How would you interpret the term critical?

I was recently asked to provide feedback to a peer, that was done through a set of survey questions. One of the questions, IMHO, was poorly worded. It asked:

Is this person critical?

One could interpret this question in two ways. Does this person make disapproving comments or judgements? or Is this person vital to the company’s mission?

I chose the former interpretation.

How would you have interpreted?

My first reaction would be a person who makes disapproving comments, a negative person.

Is there any chance you could communicate your confusion to the group who sends out the survey (HR)? I’m fairly certain you are not the only one who finds this question confusing.

I would interpret it as asking if the person is indispensable. Yeah, badly worded question.

Same here- perhaps the context of the other questions would clarify? Were the other questions asking about personality and such, or were they more focused on this person’s role in the organization?

Its unfortunate that the two interpretations were so diametrically opposed!

My initial reaction is vital to the company’s mission. I would expect a modifier, such as “overly” if it was intended to have the negative connotation.

My reaction is the same, but the problem is that this is conditioned on the way I know I would write things. Given the vagaries of management jargon, who knows about the possible writing style of the person who composed the question.

I think it’s quite finely poised between two relevant meanings, and I would have declined to answer without clarification.

And again, the same here, except that the idea that the question was asking ‘does this person criticize’ wouldn’t have occurred to me.

Edit to add - I wouldn’t be comfortable providing written eval on a peer anyway. Anything beyond ‘yeah, he’s an asshole’ or ‘good guy, I like him’ in a casual conversation is not what I feel is a peers responsibility.

Since you’re a peer, I think it could definitely mean either - it could mean is this person a key part of your team or the team they work on and viewed as necessary, or it could mean is this person an asshole?

I’d ask for clarification; unless I were aware that this person might be under a performance improvement plan - or on the road to being on a performance improvement plan - I’d assume I was being asked whether I deemed them a necessary part of completing a project.

I would understand the question as asking whether the person is in need of immediate medical attention.


On a feedback survey. Oh-kaaaayyy

And how did you answer?


Is it ‘check yes or no’, or did it allow you to write in an answer.

In the former case, the clarity issue is unfixable…in the latter I would specify - ‘they are (/not) critical to the mission and/but they are (/not) overly critical of the other employees’. Possibly including a note that the question is unclear, rather than assuming the person reading would grok that based on my phrasing.

Also, no subject of what the person may/may not be critical of suggests, to me at least, that the meaning of “critical” was “vital to the company”. Pertinent context may be lacking here however.

On a survey response to a peer?

If it was a bubble-in answer, then I would ask for clarification from whoever created the survey, and refuse to turn in the survey at all until I got an answer, in writing. If written answers, then I would state that the question was ambiguous, and then answer both questions.

Worst-case scenario is that management has already made a decision on this person, and is using a deliberately-ambiguous survey to cover their asses. So when they get the surveys back, they can fire him, and then say either “Well it just made sense to can him, all his co-workers said he was always criticizing them”, or “Well of course we got rid of him, everyone said he was unnecessary”.

I would interpret the question as “Can we fire him/her”. Though I don’t know if you work in a server farm or a gas station. Context would help.

I assume high tech from the wording. And while it’s important for management to ask questions. It’s also important for them to know if the person is ‘critical’. Sort of their job.

That’s a tough one, because I almost always think of a position being critical rather than a person, but I rarely worked in group projects.

I took Dahnlor’s comment as a joke, no?

This is difficult. You said a “peer,” so I take it that this is not a person you’re in some way supervising? If that’s the case, I think I would interpret the question as the first definition, because why would they care if you, a person’s mere coworker, thought that this person was vital to the company? How would you even have any objective knowledge of that? You’d have no data about them. At best you could answer that subjectively, based on how your interactions with them go.

If you were supervising the person, then yeah, I can see how odds are even they’re asking if the person is a valuable employee.

I think the person actually being evaluated is the OP. The question is designed to provide two alternatives - you are either the kind of person that automatically assumes the worst about everyone and will gladly grab a chance to criticize them, or you are the kind of person who thinks well of others and looks for chances to praise them. Or what Chronos wrote.

I’d ask for clarification.

Note that I’ve often worked in contexts in which we were supposed to be critical in the “picks nits with extreme pleasure” meaning: we weren’t supposed to do it on silly stuff, but we were supposed to do it. Any nit a team-member had picked wasn’t going to be found by the client or by the person making a decision on that grant request.