Credibility and what I’m not (oh where is Edie Brickell when you need a theme song to a post?)

I think I may had read one or two too many condescending blog posts lately. Let's be frank (unless Frank objects and then we'll pick someone else): there's ego involved in blogging. I'm not saying that all bloggers gave huge egos (egoes...leggo my ego?), but when you put yourself out there for the world to see, for better or worse, it impacts your ego. Yeah, I've got one, I admit it. I try not to turn it into a campaign to prove to people how much they should love me. I just watched a Woody Allen movie this weekend: "Everyone Says I Love You" and I couldn't help but think about how every Woody Allen movie I see (well both of them, but still) feels like a production company-financed attempt by Woody Allen to get the world to love him. And I suspect that it's not working. Well, it isn't working on me. That kind of self-gratification only works if it well, works. And I'm sorry to say that I don't love Woody Allen and I've made a mental note to take any of his movies off my netflix queu (please, no irate mails from Woody Allen with everything here, just my humble opinion).

Same with condescending blog posts (I really hope you don't think I've done this); as if writing in such a way establishes your credibility. Yeah, we all want to put our "best face" out there (otherwise why have my head shots taken twice since I started blogging?), but does your audience care how great you think you are? Do you you need to "talk down" to build yourself up? I was just telling someone that the personality is central to the blog AND authenticity is my goal. Well, I'll be darned if that didn't make me feel like I need to tell you about everything I'm not good at. Seriously. We are all out here trying to establish credibility and maybe having to admit to a few mistakes along the way, but why not just come out and say what we aren't good at? Are we worried that someone will see a crack in the facade? Just for the record:

I can't read a map to save my life. Don't even try to give me driving directions making reference to N/S/E/W. That's one way to guarantee that I will not show up at the destination. If you are going to tell me how easy map reading is for you, I am going to ignore you. Does that count as two faults or one?

I stink at knitting. I want to knit. I can cast on and then I am lost. So if anyone needs me to knit something that is really just a string of yarn with a knitting needle stuck through it, you just let me know.

I over-analyze conversations. I think back and ask myself "why did I say that?"...ALL the time! I can be very direct. Also, I stink at small talk. I don't know why it makes me uncomfortable sometimes, it just does. So forgive me if we are in a conversation and I forget to ask you about your family. I'm not trying to be a jerk, my mind just doesn't go there.

I'm not good at relaxing. Nothing makes me relax less than someone telling me to relax.

I get nervous before I give a presentation. I'm getting better at this, but the look on my face before I present corresponds with my mental dialog: "why did I agree to do this?". Oh yay, another area for personal growth.

I hate to fly. I know, it's irrational. Turbulence makes me nervous (that's a delicate way of putting it). If this is a sign of me being a control freak, then let's add that to the list. I think we covered that in the post about keeping my house clean (stinky sponge anyone?). Anyway, I do have to take a little something before I board the plane, which I would not recommend for everyone. Then again, I wouldn't recommend sheer panic for everyone either.

I stink at sports. Pretty much all of them. Even running. I especially stink at running (I think that is the official diagnosis when you turn purple...but for anyone that catches me trying to run at the gym, notice how long I run whole minute at a time!). My trainer, James, has already built up an immunity to my whining.

I was an undisciplined student. I regret that. A little bit less since I stopped paying off my student loans. I'm just going to be embarrassed if you ask me my GPA. And looky, Microsoft hired me anyway!

I'm a bit of a loner. Well, not just a bit. Work is my social time. I can be a bit of a home-body outside of work. Well, not just a bit. This surprises many people who find me so social in a work context (any surprise that I am so enjoying working from home?). I think socializing at work is my version of getting it out of my system (so I can go home to peace and quiet and obsess about the conversations I had during the day). I don't dislike people (I quite like most of them actually...especially the ones that don't invite me to joined their LinkedIn network BEFORE they've met me... but I do dislike cats...sorry!). I don't answer the doorbell or my home phone unless I know who it is. Is that crazy?

I don't think my neighbor across the street likes me. I could try harder to make her like me but I'm not going to. I'm sure there's some horrible flaw that makes me like this. Feel free to speculate. OK, now I sound like the postsecret website (language alert if the f-word makes you uncomfortable).

Well, I'm really just trying to make a point. I'll link to the result of the conversation that got me thinking about this next week. It just made me think about the perceived juxtaposition of credibility and authenticity (at least in the mind of the blogger). People (bloggers) are willing to tell you about what they are great at (if I ever tell you I am "authority" or "expert" on anything, please feel free to question me vigorously, but I hope I don't go there) because their blog ego is talking. It's not so fun to highlight all the bad stuff about yourself (the stuff you don't like, the stuff other people don't like), but that's what makes you real/human/authentic. And I'm trying really hard not to sound like I think of myself as some kind of authority on the subject ; )

The thing with blogging is that people will point out the stuff they don't like about you (especially if they have no chance of ever meeting you face-to-face). If they do it respectfully, they are doing you a favor (feel free to e-mail me if there's something you need to tell me about me...some of you have already) because a little insight is good. Others do it disrespectfully and they are giving you an excuse to totally blow them off (which I do, happily as I consider their ego...whee!). Especially if they have no chance of ever meeting you face-to-face. So I think that the more you try to proactively build up your credibility, the more other people will want to rip it down. I'm not saying that credibility is a zero sum game or the market on credibility needs to achieve some kind of equilibrium (because that would be crazy talk...and also talking like that is really, really annoying). I'm just saying that the market (readers) only have a certain tolerance for self-promoting credibility. And at a certain point, the natives become restless. So why not beat them to the punch (OK, metaphor overload) and put some of your less admirable qualities out there? Your readers were already thinking it anyway.


Comments (19)

  1. 10,001th Maniac says:

    How could Edie Brickell  marry that little troll? Talent withstanding, of course. Sorry, just had to rant.

  2. Paul says:

    One of the things that I have observed about really good blogs (the ones that are compelling and make you want to come back, not just read for edification) are that the author’s personality comes through in an authentic way.  I contrast this with the perfectly polished plastic hairdo types who do everything for the sake of "branding" in a contrived sort of way, and end up being dull, dull, dull.

    Of course we all have faults and egos, but so what?  You can have an opinion on a subject and it doesn’t matter that you are right or wrong.  It matters that you thought about it and contributed to the conversation.  Isn’t that the real reason that people monitor your blog, for example?

    Although you picked some interesting pecadillos to highlight about yourself, I’d call them more "interesting" or "quirky" than true "faults".   But I don’t get how broadcasting negatives would make you more authentic anyway.  You are either credible or not.  You are either interesting or not.  You are either a good writer or not.  You are either a blogmeister or not.

    Although it is nice to occasionally be humble, and to be willing to acknowledge shortcomings, it certainly isn’t necessary to hang all your dirty laundry out there (unless your therapist insists on it).  The positives are what you have to offer the world – it’s where your ‘value proposition’ comes from (is that too marketingish?).  The only thing we need to care about in the long run is that the pluses add more value than the negatives delete.

    So, go on and be annoyed by Woody Allen (I feel the same way about Albert Brooks, although he was funny as Nemo’s dad), because it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks — are you going to put the movies back on your list because someone tells you that Woody is a genius?  Who needs those self-conscious neuroses to deal with?  His (Woody’s) best work is in the movies that weren’t so sicko personal (i.e. you might want to keep Purple Rose of Cairo or  Mighty Aphrodite on the flix list).  

    As Stuart Smalley (aka Al Franken) used to say "You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you." If you prefer snarkier SNL writers, there’s always Jack Handey’s deep thoughts.  In keeping with the movie theme, try this one on for size: "I think a good movie would be about a guy who’s a brain scientist, but he gets hit on the head, and it damages the part of the brain that makes you want to study the brain".  

  3. Henry Boehlert says:

    Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars, Title #1, obviously. (And "stars" not necessarily in it’s literal, astronomical sense.)

    Haven’t you (you as in "MS recruiting bloggers") been telling people a blog is an important self-marketing tool? That job seekers need to get noticed?

    I mean, you are in the business about people who need to sell themselves ["inbound supply chain management":)], in particular in marketing, so bragging and even some ruthlessness should not surprise you.

    Although self-criticism is even a Microsoft Value, somebody added "constructive" to it, not without good reason. In an interview I wouldn’t dare to give an honest answer to "What are your weaknesses?"

    The first weblogs I knew (or diaries as those were called back then)  were by written by decent people that just didn’t have someone particular to talk to, so they told everyone (or no one).

    But as everything else, the the socioweb (and the blogosphere as one of it’s parts) is evolving and pretentiousness seems to pay off more than decency there as much as anywhere IRL.

    I agree about Woody Allen. I find his movies way too embarassing to watch.

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    anon-ouch. He might be now that you linked to his blog, but otherwise, I can tell you that he’s not listening. ; )

  5. wm38 says:

    Hi Heather,

    Edie Brickell, IROC cars, and comments from the eighties in your past blogs. Ok I have to ask what year did you graduate HS – 1986-1989?

    Best Regards : )


  6. HeatherLeigh says:

    William…is it that obvious? Yeah, I graduated within that date range. I’m still considering that I might want to lie about my age someday, though so don’t tell anyone ; )

  7. David.Wang says:

    Yeah, I think Pauls says it all.

    Everyone is quirky – that’s part of being human – but I do not associate "condescending" or "always with the best foot forward" with "non-authentic"; just as I do not consider "having quirks" or "cracks in the facade" as "authentic".

    For me, it is the thinking behind the words, the process, that results in a perceived tone which speaks volumes about one’s personality and authenticity. Some people are amazing at capturing and encapsulating themselves with words. Others are not.

    For example, you can probably blog about any other random, non-recruiting/finance/Apprentice/Microsoft/etc topic, and I bet you will still bring what’s "you" to that discussion, drive at a point, and make it interesting. That’s credible authenticity – context independent – and you didn’t even have to worry about the topic.

    To me, it is the consistent expression of critical thinking behind the words which lends credibility. A yahoo can be as authentic as they are ignorant, but I still won’t lend it any credibility.

    Just as I do not find problems with a condescending blog and authenticity – it just tickles me to question and nitpick their points and make me resist in lending them credibility. But, I will still believe them if they have a good point; it just better be air-tight. πŸ˜‰

    Because you know, I struggle with that last point, both in my own writing as well as when expressed by others. It’s just one of my "buttons", I guess, but I just work on pushing it all the time in hopes that it becomes less of a button.

    Still, I enjoy the thought process you’re musing about. πŸ™‚


  8. HeatherLeigh says:

    David-I agree with much of what you said. I think with the arrogant/condescending thing, though, it detracts from credibility because it feels that if the writer believed in what they were saying themselves, they wouldn’t have to proceed with the arrogant presentation. But you are right, part of it is the annoyance factor. I’ve become partial to selective ignoring (selective ignorance didn’t sound quite right).

  9. john cass says:

    I was reading your post and I thought, if you try to be more authentic do you increase the chances of failing?

    I liked your post, and the discussion about authenticity.  Your point about being unable to relax, my spouse will tell you that. πŸ™‚

    When next someone tells you to relax tell him or her how you feel about him or her asking you to relax.  

    And why is it that you cannot relax?  What does relaxing mean to you?

  10. HeatherLeigh says:

    John-the answer is yes, you can inrease the chances of failing. I think you just have to try to not be inauthentic. Or try to not be afraid of putting it all out there. It isn’t something that I think can be orchestrated.

    I definitely tell those folks that tell me to "relax" exactly what I think about that comment. It usually sounds like this "gee, thanks…you telling me to relax is so hopeful…as if suddenly I’m in a peaceful meadow…whatever would I do without you here to tell me how I should feel!" : )

  11. John Cass says:

    Heather, I don’t know if it is always possible to determine if someone is always being genuine.  I think you are right about not being afraid about being open.  But maybe because I am British I have a certain reticence about being too open.  Though my stay in California probably cured me of that. πŸ˜‰

    Hmmm… can you be too open?  I would think you’d want to keep some things private especially about your family.  Or even about your own work failings.  You’re in HR and a recruiter what do you think an employer is looking for?  Success or examples of failure?  

    Though you might have a point if someone wrote about how brilliant they were all the time, I don’t think I’d want to talk with them.  But if they included some of their failings I’d have a better sense of them.

  12. HeatherLeigh says:

    John-you are right and there are things I keep private. I definitely don’t share everything. I think the best people to judge whether yuo are being genuine are the people that know you in-person AND read your blog. I had a conversation about this last week with Gretchen Ledgard. she confirmed that the Heather you get here is definitely the one you get in person, personality-wise. Though there are some subjects that I personally don’t care to discuss on the blog, so I don’t.

  13. John Cass says:

    Hi Heather, that makes sense to me.  

    What about my question about recruiting?  How can you boast and be humble at the same time?  In fact can you recall any examples of candidates that did a great job of doing both in an interview?

  14. HeatherLeigh says:

    You know John, it’s not easy to do. There are 2 sides to humility in blogging (or anything for that matter): the intent of the blogger and how it is received. I think that if the blogger is truly humble, it comes through.

    For example, I have pointed to some articles that I am quoted in. At the same time, I have a sense of humor about myself (how could I not?). I think you establish the humility over time and people will indulge an occassional "hey, look, I am quoted here". I also think that tone plays a big part. I try to use a conversational tone…sounds like me talking. I think when people try to fluff up their writing with an air of authority it doesn’t ring true. I always think it’s better to BE great (still working on that one) than acting *all that*, if you know what I mean. If you need to act it, you probably aren’t it.  Now this is the part of the program where I am officially sick of talking about me.

    I can actually recall examples of candidates doing both. I think the key is to take credit for what you influenced, back it up with specific actions you took that resulted in success. And also be upfront about what others influenced and/or situations where you were on the receiving end of some good fortune, etc. I’ve become a good bs detector in my years of recruiting. It’s not even about *how* someone says something (yeah, that’s the ticket!), but it’s about probing the facts to get to what you are looking for ("what was your contribution relative to other people on your team"). Hope that makes sense. I’d much rather have someone who is up-front than someone who puts on a good show.

  15. John Cass says:

    Robert, I think the blog needs more work.  I agree with you that the lawyers need to loosen the reins and let the writers describe their experiences. Better yet have some of the hotel employees blog.

    Heather, good points, after reading your last paragraph about candidates, I was thinking its very telling when a candidate boasts about their team and not only about themselves.  What insights into candidates to you gain when you hear a candidate talk about their colleagues work on projects the candidate was involved in?

    Have you ever hired a candidate because of the way he or she spoke about his peers?

  16. HeatherLeigh says:

    John- we really look at the "whole package" a candidate presents; everything they bring to the table. So I can never say it’s ever one thing that makes us hire a candidate. I can say that graciousness and self-awareness are key. I won’t say that they are things that we hire people *for* but if it’s not there (or rather the person exhibits a lack of these qualities), there’s a good chance the person won’t get hired.

    These could be hot button issues for hiring managers if there’s a specific team dynamic they are dealing with, trying to encourage or trying to change. Each hiring team decides what skills/qualities are required. So it could be more important to some teams versus others. Also, if the hiring manager is looking to bring in someone that will eventually take over the team, those qualities could be more important. So it’s a little complex.

    I can tell you that on at least one occassion, I did put in an extra effort to make sure that we did not hire someone who showed a significant lack of self-awareness in the interview. I won’t say more than that. Self-awareness and the balance of humility and confidence are important in the interview.

    John, people are going to start thinking you are teeing up questions for me ; )

    Thanks for asking…I think I’ll do a blog post about this.

  17. John Cass says:

    I’d never pitch a slow ball. πŸ˜‰

    As I write a lot about corporate blogging and the Internet, I seem to hit the big issue of culture within companies.  We often ask why a particular company is successful.  I think the way a company organizes its people plays a significant role in being successful or not.  Maybe candidates are not aware of their team because the environment the employee has been working in is not good for teamwork.  Programmers might be expected to keep their head down and code.

    Extreme programming is a movement that encourages more interaction and teamwork.  I’ve always been a person who prefers working on a project with one or two other people.  I get lonely otherwise πŸ™

    wikipedia def. of extreme programming:

    My real reason for wanting to work in teams besides companionship is that I always find projects get completed more quickly and the interplay with other people helps to increase the group’s creativity.  

    While extreme programming is a method used by programming staff, I like the teamwork ideas and think they can be applied to other professions.

    Have you heard about similar ways of working together for marketing teams?

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