Word. Wednesday. Say It Now. (Even on Tuesday!): "Everybody"

Posted by on Mar 20, 2012 in Communicating with Professors, General | 3 comments

(I’m learning that amazing things take time! So, guess what? We’re staying in the old space a little longer as I work through some technical adjustments. I want everything to be perfect as I roll out my new space. As a bonus, I figured even if I can’t share the aesthetic changes just yet, at least I can preview some of my new content. So, here’s my new Wednesday feature–but you can use it any day. How about today? I’ll be giving you a word or phrase to say or not say in college… and the rationale behind it. 

One other quick note: Remember last week’s post? Of course, you do! It was… just last week. Well, the house next door sold. In. Two. Days. I thought you might find that very interesting. I sure did. Can I just say that I toured the house and there were heated floors. Heated floors!!! Okay, enough about that… The walls went up and we survived. Now, let’s get you talking…) 

What’s the Word?
This week, I’m going to encourage you not to say this one! Here are variations of how “everybody” goes down:
“A bunch of other students don’t get this assignment either!”
“You know, other students disagreed with their grade, too.”
Resign as the “spokesperson.” It’s okay!


“Everybody else is frustrated that we have our project due in just two weeks!”
In the public speaking section of my Intro to Comm course and in the persuasion section of my Public Speaking course, I teach “bandwagon fallacy.” Think about when “nine out of 10 dentists say you should use Crest,” how do we know that Crest didn’t open up the roof of those dentists’ office and rain down tubes of toothpaste (…while playing Marc Anthony and my fave Pitbull in the background “Let it rain over meeeeee”–okay, that’s quite a visual, I get it!).
Is that the reason those nine out of 10 dentists recommend Crest as the toothpaste to use? How do we know for sure?

When students come to me and suddenly become the spokesperson (megaphone?) for “everybody,” bandwagon fallacy comes into play: “Everybody feels this way, and I feel this way, too!” It’s not that I don’t take students seriously when they tell me how “everybody” feels: Could “everybody” be upset about the curriculum? Sure.

Could a bunch of students be frustrated by a grade? Absolutely.

But due to privacy laws, fragmentation of facts, and bad renditions of the telephone game where the message gets muddier and muddier with every iteration, I just have to dial the student back to his or her individual problem.

In fact, I tell the student straight out, “I appreciate you letting me know how ‘everybody’ feels, but right now, I need to focus on what is upsetting/concerning/frustrating you.”
Because, really, I can’t do one darned thing about other people’s issues through the spokesperson who is representing everyone else in my office.
Best example of this is grades: If a bunch of students are frustrated over grades, can I really talk to the spokesperson about that? No! I’d be fired!
(Okay, I have tenure, so a long and tedious disciplinary process would first ensue, there would be hearings, paperwork, Venn diagrams, easels, flip charts, possibly lawyers… but you get what I’m saying, right? There would be consequences!).
So say this instead… 
First, when you see your prof, deal with your issue and your issue only!
Next, when you talk to your classmates, tell them to do the same. Say, “I think we’ll have more power if we express ourselves individually.”
That’s right! More complaints are more powerful! Your prof will take notice of a greater number of singular voices, rather than one person serving as the mouthpiece for a few or vast number of students.
After all, we are never really sure how many students are really involved in the complaint. But if we hear from a bunch of students that they are struggling, then we know that we have to make an adjustment. Also, if we don’t hear what each individual student’s problem is, we won’t know what exact curricular issue we need to target. Everyone’s personal confusion could look very different.
Finally, once the prof resolves your issue, it is totally fine to report that back to your people. Say, “I talked to the prof and got my problem handled. I definitely encourage you to do the same.”
Think about it, even if the prof totally went along with your spokesperson gig and said, “Awesome, thank you for telling me how everybody feels. I really appreciate it and I’m going to take care of the problem,” would you go back to the entire class, stand in front of the room and say:
“Um… can I have your attention, please? I spoke with Professor Jones and we’re all good here!”

I don’t think so (because if you took my class, you’d never start with “um!” Kidding!).

I know that it feels comforting to say that others are having the same issue. You feel less “out there,” less on your own.

But please hear me out on this one: You are never on your own in college. Every single person who works there has signed on to support you. Even if you are the only person confused (and that is likely never, ever the case), there are tons of people whose entire job it is to be there for you!

Bottom line? Use your voice. Encourage others to use theirs too. I know that you can, so go for it!

(And I’m always glad to know what you think, so feel free to comment and tell me!).


  1. I worked as an orderly in a hospital a LONG time ago. While I was there, a drug company came in and donated several thousand bottles of pain reliever (like Tylenol or Advil.. but I don’t remember what the name was). Since the medicine was FREE to the patients, our Doctors prescribed it more than any other mild pain reliever. About a year later, some “Study Group” came in and checked on what the Doctors had been prescribing for pain over the last year. The study findings were published and the drug company started advertising saying that their drug was prescribed (for example) 8 out of 10 times! The ONLY people it was not prescribed to were those who were allergic to it. Since then I have not fully trusted any research that I did not do myself.

    • Tom,
      Thank you so much for your comment! That is an incredible story and I am not surprised. When I worked in healthcare for seven years, I saw the same types of things happen… but I didn’t have the back-end research vantage point that you did. I’m so glad that you were able to see first-hand that it does happen! Ellen

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