Coworker Critiques Make Me Cringe

Question: I at times have to work with a coworker who makes me feel uncomfortable in what may seem an odd way. She always calls me out on things I do that my normal shift partner does not comment on or say is actually wrong. She questions some things I do, and I have to say I didn’t feel comfortable doing whatever it was for whatever reason, and I always feel like I do something wrong.

The statements don’t come off negative or insulting, so it is an odd situation, but mentally the comments do something to me. I just listen to what she says and professionally and nicely accept the comments as I believe they are meant to be constructive. It just bothers me to be called out. I feel uncomfortable, and I am unsure if it is wrong to feel that way.

Response: You’re not wrong to feel as you do about too-frequent critiques and questions about your work. It’s one thing to occasionally have someone give friendly advice, another to have a coworker acting like your trainer when you don’t need one. 

It could be your coworker sincerely thinks she is helping you do better work or helping you avoid getting in trouble. It could also be that your coworker is not sure of her own abilities and is asking questions as a way of learning. However, her motive might just be to show she is more knowledgeable and skillful than you. (Whether she is or not.) 

Ask yourself a few questions before you decide on how best to respond to the critiques and questions. 

1. Could the questions and critiques of your coworker be a valuable learning resource? In many professions and jobs the best way to gain and reinforce knowledge and skills is to discuss work and share ideas for doing things quicker or better. If your coworker’s questions and critiques have the potential to help you, you don’t want to shut them off entirely.

I do understand that it is mentally and emotionally fatiguing to feel that you are being quizzed by a coworker. But maybe you can reduce the number of work reviews without eliminating them.

2. How does your supervisor or manager seem to feel about your work? If your coworker frequently critiques a specific work issue, consider asking your supervisor his or her thoughts. You don’t need to criticize your coworker to your supervisor, but I think it is valid to let your supervisor know your concerns started with the comments made by the coworker. 

You could say, “Lisa and I were talking about how I handled a situation and since she and I disagreed I wanted to get your thoughts.” 

You may find out the supervisor wants your coworker to help you. If so, that will certainly explain what has been happening. It will also alert you to the fact that you need to improve and haven’t been aware of it. 

3. Has your other shift partner questioned you or critiqued you about similar matters? Consider getting his or her perspective about a situation that was questioned by the other coworker.  

4. Is the coworker considered to have a high degree of knowledge and skills compared to others? If so, maybe he or she has been asked for critique by a few others and doesn’t realize it isn’t welcomed by everyone. 

If you know anything about her relationships with other employees it might give you a clue as to whether or not she does the same thing to everyone she works with. 

5. Are her questions and suggestions related to crucial and significant actions in your work or just about personal preferences for doing things? 

If your actions are in compliance with rules and procedures or well-established methods for handling the situation, at least you know you are on safe ground about what you’ve done. If you get good results, you can know that your preferred methods for handling work are effective.

6. Do you have a pleasant relationship with your coworker otherwise or are your interactions only about work, especially how you do it, compared to her?

If all the two of you talk about is work, maybe you could lighten the tone of all your conversations by occasionally talking about favorite activities, restaurants, movies or similar topics. Coworkers who view each other as comfortable work-companions are less likely to be in a tug of war over how to do tasks and who is better at them. 

Now that you’ve considered those issues and you still want to stop the number of questions and critiques, think about how you can change some aspect of your response to your coworker’s comments.

One way is to question why she is asking. For example, if she asks why you handled something the way you did, you might say, “Are you asking because you think I violated a rule or procedure?” Or, “Are you asking because what I did wasn’t right?”

She will probably say she was just wondering why you didn’t take another approach. Be confident sounding and say something like, “I’m OK with how I handled it and don’t want to rehash it right now.” Then get involved with something else and move on. 

Or, instead of explaining your reasons for doing something, you can use a pleasant tone and say, “That sounds as though you would have done it differently. How would you have done it?”

If, in her response, she veers into criticizing how you did it, say confidently, “Oh well, there’s nearly always more than one way to get to the same result.” 

Speaking confidently and not taking a student role when she takes a trainer role, will help remind her of the fact that she is a coworker not your supervisor.

If those approaches don’t work you may need to be blunt. If she questions you in a way that is unnecessary, say something like, “I did what I thought was best and it worked out OK, so I don’t want to rehash it.” 

 No matter what she says after that, stick to the same basic response, “Really Lisa, I don’t want to spend time talking about it.” “Let’s change the subject. I don’t want to spend time talking about it.” 

Another even more blunt way to deal with it would be to ask her, “Have you been told to help me do better or to train me about my work?”

If she says no, you can say, “When you ask me about how I handled something, I feel like I need to defend myself. I don’t like to do that, so let’s not.”

She may say she didn’t mean it that way–and she may be sincere. Explain that no matter how she meant it, it makes you feel like you have done something wrong or that you are still in a training mode, so you want to stop the frequent reviews of your work. 

I hope it doesn’t come to that because I know that would be uncomfortable. But something has to change or you will continue to feel put down by her questions and critiques. 

I think a change in your responses will help you get out of the role of meekly accepting her assessment that you could have done almost everything better. If you are following rules and procedures and are getting good results, you are on the right track. 

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and want to do so, let us know how you handled the situation. 

Tina Lewis Rowe
Ask The Workplace Doctors

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.