People Don't Know Nothing

Let's start with some Erik facts, I've taken the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) assessment no less than nine times over the last 15 years, I was a psychology major as an undergrad where it seems like every intro class has you self-analyzing your first two weeks of class, and took a number of human resources and I/O psychology related courses during my graduate studies - my point being that without change, every single time I've ever completed the questionnaire no matter my age, point in career, etc. the result has never waivered: INFP.

For those not familiar with how MBTI assessments are scored, this means that I tend to be:

  • Introverted as opposed to extroverted
  • Intuitive as opposed to sensing (abstract as opposed to concrete)
  • Feeling as opposed to thinking
  • Perceptive as opposed to judging

Now there are people that say to take an MBTI result with a grain of salt, others that might say it's only a snapshot to help you see where you are at a given point in your life, and some who would tell you that it's a tool to help you develop. I tend hang out with that last camp, and here's why.

I cannot stand, openly despise, absolutely hate public speaking. Or rather, I used to. A long ago MBTI confirmed something I already knew, I didn't like getting up in front of a group of people and talking. As a student I dreaded getting called on, or God forbid having to stand up and talk. I would get sick to my stomach, I would get all sweaty and clumsy and full of unbridled panic. Maybe this equation will clarify:

Erik + Talking + Audience = Hot Mess

Then I went and decided that I wanted to become an HR professional, a career choice that for some can lead to sitting at a desk churning through data, completing reports, dealing with one-on-one issues - it was the kind of job where the potential was there that I'd never have to speak to an audience, ever - or so I convinced myself. Clearly, I was wrong.

A successful HR career means that over time as your role and responsibilities grow and evolve, the more you have to speak to an audience. Be it meeting with your peers or organizational executives, maybe there is an opportunity to give a presentation at a local (or national) meeting, there's the strong possibility that you'll have to deliver training at some point, and on and on. The reality is that if you don't want to talk in front of people, you probably shouldn't go into HR, a lesson I learned fairly quickly as I was tasked with conducting new employee orientation about a week into my first job out of school.

I muddled through. I made myself an expert on the presentation. I practiced and reviewed all the details of everything I was talking about (this was a several hour program) endlessly. I survived, I didn't like it, but I made it through unscathed. There was a moment after several months of this that I realized I couldn't keep at it like this - yes, preparation is good, but I was preparing in excess and it wasn't really helping my nerves (though I could rattle off most anything you needed to know about the array of policies, programs, benefits, and such covered in orientation). But at the time, there didn't seem like there was any kind of quick fix. And before anyone thinks it, I'm not Toastmasters material, that seems like immersion therapy to me.

Imagine it like this...

Etheral 3rd party asker of difficult questions: Do you hate spiders?
Me: Yes, yes I do.
Etheral 3rd party asker of difficult questions: Great, let's dip you in a vat of spiders and you'll have no choice but to get over your fear!
Me: What the frack are you smoking? Get away from me! (note, my arms are flailing windmill style during this part of the imaginary conversation after which I run off and pretend we never discussed any of this)

So to summarize, public speaking were like social setting spiders to me. And if you know me, you know how much I loathe the mere mention of spiders let alone actually encountering one. So what do I do when it's time to leave school, land a job, start a career? I find one that asks me to be a figurative spider wrangler, and I wrangled, albeit not in a stellar fashion for years (though I did improve and wasn't a trainwreck of absurd preparation after that first year) until I went and completed graduate school and thought to myself, You have a master's degree now, doesn't that qualify you to teach or something?

That's right, I went out and became an adjunct professor - I picked up a secondary gig standing in front of a room full of people four hours a night several nights a week. I was either an idiot or a genius, probably an idiot, but still.

The first night of class was approaching and I fell back on my old habit of preparing beyond the point of knowing my material inside and out, I was a Jedi Master, I was like the Tenth Doctor all suave and smart and ready to explode from too much awesomeness at any second, I was a ninja waiting to get all stealthy up in my student's faces dropping knowledge directly into their brains before they could stop me. Then I showed up to teach, I was early (okay, really early, roughly 90 minutes early), and walked into my classroom at which point I was almost certain I was going to throw up on the whiteboard.

By some notion of divine intervention another instructor walked in and he must have seen the panic on my face (or the lack of color in it) and told me something that I'll never forget, something I've told countless students and colleagues in some paraphrased fashion over the years when they share their own fears around public displays of talking.
Don't worry about this, remember they don't know what you're going to talk about. They don't know what you're supposed to talk about. Thing is, they're going to sit there and listen to whatever you have to say - these people don't know nothing, and they think you do.
People don't know nothing... a simple idea with a lot of weight despite the bad grammar. It's true of a lot of things I guess. My job in HR has me interfacing with all kinds of audiences, it's my role to shepherd them through difficult issues, serve as an adviser or consultant, tell them the things they need to know in order to manage or work or succeed in an organization. They don't always know what they need and it's my job to teach them (or at least find the answer or in some cases determine what's the question), and I remind myself of this every day and it's one of the things that makes me love what I do - I get to lead, and explain, and inform, and guide, and train, yes - even train, a task that becomes less burden and more opportunity when you realize you're not just spouting out details but actually creating knowledge, adding value, and turning nothing into something.  

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