Is it possible to demonstrate too much enthusiasm?

by Cindy Vallance @cdvallance

I read a recent blog in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) series that struck a chord with me.  Entitled “Are You Hurting Your Own Cause?” Dorie Clark provides five reasons on how we can do more harm than good when we are working to communicate or embed an initiative or concept that we are passionate about.

What does this have to do with Social Sciences Change Academy? I had a conversation with colleagues involved in the initiative which is about encouraging a stronger community of learning through collaboration between students, academic staff and professional services staff.  We all believe in the importance of this purpose but we realised as we talked how we can also fail in our purpose in exactly the ways that are mentioned in this HBR blog.

Let’s consider just one example.

Painting a black and white scenario – Firstly, getting all three of the groups we are encouraging to collaborate to do so is not always possible or even desirable. There are many occasions where focused attention on one group or another is much more useful and effective.

We can, for instance, consider induction. There are many types and purposes – central events for all staff, events that focus on the particular needs of incoming students, events that are tailored for specific staff groups, Faculties, Schools, or Departments. There is certainly no one right way of ‘doing’ induction or just one purpose for holding an induction event. Determining the ‘why’ is key. For instance, what is the desired outcome from an induction event (transfer of information, building a community or network between staff members or between staff and students, soliciting ideas from those who are new to the organisation to help plan for the future, etc.)? Once the event organisers determine the ‘why,’ the event can be designed accordingly.

Dorie Clark discusses a few other areas where we can end up not helping ourselves to further our vision. These include:

– Offering our opinion when it hasn’t been requested

– Assuming we already know the other person’s viewpoint

– Making it ad hominem (‘against the person’ /viewing differences as personal and related to the individual rather than based on ideas)

– Launching into a description of our passion before we are asked

We can all think through these pitfalls and ask ourselves with each one how we are managing the fine balance between sharing our passions and enthusiasm for a goal and taking it just a bit too far, with the very real danger of turning people in the exact opposite direction.

In the end, the Social Sciences Change Academy vision is to build momentum in working towards its purpose for the sake of more than a single group of people or a single faculty. The challenge is to do this with a sense of collaboration, not competition, with colleagues across the University.


2 thoughts on “Is it possible to demonstrate too much enthusiasm?”

  1. Having a a clear purpose in whatever we do is essential. A sense of purpose allows us to interrogate our thinking when we consider applying any sort of approach, technique or method -why are we doing this ? – does it fit with the under-lying purpose of the work?

    That way we will work out the difference between the supposed ‘best way’ of doing things (e.g. ‘involve everyone’) and the better way of doing things (‘involve only the people relevant to the purpose of the activity – e.g. new employees to be invited to new staff induction).

    I have worked on projects in the past where the interests of some stakeholders are diametrically opposite (such as views on animal welfare and scientific experimentation), so it is a positive disadvantage for them to collaborate on certain aspects of work. Investing in partnership work in those cases is expensive, emotionally draining and futile and might result in an outcome that is completely counter-productive.

    It is better to be purposeful and yet also question ‘why are we doing this?’ than to assume that there is ‘one best way…’

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