Why Being Self-Critical Might Actually Be Good for You



Are you hard on yourself? Do you self-criticize and second-guess everything you do? Maybe that’s a good thing.

That viewpoint comes from Krisi Rossi O’Donnell, Chief Recruiting Officer at LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based recruiting firm. O’Donnell’s own career would seem to support this belief–hired as an office assistant about 11 years ago, she’s won 10 promotions since then to arrive at her current high-level post.

Most of the time, I think of self-criticism (my own and everyone else’s) as a bad thing, and more likely to hold you back than boost you in your career. But O’Donnell argues that being self-critical can help you achieve your goals, and she makes some good arguments as to why:

1. You’re always getting better.

“People who are self-critical are always analyzing the situation, whether the outcome was good or bad,” O’Donnell says. “They are always seeking ways to improve.” People who are already content with themselves may not try quite as hard to do better.

2. You think everything through–several times.

This is something I tend to do. It can be a benefit when I make well-thought-out, informed decisions, or a drawback when I take too long to make up my mind. Still, as O’Donnell points out, “Being self-critical means answering the potential questions that may arise. This leads to being overly prepared when presenting the work.” Over-prepared is certainly better than under-prepared.

3. You listen to others. 

Listening is a key leadership skill, and one too many leaders  are bad at. People who are self-critical may be better than most at listening to others. “Not only do people who are self-critical evaluate themselves, they are constantly seeking feedback too,” O’Donnell says. “There’s always room to improve and they want to hear other people’s suggestions on how to do so.”

4. You’re self-aware.

“People who are self-critical are self-aware,” O’Donnell says. “They know exactly where they need to improve, which is crucial to continue growing and developing in your career.” It’s certainly true that the ability to see yourself as others see you is a key skill for effective leaders, and just about everyone else.

5. Your ego never runs away with you.

Someone who’s gotten ten promotions in 11 years might well be in danger of getting a swelled head. O’Donnell says being self-critical prevents that from happening. “The minute people think they no longer need direction or feedback because they do their job perfectly is the minute they slip and fall behind,” says. “Continuously questioning your processes keeps you from developing an ego.”

6. Over time, you will learn to go after bigger opportunities.

“For sure there have been times where being self-critical has caused doubt to creep in,” O’Donnell says. “You have a support structure built in with a manager, coworkers, a team that believes in you and just because you might not think you’re ready doesn’t mean you won’t be stretched outside of your comfort zone.”

Over time, she adds, being pushed outside your comfort zone and succeeding anyway will give you more confidence for seeking new challenges. “As you grow as a professional, your ability to reflect stops leading to your inability to act,” she says.

This is the one point where I truly disagree with O’Donnell, at least for some situations. Her support structure obviously worked for her at LaSalle Network, but not every employer or team provides the same kind of encouragement. And if you’re a business owner or solopreneur, you’re unlikely to get new opportunities to grow unless you go after them yourself.

7. You can enjoy your failures as well as your successes.

“Being self-critical isn’t about defining only one way to do something–the “perfect way,” O’Donnell explains. “It’s about learning all of the options available to you so you don’t only default to one way of doing things or one way of thinking.”

All that analysis means you usually know when you gave something the best possible shot, she adds. “You can run the right play and not get the touchdown, but you still ran the right play,” she says. “You can still be happy with that.” That’s a pretty good argument. Anything that makes people  happier about failure sounds like a really good idea to me.



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January 25, 2016

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