How is that working out for you?

Around 10 years ago there was this group of guys (and, yes, it was all men) who always often presented about the same topic at events in the biggest TESOL organization in the country I resided in at the time. Frankly speaking, I can’t say that I went to many of these presentations. Part of the reason is that the topic didn’t really appeal to me back then. The other part is more personal. I thought these guys were sort of full of shit. In the esteemed words of my former college roommate DJW, “They weren’t dicks.” Yet their seemingly arrogant attitude caused me to think they were my not type of people and thus forced me to tune out their perfectly reasonable ideas. I think this latter point, my perception of their personalities and attitudes, contributed as much as their ideas to my lack of interest in their presentations and pedagogical insights. 

Sometimes I think it’s a bit sad I missed out on the presentations and ideas and all because they might have helped my teaching and thus my students. I write this not as a confession or a chance to beat myself up but rather as an example of how our perceptions of others can contribute to how willing we are to listen to their ideas. I think it was very human of me to be cautious in accepting the ideas of slightly dickish dudes. Even if I have the slightest tinge of regret I think it was a natural response. 

I wonder what you think, dear reader. Do you think that we must separate the message from the messengers? Do you wish you could do so but find it challenging? 

For whatever reason when I think about general dickishness and the spreading of messages in ELT (including and perhaps especially positive and good ones) I think about Dr. Phil. I don’t claim to know much about this gentleman but I know he was frequently on Oprah in the 90s. I am not sure I ever saw him there but somewhere in the back of my mind his catchphrase “How’s that working for you?” remains.

There he is. Dr. Phil.

In ELT we have lots of people with good, interesting, and important ideas to share. I suspect that sometimes these ideas might not reach the intended audience for reasons that go beyond the ideas themselves. 

I wonder if those who (with, I assume, the purest of intentions) are interested in spreading the gospel of Gamification, Task-based Learning, Reflective Practice, The Lexical Approach, and Extensive Reading (to just name a few) are continually stepping back and asking how their messaging strategies and general public personae are working out for them in spreading the messages.

Maybe it’s not important and my one personal example above is insignificant because it’s from just one flawed human being. In my story above, the guys trying to spread awareness of certain practices were not even jerks and I was still turned off. Imagine how much more turned off I would be if they were in fact jerks. 

Maybe some would say that the idea is the most important thing and that if the messenger causes issues for the audience it’s the audience’s fault for missing out on the inherent brilliance in the ideas. Maybe that’s true.

I guess Tyler Durden said it too.

In regards to his famous question, Dr. Phil himself writes, “When I ask that, I genuinely mean it. How is what you’re doing working for you? Are you getting what you really want and need?” I ask the same question to those whose agenda* includes spreading their ideas to others. 

*I am using definition C2 here before anyone starts crying in their tea about my word choice. Also, if you read this post and thought “It’s not about me” you are probably right. This post is also, of course, not any sort of endorsement of Dr. Phil who is not without controversy. I truly just remember the phrase and think about it quite often. I should also state that I started writing this post about a year ago so it’s not a response to any specific recent events, comments or general dickishness.

10 comments

  1. geoffjordan

    You’re too young, I suspect, to have ever been asked to write a précis. Here’s my attempt at a précis of your text.

    “My perception of the personalities and attitudes (“they’re dickheads!”) of certain people who give presentations and voice their views on social media has made me miss out on some valuable things that they might have had to say. Dr. Phil had this catch phrase “How’s that working for you?”, and I reckon that many in the ELT world (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) who want to shift our ideas about teaching would do well to ask themselves Dr. Phil’s question, if they really want people to pay any attention to their message.”

    Did I miss anything?

  2. mikecorea

    Thanks for the reply, Geoff.

    My summary might be something like:

    In the past I didn’t listen carefully to people based on my perceptions of them.
    I think that was natural and human and while I might have missed out on valuable things I can’t beat myself up much. I suspect others do the same. Since it can be a challenge to separate the message from the messenger, I think people who are advocating for ideas might do well to step back and ask themselves how things are working out for them in terms of spreading these ideas. It might be worth adjusting if they find the spreading of ideas is not as successful as they might have hoped.

    How does that sound?

    Your version reads, “I reckon that many in the ELT world (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) who want to shift our ideas about teaching would do well to ask themselves Dr. Phil’s question, if they really want people to pay any attention to their message” and I suppose my point was not “people won’t pay attention if you are a prick” but rather “hey maybe it’s worth thinking about how the spread of a message can be impacted by things like personality and interactions with others both on and offline.

    ps- I assume your “(nudge-nudge, wink-wink)” implied that I was writing about you. I was not. Maybe I misinterpreted this. If so my apologies. But, if you assumed that I was writing about you when I wasn’t, I think it’s interesting to consider the reasons for your incorrect assumption.

  3. timothyhampson

    Don’t have much to offer on the topic except this bit of the Big Lebowski which I have often wanted to quote to people. I think maybe it’s interesting and funny that Walter is quite satisfied with how he is described.

  4. geoffjordan

    1. No, I didn’t assume that you were writing about me in particular.

    2. Your précis of 100 words or so highlights the long-winded vacuity ot the post.itself better than I did. That was my main point. And If the underlying theme of the post is not a dig at people in ELT (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) who express themselves in arrogant, antagonistic ways, then it’s robbed of what little force it might have had. Without the sub-text, it amounts to no more than a laboured re-statement of Dr. Phil’s point. Why bother?

    3. Nothing sums up Hampson’s style better than his “offering” here. He doesn’t have much to offer, but he can’t resist the chance to stick his bitchy oar in, using what he no doubt considers a cleverly-chosen video clip.

    • timothyhampson

      Geoff, I was happy to spend 2 minutes writing my response because I thought Mike would enjoy it he’s a fan of the film. You weren’t really the intended audience of the reply nor were you asked for feedback on what I wrote. I guess I would say that the point of the clip is that sometimes being an asshole can make people unpersuasive even if they’re right and also that people often don’t care/understand that they are assholes because they are right. I don’t think that’s bad going for a post that took two minutes to put together. I’m sorry if you’ve taken offence to that, but I would suggest that might reflect more on you than on a lighthearted reply to my friend’s blog post.

      • geoffjordan

        “You weren’t really the intended audience of the reply nor were you asked for feedback on what I wrote.”??? Really?

        And how curious that your friend’s blog post was published on March 25th, and yet you waited for 7 days to post your own light-hearted, completely innocent, 2-minute-in-the-making masterpiece – just 12 hours after my comment appeared.

      • timothyhampson

        Thinking of the movie because we watched ‘Hail, Ceasar!’ (which is also by the Cohen Brothers) on Netflix Thursday night, Geoff. You’re not the only asshole in ELT so please don’t think every comment about someone being an asshole is about you 😊

      • geoffjordan

        Hampson said “I watched a film by the Cohen Brothers on Thursday night which reminded me of the bit from The Big Lebowski which I’ve often wanted to quote to people.That explains why I posted the clip on Friday”.

        I could have sworn I heard an outburst of derisive laughter swirling through the ether.

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