The first time I participated in a writing workshop, I was terrified. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do, or what to expect. Now I love being a part of serious workshops with intelligent and constructive members.
I think of the things I was worried about was having my work ripped apart and analyzed. It's hard to see your 'baby' be put down, but I found that's not what happens at all. It's like giving your 'baby' a new skill, or putting better clothing on them. It makes them better, grow more, and reach their potential.
A good workshop isn't about putting down and tearing the work apart. Now, as a writer, I like to know my weaker areas. I want to be able to improve my shortcomings, and make a better piece. I can take the criticism, but I also want the reasons behind it. Why didn't the peer-reader like that part? What made it stand out in his mind? How would he have approached that scene/part/character/event?
I also like to know what worked as well. If I did a scene/character/response/emotion very well, I want to know that. What make it work so well? What stood out? Why did it come off well?
Having both the positive and negative help make a balanced review. It helps me to know what I need to improve, as well as how to achieve the good results again. Maybe if the first time it was a fluke, I can recreate that fluke. I can find my niche, my angle, the thing that makes me stand out from other writers.
Peer reviewing helps my writing a lot by giving me a chance to get this feedback. I have a group of writers (our lovely Ro Mae among them) who provide me with feedback, which helps in my revision and editing process. It's improved the quality of my work, and helped me grow as a writer. But it only works best when the peer-reviewer is honest. False praise, or an overload of criticism, isn't going to give good results; or produce them.
What I first feared, became a useful tool. Funny how that works, isn't it?