Disarming the Critic

Wayne McCollin – Vice Treasurer AFSA and former Deputy Chief Fire Officer of Lothian and Borders FRS

A component of mindfulness is dealing with the ‘inner critic’. Dealing with doubt that persists as an individual manoeuvres their way through personal and professional lives. Psychologists offer tools to address what can be a debilitating condition dependent on the complexity of the self-doubt.

What can be equally inhibiting is dealing with the impact of the external critic. The person or people who are always there to highlight what they consider to be your failings or underperformance. More insidious is the institutionalised targeting of minorities in the workplace. 

In the early days of my career I was in some way immune to the negativity that was endemic in my working environment. Having been instilled with the notion that I had to be better than the rest to get on and possessing a certain degree of self-belief, I simply rose to the challenges that were sent my way. This was a norm. 

Maturity and awareness soon raised my attention towards the criticism that was not being applied equitably or indeed fairly. As a developing Crew Manager, I once suffixed a radio message with a ‘thank you’ as opposed to ‘roger’.  An insignificant slip that I would not even categorise as an error that led to a furore of comments across the Brigade. This example served to enlighten me to the comments and other reactions that come my way.

My immediate response was to aim at disarming the critic. The tool that I had was to refocus and strive to do better. There was a net gain in the approach in that I was able to set the foundation for a career in the service, however what I soon realised was that no matter how well I did there was always a critic in the crowd. Often this would come from the same or expected quarter but sometimes not. It was a permanent feature in the landscape.

I began to wonder why so many people would be interested in one individual who was simply trying to get on with his job and realise whatever potential he may have had.  The answer came in the vocalisation of the thought/belief that any success we (Jagtar and I) were having was only because we were black. If that was the belief system then there could not have been any objectivity in the criticism and by default meant that disarming the critic with fact and action became futile, if not impossible.

It was at that stage in my development as a member of the UK FRS that I would take a new approach. There would be little value in focusing on the white noise coming from the haters. If I was to do that then eventually whatever self-belief I had would soon be eroded and with it the true potential I had to succeed or add to the productivity of my employer. 

There are objective measures that can assess our effectiveness and worth to the service.  If they are applied equally and fairly there would be no concerns of self-doubt.  Make Disarming the Critic a thing of the past.

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