Critical Style

Different CriticalStyles serve different purposes. Here are some of the questions and motivations as expressed by various people. Please provide links, as well as discussion here.

Possible answers:
For me CriticizeHelpfully and DontCriticize are not quite the best mediums where a CriticalSpirit is fostered. I think that CriticizeBluntly is best for this. Others might think otherwise, or they might just think that there are no better compromises and/or there are more important concerns that need accommodated, besides the CriticalSpirit. -- CostinCozianu

"what is the best style?" Are we looking for a SilverBullet?

Yes, we are always looking for a silver bullet. Nothing wrong with that, as long as we don't start pretending to have found one.

Let the critical style fit the people involved and the relationships among them, however mature those relationships may be at the time. If I don't know you, I'm not going to say "you stupid fuck" when you screw up. I'm going to say "Uh, Larry, do you think perhaps you've committed a boo-boo over here?". Later on, when I know your real name, I'll use that. Eventually, we'll get onto "stupid fuck" terms, and that's when we both know that trust has matured. All you frail types out there in Wiki Land are different from me. I welcome the foul language and the angry gestures because I take them as signs that everything is going to be okay. I hate to say it (because he's a stupid fuck that I don't know at all), but I'm with Costin on this. When you coddle the relationship, avoid all blaming gestures, and tread on eggshells with your peers, you are incurring RelationshipDebt?, sacrificing the longer term for the shorter one, and performing the most vile kind of hacking on the planet. Shame on you. -- WaldenMathews

This is fine in my mind. You seem to be saying that as your relationship with somebody matures you dispense with the "love-in" stuff and get right down to making sure that you are doing top quality work. I'm fine with this. I have no problems with foul language or blunt criticism when it comes from people I know. When I deal with people I don't know (or with whom I do not have a strong relationship) I tone down and dress up my comments. This is about living in a society and making sure you are not stepping on too many toes. When we criticise each other at work we are rough sometimes. We get into arguments. They get heated. This is OK. What is not OK is when somebody I don't know tells me how stupid I am. It is not this person's right to assume a good relationship with me. Trust is something that is given, not taken and a relationship is something that is built, not generated. When you and I are friends (or at least collegues with a good working relationship) you can call me "stupid fuck". Until then keep it polite and civil or else I won't listen. -- IainLowe

That's your loss if you don't listen :) Society as a huge mass of people is totally against CriticalSpirit, software industry is against CriticalSpirit, politics is against the CriticalSpirit and so on, social rules and social norms are very much against the CriticalSpirit. The fact that I called some of your sayings stupid should say to you that I trust you are smart enough, you can step on your own ego, and you like CriticalSpirit. If I have any suspicion at all that a person doesn't like CriticalSpirit be sure I'll be the perfect cameleon. -- CostinCozianu

Costin, I'm not sure exactly what you meant by cameleon, and I'm allowing that you're working across languages, which is harder than what I'm doing. Chameleons change color, while you seem unable to, so it can't be that. Another word for chameleon is anole, which if you squint...never mind. I remember as a kid we had pet lizards. They weren't chameleons; they were skinks or something. But it was hysterical if you had two males, or if you put one male in front of a mirror. He would puff his neck out and bob his head up and down trying to scare his reflection. But the bigger it got, the madder he got. Yes, certainly that's what you meant. -- WaldenMathews

Walden, I told that you're quick to draw conclusions. Do you wanna bet that I can't change colours ? --CostinCozianu

Costin, I'm not that quick, but thanks for the compliment. I've read everything you've written on this Wiki, and I can attest that it's all the same color. Boring as a flute sonata. No offense. Okay, you're on. Change colors already. And just to keep it impartial, we'll let Iain judge. -- WaldenMathews

CriticizeBluntly is not the same as CriticalSpirit. That's a distinction you seem to be missing. I'm with Iain on this one. --JimLittle

Well, it can't be as it is a style of discourse not the discourse itself. But even if you don't like CriticizeBluntly you have to admit that it encourages CriticalSpirit. Rejecting CriticizeBluntly a priori is not exactly a sign of critical spirit. What's your favourite alternative and how does it make it better than CriticizeBluntly ? --CostinCozianu

Actually, I like CriticizeBluntly, when used properly. CriticizeBluntly is a more compact form, and clearer as well. I also think a CriticalSpirit is very important; see QuestionConventions. Let me see if I can summarize my approach when working as a coach:

DontCriticizeCondemnOrComplain: When you are new to a project and trying to establish relationships with the people there. Not only will this help you make friends, it will also prevent you from making a fool of yourself. The things you immediately want to criticize might have valid causes that you can't see yet.

CriticizeHelpfully, CriticizeConstructively?, CriticizeObliquely?, MakeSuggestions?: Once you've begun to establish your credibility and form good working relationships with the other team members. Be careful not to hurt feelings or step on egos at this stage; you're a guest and haven't quite proven yourself yet.

CriticizeBluntly: After you've established yourself as an expert whose suggestions have proven successful in the past. Some personalities simply can't handle this approach, though, so apply with care.

Some people, like KentBeck, already have loads of credibility and can skip directly to CriticizeBluntly. I don't. --JimLittle

Another thing about CriticizeBluntly: I think it's best suited for face-to-face conversations, where you can immediately discover and correct hurt feelings and misunderstandings. --JimLittle

So in a team coached by you, a junior will not be able to criticize a senior. One has to earn the right to criticize. The discussion on facts will be influenced by credibility of persons. One might even ask if the team member will ever dare to criticize the coach. Hardly a CriticalSpirit atmosphere, sounds more like military. --CostinCozianu

I was talking about what my approach. I don't require others to use it. --JimLittle

The discussion on facts will be influenced by credibility of persons

Costin, to be blunt and critical: much of what I have seen from you has had little to do with fact, and much to do with opinion. A statement without support is not a fact. It may or may not be true, but merely asserting it loudly has little value. I think I know where Jim is coming from on this one, and it has little to do 'junior' and 'senior' positions. If I accept the expertise of someone (which is not something I do easily --- I have no respect for titles as they may be empty), that means I will give them a bit more latitude about providing support for their statements. This is true regarless of their position or whatever. If I don't know someone, or don't feel they have a good track record, then my response will be different. If they tell me 'you are wrong. this is right' my response will be 'show me', as the statement alone is of little value.

I accept (love) your critic but since you are anonymous I can't really respond. Why not?

On the other hand I wouldn't like to go off-topic again so I'd appreciate if you put it on my name page. I agree that no one's expertise (or credibility) can be substituted for arguments. And, by the way, I have no expertise if you haven't figured that out yet.

"One has to earn the right to criticize"

Anyone can criticize, especially on this wiki, the fact that while a critic may assert a criticism, the acceptance of that criticism as having validity is based not on the opinion of the critic, nor the position held by that critic, but by the "content" and the "basis" of that criticism. If criticism is just opinion, and not based on fact, just as anyone can criticize, anyone can reject that criticism as baseless especially if it is not supported by fact.


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