Monday, October 27, 2014

Is it Fake?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) provides a common language and standard criteria to be able to work with mental illness. Martin Seligman and others decided that it was a problem for psychology to be focused on disorders and illnesses. Most people are well. They could be happier, but they are well enough. The field of positive psychology rose as an attempt to shift rigorous, more scientific work towards the field of mental health rather than just illness.

Some cultures are more comfortable being upbeat that others.

Being 'overly positive' actually really gets under the skin of those weary of fakers. Social Media in general, and Facebook specifically, get scathing attacks as self-promotion platforms with people tending to only share the good news or pictures of them smiling. Unsurprisingly, we don't think it appropriate to take a photo of someone when they are crying bitterly, post, and like it.

In the workplace, there are those who are comfortable confidently and quickly putting their ideas forward and speaking with conviction. Others are very conscious of how little they know, the bits they don't understand, and the things that go wrong. Since the world is dynamic, and it is unlikely that the 'doubter' will get to a point where everything is understood, the gap between the over and under-confident can be rather permanent.

I have shared two clips below. The first is a brief clip with a panel including Warren Buffet on what it takes to be a success. In it he mentions doing a Dale Carnegie course when he was 20 and how much this helped. Carnegie is a great example of the dilemma facing people who don't like faking. Growing up, I knew of the book but never read it. In fact, we used to use the title to sarcastically tease people - 'How to win friends and influence people'. I read it for the first time this year and it is really good but it feels a little like a book for a magician or a palm reader. It feels like a book of tricks. It also feels like the tricks would work. If someone is genuine and their heart is in the right place, following its principles is fantastic. The doubters would be worried about the power of the same principles to manipulate since there isn't complete transparency. Carnegie suggest for example that it is a waste of time to ever directly criticise anyone. He uses Lincoln as an example and gives anecdotes of how successful this strategy can be. This is the opposite of what those who believe in tough love and focusing on areas for improvement would do. Is it fake?


I feel like the work that Seligman and others are doing is finding a middle ground. Applying rigour to what can feel like the fluffy self-help domain. Artists, writers and musicians also have to play their part. Although we complain about only positive stuff on Facebook, we also feel very uncomfortable when difficult stories are shared widely. Creative people allow us to recognise our own troubles in their work while maintaining privacy by not admitting that it is us. Finally, the doubters may need to accept that some degree of 'faking' is necessary as Amy Cuddy's powerful talk suggests. They will also need to have some faith that fluff does tend to come out in the wash, so adding real value does tend to win out over time.


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