I recently had my mid term review. Everything was great, except one thing that my manager mentioned was to not take things personally when someone disagrees with my high standards on work products.

For context, I am a Senior Software Engineer and part of my job is to review all engineering products such as requirements, test plans, tests, code and architecture. So my job by nature is to criticize and validate.

I don’t think I take it personal however I am charged with ensuring that the work products I do review for the organization are top notch because it goes to our customers. I do have a tendency to be very strict and firm in adhering to excellent engineering processes and standards.

How can I maintain these standards without being accused of taking things too personal?

  • 4
    How do you react when someone disagrees with your high standards? Jul 5, 2018 at 17:12
  • 5
    How do you typically point out any issues with code? Is the issue with the fact that you adhere to high standards, or is it how you express yourself when providing the feedback? How do you handle disagreements? Jul 5, 2018 at 17:13
  • 1
    How are the engineering standards defined? When you review work and point out problems, do people disagree that they are not adhering to the standards, or do they disagree with the standards themselves?
    – DaveG
    Jul 5, 2018 at 18:20
  • We have them documented and the requirements are clear. There are handbooks and other generally agreed upon process documents Jul 5, 2018 at 18:26
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    Ironically, I believe that perhaps you may be taking it personally... the way you phrase it by saying that they are accusing you, when it was merely a comment, suggests you are taking it personally.
    – DarkCygnus
    Jul 6, 2018 at 18:30

4 Answers 4


The opposite of taking things personal is staying objective. Back your opinion up with objective facts.

Your question suggests that your manager is pleased with your work, but those who's work is criticized by you are not. That's no wonder. They take your critique probably just as personal. So the key is to keep emotions calm and stick to the facts.

The requirements are unclear? Don't just say "this isn't enough", but give an example of a scenario that is not clearly defined.

The Unit tests don't cover enough lines of code? Explain why you require more tests, recite the companies quality standards.

You'd like the code to follow another architectural concept? Explain why it's best practice, how it has an impact on future developments and the shortcomings of the current approach.

The developer has a valid argument why he did what he did and can explain why your suggestion doesn't benefit the solution? Let it go.

  • 3
    The last paragraph about letting it go if the developer has a valid argument is absolutely key. Remember, the goal isn't adherence to the standard, the goal is quality product.
    – DaveG
    Jul 5, 2018 at 18:55

The best way to criticize is to begin in a positive way.

Before you mention ANYTHING that needs to be fixed, find things to comment on that were done correctly.

Okay Joe, I was looking at your code. I like the way you commented the more complex processes, that will really make things easier to maintain.

or something like that, but you want to start with SINCERE PRAISE. Don't BS, don't make things up, but point out actual things they did right.


Now, I see a few things we can work on to improve the code. If you would just take care of that and bring it up to spec, I'd appreciate it, thanks.

Being critical is only part of your job, the rest involves dealing with people, and people have feelings which you have to take into account. If you only criticize, you will come across as either being a hard-ass or as you manager put it "taking everything personally".

Just come across in a more friendly tone, add some sincere compliments, and you should be fine.

  • Generally comments are entered into an online system like FishEye or SharePoint. Comments are generally terse. More along the lines of “this is broke, fix it.” Jul 5, 2018 at 17:52
  • When in meetings, I do sometimes have to dig in. I don’t think I should have to lower standards in order to get along. Jul 5, 2018 at 17:53
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    @Brian giving sincere praise is not lowering standards. Jul 5, 2018 at 17:54

While I agree that to interleave critics with praises may help with some people...I strongly believe we're not children to be praised. We do reviews to ensure quality and spot errors. To edulcorate our comments is time wasting (and we seldom learn from praises but often from critics). There is a time for praises but it's not during reviews (unless you sincerily see something awesome). What then?

Take the long way and teach them why quality is important.

You may start explaining why a defect should be fixed and which consequences it may have. They won't stop to think you take it personally if they don't understand your reasons. This should, at least, intrigue some of them and you may then ask your management to allow some "all hands" sessions for sharing expertise and insights.

To be senior is also about mentoring, in every aspect of the process.

The end goal is not to require high standards (which are not absolute, they're trade-offs and driven by the domain) but to constantly shift the bar upper. Also, your job will be easier and overall quality will improve (because there are, honestly, limits to what a single person can do and understand alone).


I'd say it's fair to do a meetup with your supervisor and ask what he means by "taking things personally". Can he point to specific behaviors (verbal, non-verbal, in writing) that you do that makes it look like it's personal to you.

It could very easily be a misunderstanding - reading intent is often tricky, especially if you are communicating in writing, because it is devoid of tone and therefore open to implied intent which is often incorrectly interpreted by the reader. But it helps if you can know particularly what has seemed "personal".

If that doesn't yield anything useful, try switching up the format of how you deliver commentary - for example:

  • If it's mostly provided in writing, try writing up a very minimal amount of commentary and then saying "I'd like to go over the details in person so we can ask each other questions" and then follow up with a meeting or a phone call.
  • If you usually have meetings/in person discussions, try moving into asking questions rather than framing demands as a first mode, and only getting into stating requirements after you've let the person explain their thinking.
  • If the meetups are in groups, try talking to the key owner/stakeholder before or after the group meeting.

All of these are ways to improve the fidelity of the feedback and hopefully get more insight into what seems so personal.

Also be aware of any stress or tension that you are carrying into meeting of this sort. Even though that stress may be totally disconnected with the tasks in question, the fact that you may be tense may be being misread. If the stress is unavoidable, then preface the meeting with "sorry if I seem stressed, I've got some other stuff going on - it's not you."

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