Self-proclaimed “gameplay engineer & software sorceress” Jessica Baker once Tweeted out a comment that went viral: “I wish engineers hyped each other up like artists do, the other day I commented “nice” on someone’s code review and they thought i was sarcastically pointing out a bug.”
The UK-based IT professional’s comment resonated with developers around the world, earning hundreds of retweets and thousands of likes. Stack Overflow’s 2018 Developer Survey found that at the beginning of their career, around 40% of developers strongly agree that they think of themselves as competing with peers and that they’re not as good as most peers. While the number drops based on experience, it only goes down to about 20%. It’s safe to say, then, that a good chunk of developers and engineers are in a similar situation to Jessica — working in environments with competition, a need to get ahead, and prone to criticism.
Critical co-workers are not limited to just those who write code, but its prevalent across all roles in all industries, as well as throughout our personal lives. Certainly, feedback is the only way we can improve in our careers and as painful as it can be to accept, criticism is a necessary evil in our development. However, the colleague who is constantly complaining, pointing out errors, and telling you how you can be better gets downright annoying and creates a negative atmosphere for everyone.
Are You a Critical Person?
The first step in the battle against negative, critical people is to double-check you’re not a culprit yourself. Consider your interactions throughout the day and ask yourself some challenging questions about how you communicate. Do you have trouble praising people? Are you regularly irritated and complaining or focusing too much on people’s faults? Do you always want to fix other people’s work? If not out loud, are these conversations happening in your head?
The way others describe you may also be a sign that you’re too critical. For example, although referred to as a “perfectionist” sounds positive at first, it might have a passive connotation.
How to Stop Being So Critical
If after careful self-evaluation, you come to realize that your team tiptoes around you and resist sharing their work with you due to fear of more unreasonable criticism, it’s time to start down the path to improvement.
The first step is to understand why the urge to criticize keeps arising. Often, overly critical people arrive at that state because of their own insecurities. They are overly critical on themselves and project their feelings and behaviours onto others. You may also be a genuinely caring person who wants to help others succeed and experience the same successes you have in your career. Regardless, too much criticism is harming your relationships and it needs to be minimized. Here are some steps you can take:
Focus on people’s good behaviour and help others improve by reinforcing positive accomplishments;
Remember that because somebody does something differently it is not inferior. We all have different backgrounds and experiences;
Double check if you really are right, or if that person you’re about to criticize is possibly on a better track; and, most importantly,
Verify that you have all of the information and understand the full context as to why work was completed a certain way or a person reacted in a specific manner.
Working with an Overly Critical Person
As nice as it would be to just avoid the people in our lives who make a habit of tearing apart everything we do, sometimes that’s impossible. You can’t ghost your client or their employees forever when you’re on contract, so you’re going to have to come up with a solution to manage them before you go crazy.
Don’t take it personally. As noted earlier, critical people are often projecting their own issues onto you, so have empathy in noticing that they’re working through their own struggles.
Take their feedback for what it is. Their communication and delivery strategy may be brutal, but if there is some genuine feedback buried in that insulting comment, use it to improve on yourself.
Consider that you may be the problem. Are you struggling on the project and being resistant to feedback from a person who is acting appropriately?
Objectively and assertively tell them how it is. With the proper tone and carefully thinking through your words, explain the perception they give you, how it makes you feel and ask them to adjust their approach.
Nobody wants to spend all day listening to everything they’ve done wrong or how it could have been completed better. It’s an ingredient to a toxic work environment and you can fight back by both ensuring you’re not guilty yourself and stopping others before they rip a team to pieces.
What tips do you have to deal with super critical people?