POSTED BY: Kerry Matzelle

Your brain on criticism

5th Apr, 2019
illustration of a brain

Your brain on criticism

I recently started listening to a new podcast – WorkLife with Adam Grant. Adam Grant is an Organisational Psychologist who, in his own words, “studies how to make work not suck.” I’ve always been particularly interested in the application of Organisational Psychology. Psychology has been applied with great effect to various fields like medicine, sports and education. It makes so much sense that we’d apply it to work too – somewhere most of us spend a good chunk of our lives.

This particular episode focused on a company called Bridgewater Associates. The brainchild of a man who wanted to create a company culture where everyone was brutally honest with each other – every criticism and every opinion out in the open.

The episode continues as you listen to employees, both current and former, describe what it’s like to work there. A place where they regularly held company-wide meetings to rate the company’s worst managers. Honestly, it all sounded a bit mental to me – what I imagine it would be like to work in an office that was also a mosh pit. But I couldn’t help but wonder where the appeal was. How had all of these people developed such a thick skin where they not only enjoyed, but actually thrived in this kind of environment?

It turns out, most of these people had trained their brains react differently to criticism. They got to a point where they actually craved it. They saw these moments not as a defeat, but only as an opportunity to do better next time. Their brains had managed to get the balance right between what Adam calls ‘proving mode’ and ‘improving mode’.

“There’s proving mode—it’s the primal, emotional reaction—the lower-level you. But your brain has another, higher-level setting. It’s improving mode. That’s your inner Olympic diver, who wants to know exactly how good you are and every single thing you can do to get better. Improving mode means you’re always a work in progress.”

Always a work in progress. Wow. When I heard that I was in awe. Then I had a ‘well, duh!’ moment. I’d just never thought about it in those words before! We are instinctually driven to be our best selves. Sometimes that instinct isn’t too far below the surface and sometimes it is. But we actually harness the power to form habits that make something productive fall out of moments that are less than great. It’s quite a special organ we have there knocking about between our ears. I always like to remind myself (and others!) just how helpful it can be.

You can listen to the full episode here.

Kerry Matzelle, Brand Strategist

Originally hailing from New York City, Kerry’s been livin’ it up Emerald Isle style since 2014. She holds a Psychology degree and a record for rolling the fastest burrito in the Republic of Ireland – both which she deems of equal importance. She’s absolutely thrilled to be part of Team Neworld. What a time to be alive!