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  • Writer's pictureChris Burand

"Love Hurts," performed by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris

Love hurts and the plaintive emotions expressed by this duo resonates deeply. But criticism, even constructive criticism, hurts far more. I cannot find anyone who sings about constructive criticism. The website,, advertises itself as "The Web's Largest Resource for Music, Songs & Lyrics" and a search found 10 lyrics, 0 artists, and only 2 albums matching "constructive criticism." On the other hand, it found 20,197 lyrics for "love hurts," 112 artists, and 100 albums. Maybe "love" and "hurt" is a yin and yang thing or part of a beck and call scenario while "constructive" and "criticism" does not quite work.

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Constructive criticism lacks the romance but it still hurts, often hurts a lot. The fact that it is basic and not flashy does not diminish the pain. Just a different part of a person’s ego hurts. Even when delivered with kindness, pain results. Someone can say, "But it's good for you," "Be strong," or "Get over it and use the criticism to your advantage." The person not criticized always has an easier time delivering the message than the target has receiving it.

The truth is that if a person can handle constructive criticism and get past the pain and their ego, their business and sales improve. I see agency owners, the ones that have built the most solid agencies not necessarily the biggest by any means, take constructive criticism far better than their peers. Taking constructive criticism and the ability and willingness to do so is one of the most fascinating and interesting aspects of why people own agencies and become executives. Their entire goal, if subconscious, is to hold a position where people will not criticize them. This is actually a testable personality trait and to date, I have not seen the test miss.

Criticism hurts all types of people but some people work constructively in response. The people who avoid criticism as entirely as possible are the owners and executives who need to be the boss for one reason–so they will not be criticized. They are not in business to actually build a business. They are in business to avoid being criticized. Without any exaggeration I have seen agencies go bankrupt, suffer E&O claims and suffer huge losses of value, which were all avoidable if the owner could have handled criticism. In the most extreme cases, they chose, explicitly, failure over criticism. I clearly remember the day when one owner broke down over the constructive criticism involving his agency's bankruptcy due to miss-spending trust monies. The failure of bankruptcy was less painful than the accompanying criticism and goes to show just how painful constructive criticism can be to some people.

The insurance industry has a large percentage of owners who cannot stand criticism and it hurts their agency's performance. I recently completed a deep study of which characteristics result in the truly best agencies. One defining factor was whether the owner ran the agency as an agency, for their personal purposes, or ran it as a business. Guess where sensitivity to criticism is least? Most?

I recently read a story exemplifying the best of both sides of constructive criticism. Constructive criticism was given 20 years ago to a particular younger person. They were clearly hurt. But it was fairly given and delivered without malice. Today, the person who gave the constructive criticism is going to work for the person to whom he delivered the criticism. She took the advice after licking her wounds and made herself better. She now owns her own business that she runs as a business and it is so successful, she has become a local economic force. The person who delivered the constructive criticism can now expect fair criticism at his employee reviews. By both parties working constructively, using the pain that entails positivity, everyone gets getter.

On the other hand, if I am a carrier and I am looking to appoint agencies with the best futures, I probably would focus on owners who are the least sensitive to constructive criticism. This is not so that companies can deliver criticism (some really should look in the mirror first) but because it is a characteristic of the most solid agency owners. I built proxy measures that are tangible and provable -- these are not "gut" instincts and a third-party test does exist to determine who is and who is not best able to deal with contractive criticism.

If I am a competitor, an opportunity exists to take advantage of those agencies run by people who are too sensitive to criticism. The bigger they are the more vulnerable they are. This is because their weaknesses are less likely to be addressed since a high probability exist no one will offer constructive criticism to these kinds of bosses and even if they do, the boss is less likely to listen.

If by chance you are someone that is extremely sensitive to constructive criticism, maybe it helps to know constructive criticism hurts for every adult on some level and some part of their ego. I know hard work can overcome an adequate portion of one's sensitivity. The advantage people have, that were excessively sensitive but grow stronger is they have empathy today that enables them to connect to many people more deeply. They have turned the lemon into lemonade.

Clearly this article's topic is not a normal insurance topic. However, in many agencies and situations, the ability and willingness to deal with constructive criticism is far more important to many agencies' futures. Everyone gets hurt in love and criticism. What you do with constructive criticism determines that future. How well do you deal with constructive criticism?


NOTE: The information provided herein is intended for educational and informational purposes only and it represents only the views of the authors. It is not a recommendation that a particular course of action be followed. Burand & Associates, LLC and Chris Burand assume, and will have, no responsibility for liability or damage which may result from the use of any of this information.

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