Jun 20, 2024 | 5
Minute Read

Giving Peer Feedback in the Workplace: Cultivating Constructive Conversations

The Key to Effective Peer Feedback

Giving valuable feedback is an art form. Doing it well can make an immense impact at work; Gallup found that “80% of employees who say they have received meaningful feedback in the past week are fully engaged.”

Meaningful feedback isn’t limited to leaders and managers; peers and coworkers have valuable insights to offer one another as well.

When it comes to feedback requests from peers, there’s a thoughtful approach that I learned as a student in a performance class, and it has stuck with me my entire life. I’ve modified it for use in personal relationships, professional conversations, and while navigating any complicated subject. This approach is called the Critical Response Process.


What is the Critical Response Process?

The Critical Response Process (CRP) was developed by Liz Lerman, an award-winning performer, choreographer, and teacher. She conceptualized the process based on her years of performance experience and in 2003, she published "Critical Response Process: Getting Useful Feedback on Anything You Make, from Dance to Dessert," co-authored with John Borstel.

So, what exactly is CRP? You can read the exact process here as originally intended for performances. I’ll share a modified version for effective peer feedback in the workplace. Lerman’s work uses ‘artist’ referring to the person receiving feedback and ‘responder’ for the audience of peers. I’ll use ‘receiver’ for the person receiving feedback and ‘you’ for their peer offering feedback.

Step 1. Statements of Meaning

Responders state what was meaningful, evocative, interesting, exciting, and/or striking in the work they have just witnessed.

Open up the conversation with the positives! Share what you noticed about the receiver’s work: what was particularly effective and what benefited your experience on the project. This sets a positive tone for the discussion.

If this is an interpersonal discussion where someone is asking you for advice, use this time to share what you believe they’ve gotten right so far. It can be as simple as, “You just explained how you’re feeling very well,” or “I think you have a strong awareness of the situation.”

It’s crucial that this feedback is genuine. Don’t make up positive feedback for the sake of being positive. This process thrives on thoughtful interactions to build trust.

If you don’t have anything positive to say at this point, restate the information presented to you. In a working situation, that could look like, “During this project, you focused on X and Y was the outcome.” In a personal situation, it could sound like, “You’re feeling frustrated with your friend because of how he spoke to you the other day.”

This creates the foundation for the conversation to come. It ensures everyone is on the same page, understanding what will be discussed.

Step 2. Artist as Questioner

The artist asks questions about the work. In answering, responders stay on topic with the question and may express opinions in direct response to the artist’s questions.

This is where the receiver can introduce the topics they’d like feedback on. Maybe they’re wondering about lines of communication throughout the project or how their process affected the other people involved.

This step is less applicable to situations outside of performance but still valuable to establish a space where the receiver can also ask questions. An open line of communication is crucial.

Step 3. Neutral Questions

Responders ask neutral questions about the work, and the artist responds. Questions are neutral when they do not have an opinion couched in them.

This step is one of the most fundamental, challenging, and misunderstood steps of Critical Response Process.

This step is to get the receiver thinking about their process and experience. The receiver doesn’t answer the questions at this point, which is why it’s so important that the questions stay neutral. The most important thing to avoid here is passive aggression, which will break trust and derail the whole process.

Here are some examples of neutral questions:

In an Interpersonal Situation:
“What were you hoping to communicate by saying X?” “Are you happy with the outcome of the situation?” “What would you change if you could do it again?”

In a Work Situation:
“How did you get the idea to do X?” “What need of the customer did this project address?” “How are you feeling with the work done?”

Step 4. Opinion Time

Responders state opinions, given permission from the artist; the artist has the option to say no.

This is, in my opinion, the most important and applicable part of CRP. It’s the approach I take in every interaction I can. It’s simple: offer general areas of feedback and ask if they are wanted. Only get specific if the feedback is accepted by the receiver.

This approach has changed the way I communicate. It reminds me to center thoughtful dialogue instead of just blurting out my opinion. It also encourages me to put time into building rapport.

Using this approach, when a coworker is frustrated, I can say, “I have a thought on how we could approach this if you’re interested. Are you looking for that kind of input?”

Oftentimes, someone is just venting and needs a listening ear. Instead of frustrating them with unsolicited feedback that leaves them feeling misunderstood and me feeling unappreciated, asking gives them the chance to say, “I just needed to talk it through, thank you.” or to genuinely ask for my thoughts.

If a fellow painter is struggling with their work and asks me to look at it, in turn, I can ask, “What kind of feedback are you looking for? I have thoughts on your color palette and an idea for the placement of your subject’s hair.” They can say, “I’d like to know what you think about colors, but I’m not ready for placement ideas,” and I can hone my feedback specifically based on their needs. (This is an actual example I used in an art class).

The receiver’s response will be either “I’d like to hear about Y but not X or Z.” “I’d like to hear all points of feedback,” or “I don’t want feedback on those areas.”

It’s up to you to follow their lead and provide feedback on the accepted areas. Don’t overstep or get carried away; adhere to the guidelines your colleague gives you.


Why Does This Peer Feedback Work?

This feedback structure works for several reasons.

It brings consent to the forefront. Receiving feedback is a vulnerable process. Often, workers only get feedback after they’ve made a misstep. Feedback–good, bad, and neutral–should be built into an organization’s processes and be a common part of working on a team together.

It increases productive conversations. By asking specifically what someone is willing to receive, you ensure that your feedback doesn’t go ignored. The option to say no is crucial to CRP; it requires bravery. It can be difficult to say, “I don’t want to hear about X at this time,” as a receiver and it can be difficult to hold back as their respondent, but the vulnerability to do so goes very far in building trust.

It provides clarity and prevents conflict. If you are concerned about saying the wrong thing or upsetting colleagues, especially when you have to communicate something that might be difficult, CRP is a great method . By taking this thoughtful, structured approach, you don’t have to worry. You have permission to give feedback that is expressly wanted. The resulting conversations are more comfortable, trusting, and productive.


Embracing Effective Peer Feedback

While CRP was initially created for performance feedback, it can apply to any area of communication. It’s more about a mindset of thoughtfulness than anything: approaching others with consideration and attentiveness. It might feel daunting to remember all of the steps; the process gets easier with practice, and the most important thing to remember is that you are offering insights, not inflicting them on the people around you.

If you have one takeaway, let it be this: ask what kind of feedback someone is looking for. Are they venting? Do they want you to play devil’s advocate? Do they want sympathy? Should you offer actionable feedback or just general observations? The best way to know is to ask!



Don't forget to share this post!

Jaime Faulkner