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  • Darci Daniels

Reader Beware: Listening to Online "Thought Leaders"

(Brene' Brown, however, is someone we should ALL listen to. And hey! I think I'M an online thought leader! lol)

Today I read an article from a writer I somehow started following on Linked In. I have no clue who this guy is, why he writes, what he writes (other than articles on Linked In and his website, like I’m doing here), what his background and qualifications are, or why or when I started following him. And as of today, I stopped following him.*

Was I offended about what he said? Not particularly.

Was his information so completely off-base that it was approaching lies? No.

Was his writing horrible? It wasn’t great, but I’m the last person to critique syntax, grammar, or style. (Obviously, just read the rest of this article.)

Did he ramble and not have a point? Nope, he made his points fairly well.

So, why did I unfollow him? As I read his article, which was basically a whole lot of opinion and not much else, I realized he was positioning himself as an expert of "successful people". Which is a pretty broad claim, but alright, I can read with a skeptical eye. However, that claim didn't seem to match what he wrote, which included mocking another writer. It was the tone in which he wrote -- negative, arrogant, and very black and white (you CAN’T do this, you MUST do that) -- that felt unnecessarily combative. It didn’t seem to matter to him that this was little other than his opinion and may not hold a lot of substance. Which is fine, if…

  • You’ve made it clear it’s an opinion piece, and you’re not shaming people if they make opposite choices or feel differently.

  • You are careful about using all or nothing language.

  • You call it what it is: a rant, which automatically lets people know to take what you’re saying with a grain of salt.

  • You avoid insulting people.

It’s not that difficult to walk this line. Yet, I see a lot of people create content this way. The harm is this: if you’re positioning yourself as an expert, you better have something to back it up. If it’s only anecdotal evidence that’s okay, as long as you are clear. If it’s simply your opinion that’s also fine, as long as you give a disclaimer.

Too many of us give weight and power to what we see written simply because it’s in print, and because it may happen to be somewhere other than just a random website (like on a social media platform) which seems to give it credibility. Then we feel crappy about ourselves because we disagree with or are doing the opposite of what the "expert" says. This certainly isn't motivating or helpful.

So here are some tips for all of us, partially cribbed from the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public, put into my own words:

  • Just because something is written down doesn’t mean it’s true, real, or that we should take it to heart (this article included) -- use your own discernment;

  • This is doubly important for any business or personal advice we may take action on;

  • Remind ourselves that unless it’s a credible source, author, or a scientific peer reviewed paper, we can feel free to disregard it altogether;

  • If we WANT to believe it or follow it, then test it against our own logic and frame of reference instead of just assuming the author is right.

Most importantly, and this is a big part of why I became a coach, to help other people with this simple-to-understand-yet-difficult-to-apply life lesson: Listen to yourself, first. No one else knows what’s best for you as much as YOU know what’s best for you.

But hey, this is just my opinion. Take it or leave it.

P.S. If you didn't read the picture caption at the top, we should all listen to Brene' Brown. Full stop.

* He's apparently a contributing writer to some news outlets. But he also un-ironically used the term pre-madonna instead of prima donna, and yeah, that’s a no for me dawg.


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