Issue 34 | The Certainty Conundrum
Navigating Expertise in a Complex World
In a world filled with information and competing voices, standing out and getting buy-in from clients and colleagues requires an ability to project expertise and certainty. Clients are more inclined to trust you, and higher-ups and colleagues are more likely to support your initiatives, when you speak authoritatively. But this quest for certainty can clash with societal norms, personal inclinations, and the uncertainties that exist in every field.
The Social Dynamics of Certainty
Biases affect how your expertise is perceived. Women, socialized to speak more tentatively, use hedge words more frequently than men—and for good reason. Neurodiverse individuals may exercise caution in expressing certainty, especially after repeated experiences of being misunderstood or dismissed. Minorities often face a "double bind" where they are either seen as too aggressive or too passive.
A Case Study in Certainty: Dr. Stephen Schneider
On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.
- Stephen Schneider
Dr. Stephen Schneider, a highly respected climatologist, once articulated the "double ethical bind" that scientists often face—a statement that has itself been misquoted and misconstrued. Scientists are ethically bound to the scientific method, promising to tell the whole truth, including all doubts and caveats.
However, they are also human beings who wish to make a positive impact, which requires capturing the public's imagination through media coverage. This can lead to simplified, dramatic statements that don’t allow for nuance. Schneider's dilemma highlights the complex balance between being effective and being honest, a balance that each of us must find for ourselves.
The Impact of Certainty on Action and Thought
If you aim for people to take immediate action, leaning into a higher degree of certainty makes your messaging more effective. On the flip side, if your goal is to encourage thoughtful consideration, include nuance and acknowledge the limitations of your viewpoint. The key is to align the level of certainty in your communication with your intentions.
The Power of Backed-Up Opinions
Psychological research indicates that providing a reason for a request increases compliance. We can extend this to expertise as well: you have greater credibility when your statements and recommendations are backed by data or research. It's not just about what you say, but how you substantiate it.
Adopting a Balanced Mindset
As Dr Schneider said, “[we should aim to be] both effective and honest: by using metaphors that simultaneously convey both urgency and uncertainty, and also by producing supporting documents of all types and length”. This nuanced approach allows you to express informed opinions while leaving room for dialogue and further exploration.
Adopting a balanced mindset not only enhances your credibility but also invites engagement. Clients and colleagues are more likely to view you as a thoughtful expert, open to new ideas and capable of adapting to new information.
Navigating the complexities of certainty and expertise is a nuanced task, especially for solopreneurs who must wear many hats. By understanding the social dynamics at play and fine-tuning your message to your audience and goals, you can position yourself as a credible and responsible expert in your field.
According to my research, that is.
Who you callin’ “weak”? A man explaining about women’s use of “weak language”. At least it’s good! (NYTimes Gift Article)
Should we pay for emotional labor? Emotional Labor is a widespread (and thus inevitably misunderstood) term these days. But what does it mean, who does it in a corporate setting, and how should it be compensated? This quote summarized it for me:
…there is no innate reason for certain groups to provide emotional labor. In fact, when money is an incentive, everyone, including men, can perform astonishing — and, crucially, equal — amounts of empathy and emotional labor.
(WaPo Gift Article)
Zoom is now going after Loom with their new Zoom Clips. It doesn’t have all the fancy features that made Loom a generic term for “quick screen recordings”, but the convenience and quality can make it a winner for many.
Of course they had to get the emoji reactions in right off the bat 🙄.