Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Take (and Give) Co-worker Feedback Like a Mature Adult

I always strive to be a levelheaded, open-minded, and poised professional.

But often, when I receive unsolicited feedback from my co-workers, all I want to do is channel my inner five-year-old with an exaggerated eye roll and the ever-sassy retort, “You’re not the boss of me!”

Mature, I know.

But feedback from your peers is a whole different ballgame than feedback from your manager. Because it’s from people at the same professional level as you, it can feel more like a blow to your ego, or even a personal attack on your abilities.

But to help your department produce the best work possible, and to constantly push yourself to improve, you can’t keep ignoring that constructive criticism. And if you see something that could be improved, you also need to be able to voice your feedback respectfully. To do that, here are some tips to reframe your perspective and learn how to effectively take—and give—peer feedback.

Take it or Leave It

First, it’s important to realize that it’s not your job to give your co-workers feedback, and it’s not their responsibility to provide it to you. That’s the job of your manager.

The difference is, because it’s not coming from your boss, technically you’re free to take your co-workers’ advice or choose to disregard it. At the same time, that goes for them, too. You may suggest they do something differently, but that doesn’t mean they have to change their ways.

That doesn’t mean you can—or should—ignore co-worker feedback. But it does give you the freedom to consider it carefully before implementing it. Which brings me to:

Evaluate it Objectively

If you have the same urge to roll your eyes at a co-worker’s feedback as I do, you have to tread lightly—because that may be a sign that you’re mixing your personal feelings with your professional responsibilities.

In my case, there was a brand new team member who was giving me suggestions for how to write an marketing campaign email a little differently. Instead of considering her advice without bias, I factored in all sorts of other personal feelings—that she was new and relatively inexperienced, and we weren’t exactly friends. So, of course I didn’t want to take her suggestions.

Whatever your personal feelings are about that person, put them aside, and look at his or her suggestions objectively (here’s some advice for taking criticism seriously, instead of personally). Would reworking a sentence in your email truly make it more effective? Would it really be a good idea to solicit expertise from another department to make your report more well-rounded?

Forget who the feedback is coming from, and instead, simply ask yourself, “Would this make my work better?” If so, making the change is going to benefit everyone involved—yourself included.

Be Willing to Compromise

As a marketing writer, I—as you would expect—do quite a bit of writing for my company’s website. However, I am not, by any means, an expert in SEO. When I first started writing blog posts, my co-worker, the department’s digital marketing specialist, constantly gave me constructive criticism regarding my content and headlines.

Immediately, I took offense. I put a lot of effort into carefully crafting my posts and titles, but time after time, he’d approach me with suggestions to make my writing more SEO-friendly. But to me, optimizing that content meant compromising the quality of the work with less effective headlines and distracting keywords

But at the end of the day, I had to take a step back and figure out how to compromise. After all, I was the writer, but he was the expert in SEO. To make our end product successful, we had to work together. So, I asked him to take some time to go over some basic SEO rules with me—that way I could more effectively weave keywords into my writing and formulate effective headlines from the get-go. In return, if I felt strongly about certain elements of my content that I didn’t want to change, he’d agree to leave them unaltered.

You may not agree with every bit of feedback you get—but with an open mind, you may be able to find a way to make it work.

Balance the Negative With the Positive

This isn’t to suggest that you should embrace my personal pet peeve of the “compliment sandwich,” where you insert constructive criticism in between two positive comments. Everyone sees through that approach, and eventually, every compliment you dole out is going to be met with a raised eyebrow—because surely there’s a “but” coming right behind it.

What I do mean is that if you choose to give your co-workers feedback, it shouldn’t be all bad, all the time. If you’re going to dish out some constructive criticism and suggest ways for them to improve, you also need to take notice of the things they do well—and readily point them out (with no constructive criticism strings attached).

By doing this, you’ll create a positive team culture, where positive reinforcement is valued just as much as constructive criticism.

Learning to take feedback from your peers can be a challenging and humbling experience, but with an open mind, you can use it to drive your department—and yourself—to new heights.

Photo of co-workers talking courtesy of Shutterstock.