Strutting: We all Know When You are Doing It. So Stop.

Apr 26, 2013   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Fun, Snark, Speaking  //  12 Comments

Rant Level: High. It’s Friday. 

Kanye West Ruins Taylor Swift's VMAs Win

 

I was reading an ACM blog post by Judy Robertson about strutting, a tactic used by audience members at event.  Robertson discusses a specific type of this behaviour, done by IT people: nerd strutting

Garvin-Doxas and Barker (2004) refer to "strutting" as a style of interaction where people show off their knowledge by asking questions carefully designed to demonstrate that they know a lot about the topic, and quite possibly that they know more than everyone else around them. The problem with this in a learning situation is that students who lack confidence assume that they are the only person who doesn’t understand, and quickly feel even more demoralised.

The full paper is available if you’d like to read about the study these researchers did on Defensive Climate in the Computer Science Classroom.

I’m betting you’ve seen this behaviour before.  In fact, I’d bet that if you attend enough events, you could name the people most likely to nerd strut before the speaker has even gotten 15 minutes into her presentation.  They ask questions, often sprinkled with references to product codenames, Greek philosophers, small startups and archaic error numbers.   They use highly jargonized terms.  They use insider terms. They want you to feel outside the inner circle.  They want you to know just how freaking smart they are.  But you know what’s funny?  The vast majority of the people in the room can see what they are doing and silently smirk.   

I’m interested in hearing just what sorts of people fall for this bravado.  Everyone else in the room talks about how insanely annoying the behaviour is, but no one wants to do anything about it.  I’m not even sure what we can do about it, other than to ask audience members to stop.  

Insults R Us

Another tactic that nerd strutters do is sit in the audience and stage whisper criticisms of the speaker and the topics.  I find this incredibly annoying as an audience member.  It doesn’t impress me, nor does it make me feel as if the strutmaster is actually convincing anyone he is superior. A variation of this is a group of people, chatting with each other and loudly snickering about the speaker or the topic.   

If you are sitting in a presentation and you find it too "level 100” for your tastes, you should just get up and find a presentation more fitting for your enormous brain…or whatever body part is keeping you from learning anything.

Why it Matters

I know, some of you are saying “But Karen, just ignore the @$$#@+s that do this stuff”.  I do, mostly.  However, Garvin-Doxas and Barker found that the effect of many types of negative communication, even when it was not intended, has a negative impact on many students, especially women.  Yes, women should suck it up and learn to play the game of competition.  But we don’t do it that well.  In general, women prefer a collaborative environment.   We love a bit of friendly competition. But one where team members insult others in public? Not so much.

The authors point to the fact that IT work is highly collaborative.  Supporting and enabling a culture of jabs, insults, mockery and distain works against that goal.  I hear people constantly ranting that topic X should not be on a conference agenda because it is isn’t what *they* want  learn.  I say “choose another session – there are several other tracks”.  When I see someone nerd strut in front of an entire audience, I want to call them out – tell them they are showing off.  We can all tell when a question isn’t really a question. I don’t do call people out on this, though, because no one else does.

What to Do

Robertson gives 3 tips in her blog post on dealing with nerd strutting.  Go read them.  I’d love to see the community deal with this in a consistent, collaborative way.

I’d like to add to them:

1. Encourage others to ask questions during presentations.  One of the reasons why many nerd strutters can do what they do, often several times in the same session, is that very few people ask questions or give commentary.  If enough people are asking legitimate questions, then the strutters get less show time.

2. Ask the Insult R Us people to take their conversation elsewhere. It’s annoying enough to hear anyone ramble on while you are trying to listen to the speaker.  It’s not rude or unfair to ask people, no matter what they are talking about, to either be quiet or to wander somewhere else.

3. Stand up to people who insult the work of others.  This one is the biggest pet peeve of mine.  It’s fine for people to be proud of their own work.  It’s not cool for them to insult the work of others just because they think it’s easy or low-level stuff. I don’t just draw boxes and lines all day.  BI professionals don’t just draw bar charts all day.  Developers don’t just type all day.  We all have difficult jobs.  I don’t need to step on someone else to raise myself up.  I will continue to speak out to the people who need to insult others.  I’m hoping you can, too.

Community Impact

From the paper:

Finally, when people communicate certainty in a dogmatic fashion, they also tend to communicate a low tolerance for disagreement. When defensive communication becomes habitual in a social context, it engenders a "defensive climate." Distrust of others becomes the norm, resulting in a social environment privileging competition over cooperation.

We all need to recognize that this negative behaviour hurts everyone.  It poisons the community.  It drives people away, especially new community members and those who want to work together to solve problems and build the community.   And we all need to work together to keep people focused on making the community an inclusive, inviting environment.

Garvin-Doxas, K. and Barker, L. J. 2004. Communication in computer science classrooms: understanding defensive climates as a means of creating supportive behaviors. J. Educ. Resour. Comput. 4, 1 (Mar. 2004), 2. DOI= http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1060071.1060073

.

12 Comments

  • Wonderful post. Reminds me of bullying tactics that are employed by those who strut.
    Thomas LaRock recently posted..Do You Have A Big Data Problem?My Profile

    • Yeah, especially for those who sit in the back and mock speakers. That negative stuff is a form of bullying, I think.
      Karen Lopez recently posted..What’s the Best Data Modeling Tool?My Profile

  • Put up a slide with this cat
    https://i.chzbgr.com/maxW500/6333647360/hDC4D45B9/

    Before people start asking questions that says something like;
    You’re shit hot, we get it, but save your strut for the boardwalk. Only ask questions that help others.

    I’m sure it could be more succinct & funnier, but it’ll probably be effective.

    … and if somebody doesn’t get the hint, strut across the stage. 😉
    John MacIntyre recently posted..The asp.net-mvc predicateMy Profile

  • You lost me at “especially women”. Really? How is this behavior worse for women exactly? Because poor fragile women are going to be intimidated and big strong men won’t be affected?

    It’s a shame because the rest of the article made a good point, it could’ve been a cool blog post. Instead it makes you come off as a nagging feminist with a victim complex.

    • Louise-

      You should point your question to the paper’s authors. It was their position. But there are plenty of studies out here, even for CS classrooms, that women are turned off by highly negative, non-collaborative environments. It doesn’t mean women are fragile. It just means that some, not all, are drawn to different environments.

      Thanks for the strut, though.

    • If you knew Karen, you’d know she is neither a “nagging feminist” nor a victim.

      The comment “especially women” was a point made in the paper she references. I don’t believe her use of that term takes away from this post.
      Thomas LaRock recently posted..Book Recommendation: Super FreakonomicsMy Profile

      • I do nag. Mostly about data. Sometimes about women things. But not so much about feminism.

        However, I’m not one of those that shrinks from the word “feminist”. Virtually every opportunity I’ve had in my life has been due to the fact that women with more experience than me blew away obstacles that were in their paths.
        Karen Lopez recently posted..Strutting: We all Know When You are Doing It. So Stop.My Profile

    • In general women are raised to be less confident, less willing to interrupt, and less willing to stand up for themselves publicly. This doesn’t apply to every woman and it doesn’t mean women are less worthy or competent. But in a world full of things that discourage women disproportionately why add something else?
      Cindy Gross recently posted..IEBlog – Site Home – MSDN BlogsMy Profile

  • Excellent post–in my MBA program there was particular guy who did this all the time. Oddly, no one wanted to be on his project teams. I guess he was smart enough to all of the work himself. (and no it wasn’t the murdering Canadian)
    Joey D’Antoni recently posted..Four Underutilized Features of SQL Server Enterprise Edition (and One of Standard Edition)My Profile

    • I think the strutting at work is horrible. Not just due to the negative environment it makes, but the fact that at a conference, you only have to put up with the strutter for a few days. At work, it could be years.
      Karen Lopez recently posted..Strutting: We all Know When You are Doing It. So Stop.My Profile

  • […] Strutting: We all Know When You are Doing It. So Stop. […]

Leave a comment

Subscribe via E-mail

Use the link below to receive posts via e-mail. Unsubscribe at any time. Subscribe to www.datamodel.com by Email


Categories

Archive

UA-52726617-1