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Have you ever felt that a technical critique was given in a way that hindered the conversation or professional relationship? Do you ever have trouble knowing how to address someone when you disagree with how they approached a design you're reviewing?
As members of a very analytical field, it can be tempting to conflate "the way I do it" with "the only correct way to do it" even if another way is still in compliance with the applicable code. When the way someone else approached it is wrong or maybe not the best approach for a given situation, there are both constructive and ineffective ways to approach that conversation.
What advice do you have for those that are peer reviewing or quality control checking plans when it comes to communication? Is there anything you've done or heard that was effective?
On the flip side, if someone receives an unwarranted or harsh critique of a design or set of plans, do you have any advice on how to handle that situation professionally?
Thanks for asking an important question, Heidi.
I've been on both ends of this issue. I've received criticism, most often in the form of journal paper peer reviews, but occasionally from others on controversial projects. Most technical reviewers make excellent points and improve the quality of the end product. Those reviews are easy to take. I can usually see their point and make needed revisions. If I think they are wrong, I TRY to diplomatically explain why we disagree and let the editor/supervisor decide. Diplomacy requires a lot of effort, because blowtorch replies are my default setting. The best reply to unjustified criticism I ever heard was Tony Thomas (of HEC-6 fame) saying, "Thank you for sharing your view. That hasn't been my experience but it's good to hear other folk's perspectives." If a journal paper reviewer is terribly wrong, maybe even hostile, I have requested that the Editor disregard that reviewer and get another. They usually agree.
I do a fair amount of peer reviews. Critiquing work diplomatically works best but I come on too hard sometimes (often?). I react poorly when the recipient gets defensive and pushes back. If the pushback comes from ignorance, I should gently provide them with a reference so they can learn. Too often I engage Herr Professor mode and start lecturing, which just inflames the discussion. It's a work in progress.
It seems saying things like "my way is best" or "this is the only way" is not professional. If someone approached me this way, I would probably not say much if anything in response, consider and evaluate it as a suggestion, and do what I thought was right. If I had the option, I would also probably consider not working with this individual in the future.
I would recommend that rather than making statements like that, that they say something like "I suggest you consider....." stating your opinion of the best approach. Then as needed, provide supporting comments as to why this might be a better approach.
After that, I think I would consider it out of my control and if I thought it ethically wrong or dangerous to the public, send the situation description to the Board of Registration for evaluation.
------------------------------Chuck Samson P.E., M.ASCEProject ManagerLarue TX------------------------------
Thanks so very much Heidi for this post about a historic root-cause issue that routinely impacts the people and their project results.
i.e., The lack of knowledge "What and How to play nice together."
Q. "Do you have any advice on how to handle that situation professionally?"
A. The next time someone tells you of a concern, observation, or just an opinion,
make your first response:
"Tell me more....please."
Of course, there will be more to share later.
Heidi, this is a thoughtful topic with the questions you have raised. Here are some of my takes:
I am an earnest believer of the proverb: Courtesy costs nothing but buys everything. Although, one can argue whether courtesy really buys everything. But, any other alternatives would be horrendous.
There are many ways of getting a message across. While one can be harsh and brash in something – that same something can also be communicated with courtesy and politeness. This applies, both in peer reviewing of journal articles – and in quality control reviews of reports – for that matter, in all communications.
Once, while in a conference, I happened to sit across the table with the editor of a prestigious journal. One thing led to another – at one time he said, his advice to the reviewers was to be mindful of their comments. He advises them to remember the fact that lots of time and effort are behind any submitted material. When I am in the reviewer role, this piece of advice – lets me keep things in true perspective.
The reviewers must be competent and confident to review – to pass comments. A phrase similar like this, usually appears in any review guidelines – yet, questions like you have raised come into peoples' mind. Needless to say that your question implies that Engineers, for that matter, any professional, are just human – like everybody else. If one thing is for sure – it is that we (whether one is a reviewer or an author) are all imperfect – in one way or another. That does not mean we do not strive for perfection – in the end, the processes of striving, experiences define what we are.
We should as well be aware of the fact that – a reviewer's state of mind at the time of reviewing is reflected, or has all the potential to effect his or her opinions/comments. When one is agitated or upset (even professional jealousy and rivalry?) for some reasons (and there could be many) – and to be fair to the author/authors, it is his or her responsibility to refrain from spending time on review processes – until the mind is calmed down.
When addressing these questions, one is reminded of the experience of one the greatest scientists, SN Bose (1894 – 1974). It so happened that, in the early stages of his career, he could not find a journal – willing to consider and publish his pioneering method of statistics on elementary particles motion. Frustrated, he sought the help of Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955); this genius immediately saw the value of Bose paper and facilitated its publication. This publication gave birth to the method of Quantum Statistics, popularly known as Bose-Einstein Statistics. An example like this – and there are many as such – tells us that only a genius can identify and appreciate other geniuses. Without Einstein help, perhaps the method would have collected dust somewhere – only to be resurfaced or rediscovered many years later – thus hindering the scientific progress.
Dr. Dilip K Barua, Ph.D
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