Tuesday, May 13, 2014

#Twitterspam, Part 2: The Armchair Psychology Fail, with a Reference to Calvin and Hobbes

By Steven S. Vrooman


This is what TV Tropes calls Immediate Self-Contradiction. Just as with the Calvin and Hobbes strip above, it is often used by the guilty to avoid punishment.

It turns out that bloggers on public speaking are pretty likely candidates to do this as well. And the #Twitterspammers out there just keep it going.

The Armchair Psychology Fail

You can find this kind of thing weekly from folks who Hootsuite tweet public speaking advice blog entries, usually with an audience-baiting TITLE WITH NUMBERS IN IT!!!! 

We'll call this contradiction The Armchair Psychology Fail. I'll explain in a second.

Murray Newlands' recent blog entry in Entrpreneur, "5 Strategies for Communicating When You Don't Even Like to Talk," is what sparked this for me. It was tweeted and retweeted hundreds of times (at least 786 times, according to the blog's tweet counter) in the days following his blog publication. Many appeared immediately, which means the tweeters were not likely reading the content they were posting (which happens when you tweet 50+ times a day, eh?). When it hit Contentgems the next day, BOOM. 

Here's the fail, his list entries 2 and 3: "Discover your strengths" and "Prepare for working outside your comfort zone." 

Did you just feel Calvin's snowball?

This is a fun little contradiction that ends up evacuating all meaningful content from this "advice." DO WHAT YOU'RE GOOD AT!!!! AND!!!!!!! DO WHAT YOU'RE BAD AT!!!!!

Gee, thanks. So be good at everything?

I could pick on dozens of examples, as this kind of thing happens all the time, but here's my favorite, from Lauren Hug's "7 Steps to Building Confidence as a Speaker," which she's been retweeting about every two weeks since the start of the year:

Here's the list:

1. Start now
2. Learn the rules
3. Play to your strengths
4. Push your limits
5. Practice, practice . . . .
6. Find "your thing"
7. Help others

Okay, so that's not really bad advice, I guess, but 3 & 4 are the same kind of contradiction I've already complained about. But there's a bonus contradiction here if you actually read the blog, as 2 & 6 actually tell you to do opposite things.

Why The Idea of Trait-Based Speaking Anxiety Doesn't Help

You might say, "Look, sometimes life is messy and complicated and contradictory, which is why this happens." Sure, you're right, but then maybe we should stop trying to simplify our advice down into lists so that we can get more Twitter followers and do a better job with that complexity? 

Both of these bloggers have better advice than this. I like them. But turning your content into bad versions of Buzzfeed is bad for everyone. 

The real disservice here is that lists like this embody a pretty terrible explanation of why we are nervous about public speaking, which is that it is your personality traits. But this is probably untrue, and it is certainly not very helpful. Although what is being called the "communibiological perspective" argues that speaking anxiety and introversion are linked (and it makes sense that there is some link), research doesn't always support this. Plus, my book reviews the evidence that something like 90% of people have speaking anxiety, but as the publicity for Susan Cain's Quiet ramps up, we are reminded that introversion rates are about 50%. So that doesn't match up.

We've seen this before, with the checkered history of trait-based leadership studies. If we believe people are born leaders, it hurts the development of effective discourse about leadership. I think the same thing happens when we look to introversion traits or nervousness traits. 

We are stuck in the nonsencial Armchair Psychology Fail: Do what you like doing! Then do stuff you don't like!! See? You can do it all!!! Yay, you!!!!

We can do better.

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