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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The other side of the Inner Critic: Too Little, Too Late?

In contrast to the overly active and harsh Inner Critic that I discussed in my previous post, I’d like to emphasize the other extreme in this post: The person with too little inner critic.

I’m sure you’ve met these people who don’t seem to worry about mistakes, or worse, they don’t even perceive them to be mistakes. Or, if they do, it has nothing to do with them, of course. Others and circumstances are to blame. There are ample examples cluttering our news these days. Or the colleague who does not seem to feel bad about failing, who does not see the need for corrections, and who continues with an inflated self-esteem still ten times bigger than yours at your best. Or how about the leader who exercises hardly any (detectable) self-evaluation and self-criticism.  And this one: The manager who tolerates only positive experiences and facts and does not accept anyone pointing out difficulties, problems or negative aspects of a situation or proposal let alone pointing out any flaws in the manager’s way of thinking, acting, and choosing. The above people can often be hard to work with, especially when things change course and don’t go as expected.

Many more examples abound, but the bottom line is an under-active, underused inner critic that could otherwise assist the person with reality checks and help him advance insights, skills, and results if it were activated better and more frequently.

For the purpose of this article I will place people with an under-active inner critic into one of three groups:

1.   People who have so far gotten away with not exercising too much reflection and self-evaluation and who have somehow not received adequate feedback (sometimes hardly any at all), or who have been able to effectively fend off the feedback that was given, resulting in very little insights into their blind spots and weaknesses. Here we stumble on people who generally don’t have bad intentions nor are they necessarily unwilling. It just hasn’t occurred to them much, they have not been very active in the field of personal development (or just from one perspective) and people around them have remained silent or ineffective in their communication of feedback.

2.   People who do (or once did) hear the inner critic but are too afraid (even though they don’t seem to be) to pay attention to it in an impossible quest to appear infallible, in control, and superior, generally born out of deep-rooted insecurity that they have learned to mask with an attitude and appearance of seemingly high self-confidence, invincibleness, and arrogance. Eventually these people will not hear their inner critic anymore. Denial, suppression, and projection abound, even though they might show themselves larger than life and with an inflated ego.

3.   Increasingly worrying, the third category is the domain of psychopathology where we find psychopaths, sociopaths, and the like, who, strange as it may sound, do have an operating inner critic but it has gone all awry in the worst possible way.

I will leave this third category for other blogs to discuss, and just want to remind readers that we all have a responsibility in at least attempting to provide people with an under-active inner critic of the first two categories with the necessary feedback in a way that chances are highest for them to listen and contemplate. This is not an easy task and it requires insight into personalities, into the effect of certain styles of communication, and it requires, not least of all, courage and persistence – but it is doable. And not just doable but very needed especially at higher levels in organizations, where I too often encounter managers and leaders who go unchallenged, who receive reviews that leave out the critics that were never voiced, either out of politeness, cultural norms, fear for reprisal, or any other reason. This is damaging to the person, eventually, and more importantly, it’s damaging to the organization as a whole. Make sure you know you’ve done all you know to do to provide others with clear, respectful, useful feedback to help them better develop (or listen to) their inner critic in order to grow and learn.

So to answer the questions in the title: Too little inner critic? Yes! Too late for developing the inner critic?  Hardly ever! And if you happen to be one of the people with an underused inner critic, don’t wait for a scandal or a disaster to happen and trigger you.

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