The more addicted we become to constant communication with others, the more we wonder how to make that "always on" status more bearable. We try to understand why some people share far too much, some not at all, some seemingly only with the purpose to annoy or "troll" others. Social media and the increasingly social workplace have created a wealth of new material for social scientists, and last week two studies made headlines that piqued my interest and got me thinking about the way we classify ourselves (and are classified by friends and bosses) and how that affects our happiness and productivity.
First, from The Atlantic, 'Being a Go-Getter Is No Fun.' I could have told you that! Seriously though, as someone who has been at times labeled Type A, Perfectionist, Gifted and Overachiever, I have experienced the expectations - both external and internal - that come with those designations. When you're seen as the smart kid, you get asked to do more in and out of class; when you're seen as the dependable intern, the amount of free labor required of you suddenly increases. That doesn't stop in the "real world," of course. This paper, from researchers at Duke, University of Georgia and University of Colorado, looked at how the most competent people are treated by their bosses and peers. The result was not surprising: they're given more work, and not always the work that needs to be done by the most competent people. What was really interesting about this paper to me was that it also recorded how these competent people feel about this arrangement. The answer: not good. They tend to get overwhelmed and frustrated by the extra work they inevitably must take on while their less competent peers skate by. Competency, for the purposes of this paper, by the way, was measured by perceived self control. How is self control measured? Well, I guess it's a little subjective. But the idea is that if you seem like you really have your stuff together and won't slack off, you'll get more work and, as a separate study importantly adds, the people assigning you the work will tend to underestimate its complexity or tediousness. Maybe us overachievers should start trying to be more like these guys who are "faking" working 80-hour weeks... (Insert Twitter bio-esque disclaimer that things appearing in blog posts are not necessarily endorsements!)
And speaking of Twitter, the second bit of interesting research from last week: 'Extroverts dominate social connections, but beware the network bias.' My Facebook friends talk about the introvert/extrovert dilemma quite a lot, and I've clicked on a number of articles, essays and quizzes recently (turns out I'm probably more of an ambivert myself) but this one was particularly interesting because it got at the "echo chamber" idea that often comes up in discussions of online communities in particular. "The social networks of popular, outgoing people present a skewed view of the world because they include a larger portion of extroverts than the general population," writes Jo Craven McGinty in the Wall Street Journal. The new research from two Dartmouth professors suggests that this has an impact not just on how exciting (or boring) your friends' parties might be, but can also hugely affect leadership choices, marketing decisions, and even medical studies (when it comes to choosing subjects). One of the researchers notes that extroverts are often chosen to build out leadership teams, but the truth is they might not always be the most competent people for the job. Of course, those people are probably too busy working through piles of time-consuming tasks to join leadership teams anyway. (See above.)