I struggle with this a lot, how do you approach this? How do you explain that what they've done is wrong, it affects the rest of the team, and that they should think more about the problem and side-effects? Without affecting their confidence and morale too much by doing so. I'm always afraid of affecting them negatively...
What if the issue is recurrent and happens on most tasks they're assigned to? Not too bad as to justify a layoff, but enough to increase development times.
How do you deal and communicate these things?
Cheers! Waiting for your helpful advice as always!
Top comments (55)
Ask the person directly how they prefer to receive constructive criticism.
I like blunt and to the point (this is wrong, do this instead) and early (if you can see I am about to take a wrong action, tell me then rather than letting it get to the point the damage is done).
Most people would prefer a softer approach, some would prefer you give them a heads up in a message before talking with them so they can get into the right frame of mind and not be defensive before taking criticism on board etc. (if you start a conversation without prior notice on something that needs improving, even welcomed feedback can get a “gut reaction” response and make someone defensive)
The point is to ask!
Also a universal truth is give them the “why”. Why was this incorrect, what impact does it have on the team, bow or in the future etc.
This last part is the bit I am bad at and working hard on at the moment. I ask a question or give my opinion too quickly and without the context of why this matters and why it should be done differently!
Okay, little update just FYI. I have to thank you for the tips.
I just asked them how they wanted to receive criticism, as I felt uneasy, and the reception has been fantastic. Not at all the response I expected.
This is why I love this community!
I am so glad it helped. ❤️
But I am just imparting wisdom taught to me by smarter people, I take no credit 🤣❤️
As a junior myself I prefer this approach as well. But the why is important because there's WRONG and there's "the way we do it". If you don't convince me that my research and way of thinking is not the right approach I'll comply with the criticism and norm but in a next project/team I'll fall back to my initial ways. 🙂
A very important distinction there on why you must focus on the "why" (what a weird sentence 🤣)
Great point to consider!
Cheers, it's super cool to hear what the other side has to say.
Interesting, I had not considered asking how they prefer to receive constructive advice, it's a nice angle to look at it. I will probably make use of this.
I also like the point on giving them a heads up first, this might be something I try and see how they respond!
In respect to giving context and a reason why, I totally agree with this. This is something I tend to do, maybe not enough though. I always try to put into prespective how it affects us all as a team, and why it's our responsability as developers to make sure you test and think about the given problem or task.
This is a great tip @inhuofficial , thanks!
Does this rule apply for telling senior devs too. I'm someone with 8 yrs of exp. I've seen some of my colleagues at work who are more expeirenced than me are still doing some basic amature mistakes. How do I tell them in this case?
Tougher with seniors unless you are also a senior or have worked with them long enough and closely enough you know how to frame things with them.
The same principle applies of knowing how they prefer to receive feedback but you have to also occasionally (not often I would hope) work around “seniority complex” as I call it 🤣.
Best bet is similar approach, but when actually addressing the problem go very much evidence based. Find articles from authority figures, or stats on how much time doing X would save or show them how you did it and explain why you think it would benefit the team if you all did that going forward.
Also “give them breadcrumbs” to lead them down the path you want them to take. Don’t tell it to them as “do this”.
Do “I noticed you do X, but I was reading this and this that said to do Y instead. Can we have a look at this together?” And then make your case.
Most seniors will take everything on board and welcome it, you just have to bear in mind they have had 30 people tell them the best way to centre a div, so if you are number 31, you better make sure you show them why your approach using X is better due to greater browser support, better consistency in results and flexibility etc.
Also note this is very much for the few senior devs who everyone knows are awkward. For 90% of them same principles apply, I just wanted to give you a framework that works for those who are less open to feedback.
gotcha! That totally makes sense. Thanks again for the tip @inhuofficial
I know of one example from a company where I worked and we just had to let the person go after a week, it was unbearable, lol ... if the junior is any good then they will ask THEMSELVES (proactively) "do you think I did anything wrong - if so, please do tell me!"
So the answer to the question posed in the title would be: you'd just tell them straight to the point, because that's exactly what they'd want.
And if they're good then intuitively they'll ask for advice BEFORE they're about to make any egregious mistakes, and thus avoid those.
Of course people can make mistakes, but if someone needs continuous handholding and they're not proactive and don't have the intuition that something might not be the right choice or approach, yeah then you'd have a problem.
Cheers, thanks for taking the time to help out! I much apreciate it.
This gives me a bit of prespective, and it's something that's always on the back of my mind. Though I always give people a couple of chances before going to that extreme. Always hard to deal with this stuff innit?
I can understand that it might be hard but I'm always frank (trying not to be blunt, lol) ... a good junior is eager to hear the truth coz they wanna improve ... you don't need to be harsh or mean but no need to sugarcoat it TOO much, just tell it like it is, and a good junior will even appreciate it - coz they wanna improve ... I mean, if nobody's telling them things just the way they are, then how can they improve?
That's exactly what they told me when I asked them what inhu adviced, asking them how they prefer to receive constructive criticism.
It's the same case as, how will I know if I snore if nobody tells me. Or that my breath smells like crap if nobody says so!
Haha okay ... well you hit the nail on the head - it should be CONSTRUCTIVE criticism, it should not be about putting someone down or denigrating them, it's only about the work they've done and what they've produced - with the explicit goal for them to learn and improve.
That's it, the goal is to learn and improve! And that they know that's the goal too!
Sometimes there are people who don't know they are doing something wrong unless they are told, and they ask what they can work on and get vague answers. I'm in this position with myself. Had something happen once and was told to fix it, but not directed how to do so. I like to at least be pointed in the right direction if it is something I didn't know in the first place.
Well in that case it's the "senior" who's the one who's clearly falling short, obviously it's not always the junior's fault! :)
Thanks for your view, it's interesting to understand the point of view from the other side!!
Give them constructive feedback but in a nice way and try to make it as positive as possible for them. Explain that other team members made similar mistakes too when they were at that level and its something that will improve with time and experience.
Just use a feedback sandwich!
First, find something good in the solution. Just say eg. “You formatted code well!” (Top part of the sandwich)
Second, elaborate what is wrong in the solution. Important! Always have the better solution to present! Saying the solution is but because you don’t like it is not really helpful. (Middle part of the sandwich, most valuable)
Third, say something positive in general, eg. “you doing well!” (Bottom part of the sandwich)
In my opinion it’s the best way to pass your feedback. Positive communicate is really important to open up junior developer for your feedback.
Discuss few cases where junior's code will fail and ask how his/her code will work in such scenarios. That way he/she will learn and will keep these kind of scenaios in mind from next time and they will also be greatful as they've learnt something from you each time.
Note : Don't tell them exactly what to do, just put such test-cases or scenarios on which they can think and code.
Good stuff, this is something I do currently, seems to have a good effect. It makes them feel like they found the problem themselves. This was also mentioned in another answer, that we should try to guide them so they found the problem or solution themselves.
I'm an empathic person, so i tend to use that kind of soft skill to help situations like that.
I'm also use questions in a way to trigger a thinking in the developer head (like Inception's concept :p). In a long run, he ask himself he choose a solution, and search a reason and ask himself if that reason is relevant.
Plus, every time I'm facing this situation, i try to discuss with the developer on thinking steps I am using to do that task.
One thing which I find very important, and essential, is that I say to him that find THE solution on first time, with clean code and all that is not the goal. I say to him that coding a solution, simple maybe not that great but works (which I call code of first intention), and then in a second time, refactoring is better. I think it is better and demands less efforts.
Beside all of that, asking some of the time if he has difficulty or how is it going can help him asking questions to you.
You can suggest a better approach. In most cases, the person would understand the mistake and see your suggestion as an act of improving the junior dev's knowledge. If they don't understand, you can show them pros and cons of both approaches. A bad approach will definitely have a lot of cons.
As a senior dev, one should understand that a less experienced dev may not have seen multiple approaches yet. They might have just seen one approach and tried to implement it. So being blunt with a junior dev, especially a new joiner could demotivate the person. Also remember the junior dev most likely does not "own" the approach. So avoid using words like "your approach". Focus on the bad things in the approach and not the person.
You can be blunt with colleagues who are also your close friend, when you know how they react to criticism, but being blunt with someone you do not know much can have a lot of negative impact on the person's mental health.
It’s not very clear what is this notion of « wrong » although I can imagine many possibilities. And in your organization, if something is wrongly done, maybe give your colleagues more ways to do it the right way. It can be training, code review, documentation. People will observe and learn.
Actually, I think telling people « the wrong things » won’t help much. Showing good practices and fair behavior would have a stronger effect.
If I have an opinion on why I think what any of my team members did wasn't the best direction, I try to ask leading questions to help them arrive at my underlying concern for why their solution isn't the best way forward. This way they get to do the thinking themselves which is good experience in itself, but also I find that they feel better about going back and fixing their solution than if I had just told them how to make it better
This is something I initially tried out because when I was junior and a senior would tell me "this isn't good because x,y,z" I would feel dumb for not already knowing things, but as I learned later, being senior isn't about knowing everything, it's about having learned to ask more/better questions (albeit questions that you learn to ask through experience). At least in some cases I find this to work well :)
I also really like @inhuofficial 's answer and will give this a try next time
I like the leading questions bit! Much better to let people connect the dots themselves as they get a better picture of everything, rather than a "don't do that" without the why. ❤
when I was a junior, one my of senior actually teach me, and always tell me to ask them If I am stuck on something, they also told me that I should not be afraid to ask etc. and they said they are happy to teach me new things.
Good leader that, always be open to help and teach. This is something I let them now when they join and remind them a couple of times until they're not afraid of asking. Though sometimes, in periods where we might not have the time or energy to teach or do pair-programing etc... some tension can be created. So by reminding them and being there, we can keep tension and such under control.
Trying to be short and sweet with my answer:
Basically you are not arguing what is wrong and right, you are expressing your opinion on how it can be improved. This is the approach I take when helping others and how I expect to be handled when being corrected as well.
When you simply say "its wrong" and don't do the diligence of providing explanation and direction, you are missing an opportunity to educate without coming off as pompous
Totally agree, I'd never say "it's wrong" without providing extra context and explanation on WHY it's wrong.
Work together with the junior dev. Teach the younglings. Reflect on yourself and ask: how do I deal with feedback? How do I want to be approached. You’ve been there too. Lay out the facts and be specific why something is wrong and how it should be done or even must be done. It’s part of our lives, our jobs. But not saying anything is bad. I’ve been there too recently and changed ever since. Give others a chance. Only after x times, when it seems hopeless a lay-off might be the only solution.
Focus on the problem. Remove who did what, just explain the mistake.
"Look at this bit of code, notice this pointer that was never deallocated. That causes a memory leak."
That's the criticism.
If it's about conduct, you can instead focus on the action and it's affect on the team.
"Hey, do you have a moment? So earlier you had your phone out and was watching TikTok during the meeting. Having TikTok play during a meeting is distracting to those attending the meeting. Preferably we'd have the meeting in peace."
"Hey, do you have a moment? So earlier you had your phone out and was watching TikTok during the meeting. What you did during the meeting is distracting to those attending the meeting. Preferably you would let us have the meeting in peace."
Just stick to the facts and avoid excessive finger pointing. Explain what happened and it's affect and avoid being overtly personal. It's the actions, not them, but they should understand to avoid it down the road. I think as a professional, they should pick up on the constructive criticism non the less.
Great tip, change the YOU with IT or WE. I could not agree more, this is something I picked up a time ago reading some post here on DEV, and have tried to apply it as much as possible. It can make a huge difference on how people interpret the criticism.
I agree with being straightforward. It saves time on both parties especially if the feedback is clear.
When giving review feedback, always offer alternatives by means of a code block. Ask lots of questions and have them explain their thought process behind it all.
On my team we're trying sort of an "alley-oop" method where one of the seniors goes and writes some tests that recreate the bug/defect and have the dev keep working until the tests pass.
More important than criticism is positive reinforcement. Let them know what they are doing right and well. Give them praise in public.
I will ask, though, is the way you want the dev to perform not aligning with how you want it to be done, or the standards set for the team? Do the standards of the team need to be calibrated for better quality and more automated confidence?
Thanks for your addition! Positive reinforcement is always good, I try to do it as much as I can (within a limit, otherwise it can lose it's meaning)
A bit of both, we're a small company and don't have many standards in place currently (we're working on it continously), it's somewhat my job to enforce them. I try my best to be as impartial and objective as I can, I will not enforce stuff just because I don't like it, I try to enforce good practices and prevent them from adquiring bad habits.
Just to add; my expectation for Juniors would be:
My training scheme for juniors on medium complexity work is:
We gotta set juniors up to succeed. This means plenty of training wheels, lots of written instructions, and a conscious mentoring program like the above!
Cool stuff, I will take inspiration from this scheme for sure! Thanks a lot for sharing