Recently, I got into a bit of a…let’s call it… “lengthy and detailed conversation about best practices” on LinkedIn. Now, for those of you that know me, you probably won’t be too surprised by that. I’m a junkie for learning and as a global, digital epicenter of thought leaders and experienced professionals, I can always rely on LinkedIn for a good fix. I’m also that annoying kind of person that relies on evidence and logic to be swayed by an argument. I think they call us scientists, but I digress.
I got into this conversation because a claim was made that seemed to fly in the face of empirical evidence that I am familiar with. And, while I am willing to entertain the notion that I could be wrong or that new research may suggest something different than what I previously believe, I need it to be proven to me. So, I asked questions, prodded the shallow surface claims, and got into some of my evidence as to why I believed something different.
What is interesting about this story has nothing to do with this conversation. Rather it was two different conversations I had with two different colleagues in LinkedIn private messages about how they had thought something similar when they first saw the post and wanted to say something but didn’t. Even now they felt a desire to support me, but were unwilling to put themselves out there as completely legitimate (and frankly awesome) subject matter experts.
This got me thinking about LinkedIn’s culture in general. Why is it that so many users tend to fall on polar extremes of the contribution spectrum? Some people treat LinkedIn like any other social media outlets, where people are all too quick to espouse their differing opinions to a post, in a less than professional manner, while others contribute to LinkedIn’s sea full of empty “I agree” and “Thanks for sharing” comments that add zero value to the conversation. It seems there are two variables that immediately come to mind which may be related:
- Fixed vs. Growth Mindset: If you feel that your expertise, intelligence, and knowledge are set in stone and that you either have them or you don’t, you probably have a fixed mindset. Naturally, no one wants to be the person without expertise, intelligence, or knowledge, so sharing one’s opinion and potentially being proven wrong would mean that you are not intelligent, and you do not have expertise or knowledge (and maybe you never will). Thus, it is not worth the risk to try. You can simply believe in your own mind that you’re amazing if no one proves otherwise.
Meanwhile, those that have a growth mindset understand that failure is another path to greater understanding and further development and are more willing to question things to GAIN clarity instead of SHOW clarity.
- Image Management: My next boss might read this post! If that is the case, what am I presenting about myself? This often feels like a direct culture link between LinkedIn and the U.S. work culture where conflict avoidance trumps constructive conflict every time. People still want to be contributors, but may be afraid to disagree, so they become ‘yes (wo)men’ to someone with more personal power who is willing to speak up. At first, I thought that perhaps I was dealing with some range restriction since my network is likely to be more “Midwest-nice” human capital people.
The opposite of the passive type, the super aggressive LinkedIn posters seem to believe that by being aggressive toward other members, they can show their expert superiority to other on-lookers. I would like to make a clear distinction here from people that engage in healthy, respectful debate or professional disagreement. The former is more about proving the original poster as ‘wrong’ while the latter are those who are trying to help get the original poster closer to ‘right’.
If discussing LinkedIn as a place for an exchange of learning, then Dweck’s earlier work with Ellen Leggett (1988) on Achievement Goal theory seems to help clarify a bit of this phenomenon. Achievement goals are the underlying motivations behind their behaviors while engaging in the learning process. Those intentions have since been boiled down to seeking opportunity to learn (mastery orientation) or being concerned about reputation (performance orientation).
Having a “Mastery” learning orientation is like having a growth mindset, in that one understands that skill and capability comes through effort. The key to having a mastery orientation though, is that one ends up picking their battles. Those with a mastery orientation only engage if the conversation is likely to provide them a greater understanding, and thus are more likely to gain valuable information from others.
Conversely, if someone is afraid to speak up further than an “I agree”, they might fall in the ‘performance avoidant’ category. These individuals are mostly concerned with the negative ways in which others might think about them. Thus, they do not speak up and inevitably miss the opportunity to gain clarity regarding nuances or other circumstances, being more concerned with image management over learning.
On the other extreme, those that speak up simply to look smart or knowledgeable tend to fall more toward ‘performance approach’ in which asking questions or making comments, is not about finding an answer. They already think they know all the answers. In this circumstance, the speaker has more of a fixed mindset and believes that they are already expert in this area, unable to learn more about the subject at hand, but still needs the attention or reassurance of their superiority. These individuals are mostly concerned with the positive ways in which other might think about them, and want others to be keenly aware of just how much knowledge they already have. Of course, this is often rather transparent and everyone around them can tell, which may harm their personal brand.
Ironically, those who are concerned the least with image management (mastery oriented individuals) do perform better than others and tend to have more confidence, where as those who want to look good in front of others (performance approach) sometimes perform in the range of the mastery folk, but only under certain conditions like having high EQ and self-efficacy (they must already internally believe they can perform, not just want others to see it). They may even end up with greater performance anxiety than the mastery oriented. Those who are trying to avoid looking foolish (performance avoidant) tend to perform the worst and have the greatest anxiety, compared to both groups. (Linnenbrink, 2005; Vassiou, Mouratidis, Andreou & Kafetsios, 2014)
There have not yet been any studies that specifically look at how learning orientation affects one’s brand on LinkedIn, but I think many of us can see the effects that posting on LinkedIn has on one’s reputation. We get a sense for those that are here to become even more expert, versus those that are here just to “show off”, versus those that are just trying to ride someone else’s coat tails. But honestly, you shouldn’t care about that! Take advantage of the collective knowledge surrounding you, ask questions, pose theories/hypothesis, get into a constructive debate and let the rest of it follow knowing that you’re becoming a better practitioner and building your brand indirectly and literally effortlessly.
Now share this on your page and make me look good…. just kidding…
Dweck, C. S. & Leggett E., L. (1988) A Social-Cognitive Approach to Motivation and Personality, Psychological Review, 95(2), pp. 256-273
Linnenbrink, E., A. (2005) The Dilemma of Performance-Approach Goals: The Use of Multiple Goal Contexts to Promote Students Motivation and Learning, Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(2), pp. 192-213
Vassiou, A., Mouratidis, A., Andreou, E & Kafetsios, K. (2014) Students’ Achievement Goals, Emotion Perception Ability, and Affect and Performance in the Classroom: A Multilevel Examination, Educational Psychology, 23(5), pp. 879-897
Dustin Johnson is Chief Learning Architect at DX-Learning Solutions and Adjunct Professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Illinois Institute of Technology, DeVry University, and National Louis University. Dustin works in Leadership Development, Training and Organizational Culture. He teaches Business, Psychology, Business Psychology, and Statistics. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of the organizations with which he is affiliated. To get in touch with Dustin feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org