Is being critical indicating a personality disorder? Usually an overly critical person gets ignored or avoided for being so judgmental. Having to endure criticisms is annoying and confronting, therefore not liked. Especially when you have to work with someone in a group to complete an assignment or a nasty task. “We are all in the same boat so why make it difficult”. Ignoring or isolating a disturbing note in a concerted action is happening a lot in small cooperative learning groups (1). It is for the better most of the time because group results exceed effects of individual effort (2). In this way even a brilliant but nevertheless critical remark may fall in barren ground. So, a disorder it is, or what? Other insights link being critical to creative thinking (although both are not the same). To step out of the boundaries of the ordinary, taking a stance and to pursue vigorously a challenging idea that may not immediately be shared, is what opens up for transformation and renewal (3). Dissonant notes must be heard to captivate newness and improvement; and that is true not only for music. But finding ways to incorporate dissonance in collaborative work is a big challenge given our tendency to avoid critique.
Having a look at a group which is supposed to be ‘transformative’ could reveal quite a lot of the mechanisms involved. A Finish study on so called Change Laboratories tried to detect five/six tactics a group could deploy in arriving at what should be an innovative, renewing solution to an existing problem. Tactics like: resisting the management; envisioning new patterns, explicating potentials for action were gauged in a process of working together. Although the group set out to achieve transformative agency the outcome of the study revealed that drastic tactics were avoided. What appeared was a stepwise improvement and specific criticisms, not overall change which made the authors conclude that renewal takes time and is attached to the material conditions, which “cannot be fully controlled by interventionists” (p.259)
Breaking out of the ordinary, it seems, is confined by time, happenstance, and material condition – a laissez faire outcome. Time for criticism. A leap towards new directions and significant deviation of the flow of regularities does not come failsafe but calls for a transformative event (which can be staged by interventionist, no doubt). It is just that these significant occasions in a group dynamic process are not spotted timely or are often masked. There need only be one that is aware of the crucial transitional moments in a group’s conversation to grab the learning turning point, not yet envisioned by others.
Arja Haapasaari, Yrjö Engeström & Hannele Kerosuo (2016). The emergence of learners’ transformative agency in a Change Laboratory intervention, Journal of Education and Work, 29:2, 232-262,
link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13639080.2014.900168