 by Caroline Whitney in Managing Your Team
Giving peer-to-peer reviews is uncomfortable, at best, if you don't prepare. Get educated on making the difficult conversation a whole lot easier.

Giving difficult feedback can be awkward, there's no way around it. Peer-to-peer review can feel uncomfortable and, at worst, ineffective.

But, constructive criticism is important in business. Quality feedback helps people improve and therefore, helps the company improve.  

Learn how to effectively give and receive criticism, and build your empathy, your ability to communicate and listen, and your respect from team members.

And supervisors: these tips are great at employee review time as well!

Giving Difficult Peer Feedback

Do It Early

If you notice a problem with a peer, don’t wait to address it. Give the coworker an opportunity to fix the issue as soon as they can. The earlier you catch it, the easier it will be to fix. Solving the problem early on will save time and energy on both sides.   But, at the same time...

Don’t Catch Them Off Guard

Approaching the conversation respectfully is imperative here. Give your peer time ample heads up any time you want to discuss something sensitive. Defensive conversations in the copy room aren't good for anyone.

Don't Attack Or Insult

Remember to be positive and non-judgemental. People are more receptive to feedback when the person giving them that feedback has a positive attitude and is being nice.  Meanness won’t get you anywhere.


Before you even say a word to your coworker, identify the goals of your conversation. What are you hoping to get out of this?  It will help you stay focused.

Be Clear

Don’t hide anything. Just be clear and to the point. Trying to avoid saying what the problem is outright will only make it worse, and your coworker may not understand the issue. Say what you mean!  

Also, be specific. Give examples when you can, and outline how you'd prefer things change moving forward. “Could you submit those expense reports monthly?” is better than “please be more timely with your work.” Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Don't Tell Them They're Wrong

First of all, they may not agree, and second of all, it makes the confrontation more, well, confrontational. Rather than pointing out what is wrong, suggest better options.  Don’t order them what to do.

Use Non-Judgmental Language 

For example, use “what if” instead of more negative words or phrases.  “What if we do it this way going forward” is better than “this is not good,” or “you’re doing a good job, but I’d prefer if…”  “But” is a word people definitely don’t like to hear.

Use The Passive Voice

My college, high school, and grad school teachers would all kill me for saying this, but use the passive voice when giving difficult feedback to a peer.  

While not so great for effective writing, the passive voice can be useful when giving constructive criticism to a coworker, because it draws the attention away from the coworker you are criticizing.  

For instance, saying “that memo you wrote wasn’t great” sounds better than “you wrote a bad memo.”  Your coworker will focus on the less-than-par work, rather than think that you think she is a less-than par-worker.

Focus On The Problem, Not The Person

Like we just suggested with using passive voice, focus on the actions that are a problem rather than telling the person that they are a problem.  He or she may not take it well if you criticize them as a person, but if you talk about their work, they are more apt to listen.

Make It A Two-Way Conversation

Listen to what your peer has to say.  Field their questions and consider their suggestions.  If they feel like they are being heard as well, they are more likely to take your criticism well.

Try The Criticism Sandwich

As Mary Kay Ash once said (yes, the makeup lady), “sandwich every bit of criticism between two heavy layers of praise.”  Everyone likes hearing what they are doing right.  If you use the sandwich, your coworker will be in the right mindset to receive your feedback and change.

Giving constructive and effective feedback to a peer is something you’ll have to do at one point or another, so it’s an important skill to learn.  

Understanding the challenges of giving constructive feedback will make you a better employee and coworker- and it may also help you receive criticism better, yourself.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.