Are You Red, Blue, or Purple? What Your Personality Color Says About Your Feedback Style

Ryan Kelly

“Just be yourself.” You’ve probably heard this advice many times in your life–before first dates, before big interviews, before starting new jobs.

Its intentions are nice: just relax, be authentic, and everyone will appreciate your honesty and true personality in the end.

But you may have come to a conclusion–this advice stinks. Not only is it unhelpful in giving you any actionable steps to take, but it is also deeply flawed.

No offense, dear reader, but none of us are better off “just being ourselves” in every single situation and context.

You’ve probably heard the opposite advice, too. “Fake it until you make it.” While I’d argue that this advice works better than the former, it also has its problems, potentially luring you into embarrassing moments where you’re outed as a fraud or imposter.

If you’re reading our content, you’re likely an ambitious student who’s trying to “set the curve” and stand out from the crowd. But this ambition comes with a bevy of advice and criticism–feedback on everything from what courses to take, what major to choose, what internships to seek, etc.

And that begs the question: how do you know when the criticism is actually constructive? Or even more specifically, how do you know when the criticism is a good fit for you.

After working with hundreds of students of all backgrounds, personalities, and goals, I’d like to share the lessons I’ve learned to help you decide what advice is truly “constructive” for you.

Perhaps surprisingly, our first point begins with a lesson about colors.

Lesson #1: Constructive Criticism Depends on Your Personality Type

You might be familiar with the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, but its 16 different combinations might be a bit exhaustive for our purposes here.

So I’d like to use the Primary Color Personality Test model (or this free one if you don't want to pay), which essentially breaks down into 6 main personality types:

The Primary Color Personality Test model, inspired by Power Of Positivity
The Primary Color Personality Test Model, inspired by Power of Positivity.

Coinciding with these types are suggestions about how each color responds to criticism:

Working with hundreds of students as an advisor, I have encountered a wide range. Some (Green or Yellow) are quick to take every piece of advice they receive, occasionally spiraling into a dangerously unproductive and anxiety-inducing feedback loop. Others (Red or Orange) seem determined to make every piece of feedback a hostage negotiation or circular debate. Of course, there are also those (Blue or Purple) who take a logical, systematic approach, to the point where they might even overthink each piece of advice they receive.

I’m not perfect, but I’ve learned to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach in giving criticism because each person might need a different form of advice to be successful.

Obviously, within these colors, there are gray areas (haha…) or times when one or two personalities coalesce into various shades, so it’s not an exact science.

Personally, looking back, I might tag my younger self as a Blue on my best days and a Red on my worst days. Overall, I think having more self-awareness about my tendencies and biases would have helped me be more open and objective about criticism.

Assessing which color you most identify with will help you check yourself whenever you’re receiving criticism, hopefully avoiding some of the pitfalls (i.e. being too defensive, using deflection, taking things too personally, etc). At the same time, it will help you determine whether the advice you’re receiving is a good fit for your preferences, disposition, and productivity.

As such, I think it’s fair to say that criticism is only “constructive” if it’s personalized.

Lesson #2: Constructive Criticism Should Consider Intentionality

I used to attend writing workshops all the time, and admittedly, I didn’t always find the feedback to be very helpful. In retrospect, I think the reason I was turned off by the feedback was that it didn’t show enough consideration of my intentions.

Or in other words, it felt like the critics were merely telling me how they would write the story, or what they thought would be the most interesting ways to revise it, as opposed to catering their advice to the message they thought I was trying to convey.

I’ve certainly been guilty of this myself, where I give advice that’s self-reflexive based on my own experience or project my own ideas/values onto someone else’s plans or goals. It’s a common trap to fall into because inward-thinking is easier than outward-thinking.

I think it’s best to illustrate the difference through some examples:

Scenario: Student Seeking Advice About Research Positions

Criticism that doesn’t consider intentionality:

You should take the most prestigious position with the highest likelihood of publication, since that’s what people are going to care about the most.

Criticism that considers intentionality:  

If you’re most interested in accumulating publications, then you might want to focus on research labs with a long track record of success where you can collaborate with experienced scientists. But if you’re looking for something more exploratory where you will have the freedom to conduct your own projects and clarify your interests, a smaller and less competitive lab might be better.

Scenario: Student Seeking Advice About a Personal Statement Draft

Criticism that doesn’t consider intentionality:

You should never write about mental health challenges because admissions committees will view that as a huge red flag.

Criticism that considers intentionality:  

I would think about why you’re sharing the mental health struggles in your essay. If your goal is to show your ability to empathize with others, then maybe include a story that illustrates your ability to help people in similar situations. If you’re including the struggles to help explain a period of low grades, I would include more details about how it affected your academics and then explain your upward performance once the situation was addressed.

Scenario: Student Seeking Advice About Which College to Attend

Criticism that doesn’t consider intentionality:

My daughter’s friend went to that university, and trust me, it’s not a great place to build your resume. I doubt you’ll be able to get any internship offers in that area.

Criticism that considers intentionality:  

If you’re worried about getting work experience, you might want to consider a college in an area where your dream field is well represented, since internships will likely be numerous and less competitive. But if you like a certain school in a more remote area and are willing to take initiative to find opportunities, then you should feel comfortable attending that college.

My examples are a tad exaggerated for effect, so that I could illustrate the characteristics of both types of advice and highlight the differences:

Ineffective Criticism:

  • Speaks in absolutes/extremes
  • Steers towards cynicism and defeatism
  • Provides an answer rather than a choice

Effective Criticism:

  • Uses conditional (if/then) phrases
  • Remains open-minded
  • Offers choices and options to consider

Ultimately, a focus on intentionality is a sign that you’re receiving truly constructive criticism.

Lesson #3: Constructive Criticism Typically Comes from Someone Who Knows You Well, But Not Too Well

In our internet age, there are more ways to find advice than ever before, ranging from classic e-sources like forums and message boards to shiny new tools like ChatGPT.

And of course, there are the normal IRL sources at your disposal like classmates, professors, mentors, college counselors, etc.

But who is likely to give you truly constructive criticism?

Well, let’s start by taking a look at what happens when we ask ChatGPT a question:


Where should I go to medical school?


Choosing a medical school is a significant decision and depends on various factors such as your career goals, preferred location, financial considerations, and more. Here are some of the top medical schools according to the 2023-2024 US News rankings:

For research:

  1. Harvard University, MA
  2. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
  3. University of Pennsylvania (Perelman), Philadelphia, PA

For primary care:

  1. University of Washington, Seattle, WA
  2. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, M
  3. Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR

This is useful information, but its perspective is limited and generalized.

Oppositely, what would happen if you posed the same question to a close family member, like a parent or sibling, who knows you extremely well?

Odds are, their advice would be more careful and nuanced, but it might lack objectivity because of their deep emotional attachment to you or their (conscious or unconscious) desire to live vicariously through you in some way.

In the case of the medical school question above, you could see how your family’s advice might slip into the realm of being too lofty because they have strict standards for you, or oppositely, too conservative due to their concern of you being disappointed after shooting too high.

So, I think you need to find a middle ground by seeking advice from someone with a solid, genuine understanding of your experiences, personality, and goals, but without a familial or kindred attachment that might taint or bias their perspective.

If you’ve developed a long-term, friendly relationship with a peer or faculty mentor, that person might be a strong choice. Or you could consider seeking the counsel of professional admissions or career advisors who are willing to meet with you regularly and truly immerse themselves in the details of your stories, values, and aspirations.

Overall, constructive criticism is typically found in this sweet-spot. But don’t forget to put the advice to the test and ensure that it meets the criteria outlined earlier in Lessons #1 and #2.

How would you define “constructive criticism?” What’s the most and least constructive advice you’ve ever received? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. If you’re interested in our constructive criticism, go ahead and book a free introductory meeting with us and pick our brains about all of your admissions goals.  

- Ryan

For over 11 years, Ryan Kelly has guided hundreds of students towards acceptance into top colleges and graduate schools, with an emphasis on standing out while also staying true to themselves. Read more about Ryan here. Or book a free intro meeting with him here.

Next week Rob will be discussing Arnold Schwarzenegger's mottos and how they can apply to improving your college experience.