critics help with self-improvement reflection teaches us lessons

If it remained on the sporting field it can be entertaining. Unfortunately those same weakness spotting skills are shared with tricksters, shysters and shonks who search out weaknesses and exploit them to control others.

PuppetCredit:Kerrie Leishman

The world of career and self-development is not immune to this. Sadly there are still too many self-appointed gurus beholden to no independent codes of conduct or external scrutiny. They tend to operate using evidence-free methods based on a combination of airport bookshop wisdom, pseudo-science and social media memes du jour.

The playbook of these frauds generally contains the three key steps. Firstly, the vulnerable are generally exceptionally sensitive to criticism, either because they have suffered genuine trauma or they are predisposed to self-criticism. So external criticism can serve to validate their negative thinking. So here is an opportunity for step one: the manipulator showers the individual with praise.

Once the praise is flowing, the shonks can move to step two: preach the mantra of positivity (frequently expressed as “positive energy”). This is generally an easy one to get across. Let’s face it, hands up a group who likes negative nasty people? Am I right! High five! The logical conclusion of this is to then start step three, the isolation of their victims from their true support base by convincing them that all of their family, friends, or work colleagues are negative Normans that should be ignored or preferably excommunicated.

The individual is then encouraged to attend only to “positive energy” – and bland truisms such as “you are good enough” become twisted to mean and therefore you do not need to listen to anyone else (except of course me!).

Somehow the message of self-acceptance – i.e. accepting the weaknesses as well as the strengths has been distorted to such an extent, you’d be forgiven for thinking there are only strengths. Ultimately this leads to the conclusion there is no work to be done, no improvement, because we are all good enough. See? Back to that rather all-embracing hard-to-argue-against statement.


The paradox is that if we want to build resilience we need to be vulnerable enough to reach out to others and build connection and community. This will be an imperfect process that includes rejection, and feedback, which, yes sometimes will be critical. We learn from our critics. We need critics. We should not reject feedback out of hand, but we should learn to become good interpreters of criticism to identify the tough but valid lessons, from mere abuse. There is a difference.

Unfortunately, this subtlety is lost amongst those gurus who don’t want their victims to think for themselves. They want a bunch of dependent followers. It would be funny if it wasn’t tragic. There is light but also vulnerability in all of us. That’s how the crackpots get in.

Jim Bright, FAPS is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright

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