David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom: The viral 'selfitis' hoax gives insights for better results

By David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, June 13 2014 11:50 a.m. MDT

Selfie of authors Todd Nordstrom and David Sturt.

Todd Nordstrom

Enlarge photo»

This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

The news was unbelievable. It spread like wildfire through social media, instantly becoming a Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter phenomenon. It achieved what news organizations, advertisers and companies had chased for so long — going viral. What was it? It was an announcement that the American Psychiatric Association had officially classified taking selfies as a mental disorder and had named the disorder “selfitis.”

Unbelievable news? Yes. Apparently a hoax from Adobo Chronicles, a website that uses the tagline “The best source of unbelievable news.” While the story is undeniably amusing, what we found more interesting was the fact that the spoof (published on March 31) went viral almost overnight. Why did so many people latch on to the notion and share the presumed news story? What can we learn from it? And why do people love hating selfies?

Oxford officially named “selfie” the word of the year in 2013. And although selfie might be popular to say, the concept of taking photos of ourselves seems to come with a perception of either narcissism or, if nothing else, a sense of humor that mocks narcissism.

The cultural phenomenon of the selfie exposes a very basic human desire — to feel noticed, appreciated and recognized. And although the selfie may not always elicit the most appropriate type of recognition (possibly why people love to hate it), receiving just a few likes from our Facebook or Instagram friends uncovers a foundational aspect of human psychology that can actually help drive results in the workplace — when people are recognized and feel appreciated, they repeat the behavior that was recognized.

A 10-year, 100,000-person study conducted by the O.C. Tanner Institute and HealthStream throughout the United States and Canada confirms that recognition tops the list of things employees say they want most from their employers. According to the study, 79 percent of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving. And of the people who report the highest morale at work, 94.4 percent agree that their managers are effective at recognizing them. In contrast, only 2.4 percent of people who have low morale say they have a boss who is great at recognition.

Does the desire to be recognized and appreciated feel like a mental disorder now?

A survey of mental health professionals conducted by YourTango.com, revealed that the desire to feel appreciated isn’t just for the workplace either. It’s actually critical to a healthy relationship. According to a survey that was focused on finding the most common issues within a marriage, 65 percent of respondents cited communication problems, as the most common factor that leads to divorce. The top communication complaints by men in couples considering divorce were: nagging/complaining (70 percent), followed by their spouse not expressing sufficient appreciation (60 percent). The number one complaint (83 percent) from women who responded was “a lack of validation for their feelings and opinions” (sounds a lot like “recognizing” feelings and opinions).

Love selfies or hate them, this viral hoax gives us all insights that we can use. It reveals that A) there is a human desire to be recognized and appreciated, and B) we shouldn’t make those people closest to us ask for it.

At work: Learn to practice recognition. Look for the people who help you achieve your goals, the people who make your life easier or the people who simply brighten your day. Make sure you applaud people for a job well done, and say “Thank you” for their efforts. The study by the O.C. Tanner Institute and HealthStream suggests that the most effective recognition can drive performance, if recognition is practiced frequently, is specific to a goal or effort, and is given in a timely fashion.

At home: Learn to practice appreciation. It’s often those closest to us who we assume don’t need to hear how much we appreciate them. Tell your partner, your children and your friends why you appreciate what they do. As evidenced by the YourTango.com survey, “communication problems” don’t seem to be a lack of communication, but instead a lack of positive communication. Try it.

Online: OK, so you can see by our marginal attempt at a selfie that we’re not experts at the “duck face” (in fact, we had to ask a 12-year-old what that facial expression was called). But we are experts in seeing the value of the trends — and culling for deeper insights. Just for a week, intentionally recognize the people around you and keep track of it. You’ll not only get a picture that reveals how good you are at recognizing others, but you’ll probably be shocked by the positive responses you generate.

David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom work with the O.C. Tanner Institute. Learn more about The New York Times bestseller "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love" (McGraw-Hill) at greatwork.com.

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