In the online world, the most common type of attention seeker is known as the troll. A troll’s sole purpose in life is to stir up controversy with her inflammatory opinions. Trolls routinely put information out there that they know will rile the masses, promote themselves by indiscriminately bashing others’ ideas, and call people names or disrespect them in other ways.
People might pay attention to trolls for a little while, but when the interest dies down, they’re considered useless and irrelevant. There’s no doubt, though, that being provocative does get you noticed. So how can you do it tastefully? If you have an opinion that you feel passionately about, an opinion that’s different from what the majority of people believe, then you should feel free to express it – as long as you can support it with a valid argument. While intelligent people may squirm a bit at controversy, they will usually appreciate a position that prompts them to think about and possibly re-consider their views. Your tone is critical too. When presenting a controversial matter, always be professional, and respond to detractors with diplomacy rather than defensiveness or self-righteousness.
When it comes to being provocative in the right way, online services such as Twitter and Facebook can be a blessing and a curse. Twitter, for instance, allows you to publish your thoughts in real time, and you should not abuse this privilege. Before you hit send, self-censor to make sure you’re comfortable with the general public reading your message. Consider what each tweet says about your online brand, and how it might be perceived by managers, partners, and co-workers.
Of course, even if you do these things, there are still risks inherent to being provocative. Outspoken and confident people are sometimes looked upon as arrogant, and they tend to make enemies, especially if they come across in meetings and e-mails like they enjoy the sound of their own voices a little too much. And if the wrong person takes your message out of context or interprets it the wrong way, you’ll have to clean up the mess quickly so that it doesn’t permanently threaten your career.
The irony is that the people who are most successful at being provocative often don’t view themselves that way at all. They are merely trying to establish themselves, solve problems in new and interesting ways, or let people know how passionate they are about the particular subject they are talking or writing about. And these are worthy goals.
Want to learn more about how you can protect your career from myths like “any visibility is good visibility”? Check out Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success (Penguin/Berkley, October 2011).
Alexandra Levit is a nationally recognized business and workplace author, speaker, and consultant. She has worked with organizations as diverse as Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Labor, and is Money Magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year. Her new book is Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success.
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