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The Dangers and Rewards of Criticism, Part 1: The Accepters

Introspection is critical for success. If a manager is unable to realise their own weaknesses, it can be difficult for them to improve. That’s because we seldom receive much direct feedback from our peers. Depending on the country, direct feedback might even be frowned upon or considered downright rude. In the HR world, providing feedback is an art form, one that requires empathy, planning, and careful execution. Even constructive criticism can be a minefield. That is because different types of people react to criticism completely differently. Some types embrace criticism (the Accepters), others are overly sensitive to it (the Chewers), and others ignore it completely (the Ducks).

The Accepters

People who can accept critiques are at a distinct advantage in the business world. If they do not just hear advice, but really listen to it, they can make fast changes that can dramatically alter their career trajectories. For example, when a new hire starts working in a new environment, no one expects them to know everything from day one. What is expected, however, is for them to adjust to the work culture and figure out their place within the hierarchy. A new hire who accepts critiques from their new co-workers has a much greater chance of successfully integrating into this new environment.

The danger for this type is that they often have trouble differentiating among critiques. That is, if someone offers an invalid critique, or one that might steer them in the wrong direction, it should be rejected outright. To put it bluntly, there are many people out there who have no business giving advice who give it constantly and confidently. If you have spent any time on social media, you know this to be indisputably and tragically true. Confident blowhards are the most likely to try to guide others, but they can easily guide a gullible people down the wrong path.

This is why being accepting of critiques of others is not sufficient for success. This openness is a double-edged sword, and in order to blunt the sharpness of one of the edges, strict filtering is needed. One way to do this is to judge others harshly, albeit quietly. That is, an Accepter needs to assess each other person and decide whether their advice is worth following. But Accepters are inherently hesitant to make this sort of value judgment; it really goes against their very natures. Therefore, Accepters need to look inward.

Introspection, while critical for success, is not an easy skill to master. Study after study has shown that people have strong biases, but they always believe that others have more biases than they do themselves. In fact, the stronger one’s beliefs about the existence of biases in others, the likelier it is that they are biased themselves. Put more simply, even intelligent people that can see flaws in others have trouble recognising their own flaws. So, it is difficult even for a savvy Accepter to embrace introspection. Moreover, this type is prone to “passing the buck”. Relying on other people is an escape hatch; it absolves them of the responsibility to assess themselves. But sooner or later, they have to stop pushing this responsibility onto others. The alternative is to continue accepting critiques from others; if that path is followed, they can only hope that the right people have their ears.

Up next, Part 2: the Chewers