Why No One Reads What You Write: An Emma Story.
“Dammit, I hate this! When I click ‘publish’ I earn nothing, when they click ‘publish’ they practically print money!” Emma banged the coffee table with her fist.
“I understand,” I replied.
“Do you, Dad? It feels so bad. I poured hours of my life into that post and all they do is name-drop Elon Musk and watch the upvotes flood in.”
“That sounds terrible.”
“It is! It just proves that people really do suck.”
“Why doesn’t anyone read what I f**king write?!”
“I could tell you.”
“Then do it! Why are you just sitting there giving me two-word answers?” Emma put her hands on her hips. “Tell me!”
My daughter was acting quite spoiled. I thought about reprimanding her, but instead just answered her question. “Because you failed to set the stage for proper communication.”
“I did what now?”
“You were so focused on your emotional desire for upvotes that you left me no room to contribute. You asked me no questions until just now. You invited no replies. Your energy wasn’t seeking truth or understanding, it was seeking validation, attention, and a punching bag you could vent into. Every sentence you spoke was full of assumptions, and left very little ‘conversational space’ for me to offer anything. And even if I did, my perspective wasn’t actually invited, until you finally asked for answers.”
“Uh, ok ‘professor.’ Are you gonna insult me all day, or explain why no one reads my sh*t?”
“I’m explaining how answers only blossom from a proper conversational environment. But it’s a deep topic, and if you really want to understand what happens when you click publish —and why— you’ll have to be a more calm, co-operative, and helpful listener. Our chat is a two-way street, and so far you’ve only contributed entitled rage and an impatient demand for teachings.”
“Hey, I resent—”
“—ah, ah, I’m not done. I’ll address your ‘professor’ remark as well. I’ve dedicated a huge chunk of my life to artful communication. Whether verbal, written, or body language, I’ve studied the nuances of self-expression deeply. I’ve explored everything from the responsibility of speakers vs. listeners, to censorship and free speech. And my favorite form of communication is teaching a receptive student.
It’s such a blessing for the world when others gain understanding and clarity, plus I learn even more as I teach others. So I may not have some fancy piece of paper marking me as a ‘professor’ but I bet I’m more passionate and practiced in teaching than anyone you’ll meet. So for now, I might as well be your professor. Capiche?”
“Yeah, fine, whatever. But you interrupted me, how is that good communication?”
“Interruptions are a vital part of the art of communication, and we’ll get to that, but first we have to lay some foundations.”
“Because you learned communication from parents, teachers, peers, and other mediocre communicators. You didn’t learn it from anyone with mastery.”
“Ah, so I learned bad habits. How convenient you’re technically my step-Dad so I can’t blame you, can I?” Emma’s smirk curled sideways.
“You can ‘blame’ anyone you want, honey, but blame is a weak communication tool that usually won’t serve you. The point is that you definitely don’t understand the foundations well, and they’re the most important thing that we’ll be building on. So do you want to learn them, or not?”
“OK, ok. Yes, please.”
“Ooh, your first bit of politeness in our chat so far, perhaps you’re a better student than I first thought.” I stuck my tongue out with a wink to let Emma know I didn’t really mean what I was saying.
“I was just pissed at my post’s performance. I’m better now, honest. I’m listening. What are the foundations?”
“Energy, value, and attention.”
“Uh, hello? Are you telling me ‘words’ aren’t one of the foundations of communication?”
“Correct. Back when Neanderthals expressed using grunts, words didn’t exist. They weren’t the foundations of communication, they were something that came after. But you know what was there from before the very first grunt?”
“Crazy guess? Energy, value, and attention?”
“Very funny. But yes. Some levels of energy, value, and attention are present in all forms of communication.”
“Hmm… I don’t know about that.”
“Well, you’re a smart girl, try and find an example to prove me wrong. A cat communicating with a bird? They’ve no words, but there’s definitely an energy behind their communication, there’s a certain value in the information being expressed and received, and they’re both paying some level of attention.”
“Okay Mr. Smarty-pants, what about an amoeba?”
“Same deal. The amoeba is attending to information from its environment such as ‘hot’ or ‘cold’, ‘light’ or ‘dark’, etc. It then moves itself either toward that climate/object, or away from it. It can do this rapidly, with lots of energy, or it can do it gradually, with minimal amounts. Why would it bother? Because the amoeba knows that moving one direction has more value to it than moving another direction.
Communication: the exchanging of information, even in single-celled organisms.”
“Dang. I guess communication really does rely on the foundations of energy, value, and attention.”
“It does. And do I need to explain the nuances behind energy, value, and attention, or do you know what they are well enough?”
“I mean, everyone knows what energy, value, and attention are, right?”
“You tell me. You thought you knew what ‘communication’ was too, and you figured it’s core was ‘words.’ Are you sure you know what energy, attention, and value are? Can I continue teaching without you nitpicking me each time I use these terms?”
“Uhhh, I can’t promise that, maybe you’d better explain.”
Energy is the basic building block of everything, even communication. You can convert the energy in scraps of wood and paper into the energy of light & heat, it happens when you start a fire. Similarly, you can convert the energy stored in your body into a kind caress, or into an aggressive punch. And if you do that, it communicates something to the environment around you. (Not to mention anyone in it.) You can convert the energy of your ideas and consciousness into words aimed to harm others, or words aimed to help others.
If the energy in a communication is unpleasant, that hinders communication. If the energy in communication is appealing, that helps communication.”
“That makes sense. I think most people ‘get this’ on an instinctual level, if you use this term while teaching me,” Emma’s cleared her throat loudly, “—why no one’s reading my stuff— then that’s fine. I’m cool with it.”
“Wow, you’re so kind, Em, thank you!”
“Shush. Now about attention?”
“You seriously need me to explain ‘attention’?”
“I just know you have unique insights, I learned from our talk on free speech not to assume as much as I usually do.”
“Fair point. So…
This is something we direct. If energy is a ‘thing’, then attention is the ‘light’ that we shine on it. Imagine someone in a burning building. We can focus our attention on our fear of the fire, and let them die, or we can focus on saving lives and ignore the heat. We can shape our attention into a focused laser-beam, or we can let it be diffuse, like a giant fluorescent floodlight.
If attention is directed poorly, it hinders communication. If it’s directed well, it helps communication.”
“I’m with you. I mean it sounds so obvious when you say it like that. We all have attention and we’re all directing ours moment to moment.”
“Yeah, so the next time Mom asks you to do your chores and you ignore her because you’re way too involved in World Of Warcraft, you’ve no excuse, right?”
“Daaaad. Cut it out. What’s next?”
Value is benefits. It’s worth. It’s something all creatures are attuned to, but varies greatly. The earth going around the sun is valuable to all of humanity, as it helps our survival, but some people take it for granted, not seeing it as very valuable, while others cherish every sunset deeply.”
“Kind of like how I value these chats when I want to rescue my post, but have no interest in them when you’re lecturing me about homework, eh?” Emma’s face turned smug as she basked in the glow of her zinger.
I took it in stride. “Unfortunately, yes. Another example: it may be valuable to ‘sleep through the night’ for one creature. It may be valuable to ‘sleep during the day’ for another. It may be valuable not to sleep at all in times of danger. The value of something often changes when we’re in ‘survival mode’, or even just triggered into an imagined survival mode. Unless you want to get very philosophical, the way it stands is that because we’re mortal with a limited time on earth, every moment holds value to us as time ticks by.
If value is perceived poorly, it hinders communication. If it’s perceived well, it helps communication.”
“Okay, but what does this have to do with why people won’t upvote me like they do others?”
“Think about it. If energy isn’t correct, your communication fails. If attention isn’t correct, your communication fails. If value isn’t correct, communication fails.”
“So, can you honestly say your post communicated well enough to be rewarded, despite you not being very clear on these communication-foundations?”
“Hmm… no I can’t.”
“Right, I haven’t read your post, but whether you like it or not, it’s a blend of these 3 ingredients. It’s a dish you serve up to diners (readers), and they either enjoy it, or turn up their noses at it.”
“They definitely did the latter.”
“Sure, but are we certain it’s because they’re bad diners who —in your words— ‘suck’? Or could it be that the dish wasn’t prepared so great, and the chef could use some improvement?”
“Ugh. You always make this stuff about me.”
“Because it is, love. It’s super easy to finger-point and blame others so that we can avoid taking responsibility for our results in life. And if you kept blaming people I would’ve just went outside and walked the dog and you wouldn’t be here learning anything.”
“Good thing I asked for help instead, ‘cause I really do want to solve this. I want my posts to be read, even adored!”
“We’ll get ya there, but first we’ll have to break down any bad habits and beliefs you’ve picked up.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, can you tell me what the purpose of communication is?”
“Uh, to like… talk to others?”
“You can do better than that.”
“To convey information to others?”
“Better, but why? Why would anyone need to convey information to others?”
“Because if they don’t, nothing’s going to get done?”
“And why does that matter? Is there something wrong with nothing getting done?”
“Obviously. Our entire species would run out of food, die off, and so on.”
“Ah, so are you telling me the purpose of communication is the survival of our species?”
“I never really thought about it, but yes, I guess I am.”
“Good, now we’re getting close to the purpose of communication.”
“What do you mean, ‘close’? The species must survive, so we must get things done, so we must convey information to others, which means we must communicate. Its purpose seems clear to me now.”
“You’re right, but with a minor tweak. Communication’s true purpose is the evolution and expansion of our species, not it’s mere survival. And it’s not just evolution of the species, it’s evolution of the individual. Each individual has the desire to reach their potential. When they’re cold, they have the potential to be warmer, so they seek warmth. And they will use communication in an attempt to reach that potential.”
“Whatever, fine, ‘potential’, ‘evolution.’ Can you just evolve this chat towards my upvotes please?”
“Yes, but only if you understand that when you post something out into the world, you’re doing what humanity has done since the beginning.”
“You’re offering an idea, a view, some information, some content, and it is being judged on whether or not it is valuable to the individual, and to humanity as a whole. Let’s go back to my caveman example: When Zog discovered fire, it was strange to the other Neanderthals, and Zog had to communicate that fire wasn’t a threat to the tribe, it was a valuable blessing. If he used the wrong grunts, or if he accidentally burned someone with it, his message may seem to be harmful. If he put more care and attention into his communication and demonstrated his discovery well, then his message is likely to be valued and rewarded.”
“What about if I’m just saying something like ‘its sunny outside?’ That’s not me offering something and being judged, is it?”
“It really is. You say it’s sunny, the listener has the option of trusting and believing your info. Or they can disbelieve you. Or they can reserve judgment until they check for themselves. Or they can communicate that you’re staring at a hologram of a bright blue sky they had set up earlier. One side offers some information, the other side responds to that. Communication is offering and acceptance, or offering and rejection. Even choosing to ignore something is a form of acceptance or rejection.”
“I’m getting it. I can see that because energy, attention, and value are involved in all communication, that what you’re describing will happen with everything, from sharing fire with tribes-people, to asking a friend if they want to go to a movie.”
“Yes, all communication is either people agreeing with your views, beliefs, and direction, or disagreeing with it.”
“This is like when you explain free speech, isn’t it… what do you always say? ‘To sell is human’? Everything is selling? Something like that?”
“Pretty much. The economy has existed ever since one cave-dude traded another cave-dude something. Likely before writing or speech even developed. Speech and writing came about with the purpose of helping one person offer information to another, and for the receiver to respond to it. Information stemming from our thoughts, emotions, and energy. Words are tools that can be used in many ways. If a parent says to a kid, ‘everything will be fine’, they’re not using words to make a ‘rational prediction from available facts.’ They’re using words to ‘skip logic and offer comfort.’”
“You’ve said that very thing to me. And I appreciated it.”
“Yes. And take another example. If Samantha says to John ‘You never help me, John! You’re so unreliable!’ John might just assume Samantha is using her words as a tool to ‘state facts’ about him. He gets defensive. But he is not understanding the communication properly. Samantha wasn’t using her words to state facts. The energy behind her words aren’t really that John *never* helps. The energy is that she’d prefer John to be more nurturing. But she has phrased it in a vague way, and John hasn’t attempted to look behind the words. Each word we express can be chosen well, or poorly. And each word we write gets judged by the receiver on whatever value they can find in it, and behind it. ”
“Yeah well ain’t nobody seeing value in my post.”
“Easy my girl, that’s just because you’re still weighed down by old language habits.”
Why do I have these habits anyway?”
“Like many things, you pick them up because of the environment and system you’re born into.”
“You told me that already, but how did they start?”
“You started out communicating honestly, authentically, and straight-forwardly. You’d cry when you were hungry, laugh when you were happy, and so on. You understood that everyone has desires (yourself included), and that communicating truthfully about them was how things were meant to be. And it worked for a while.”
“Are you saying I stopped doing that? That I’m not straight-forward and authentic about communicating my desires?”
“Correct. Almost no one is. No celebrity you can name. Not even most ‘gurus’ you may look up to. Not even me, though I do try very, very hard to manage it.”
“Uhhh, ok. Why did I stop communicating like I did as an infant?”
“Because the people who raised you trained you to be like them. You watched them walk, and learned how. You watched them talk, and learned how. And you watched them hide their true desires using bribes, threats, guilt, blame, victimhood, excuses, and more as tools to ‘get what they want.’ And you learned how. You quickly learned to abandon honest, direct communication of your desires in favor of lying to yourself and others using terrible communication habits to get what you want. Most parents, teachers, and peers are a terrible place to learn communication from, they are not masters, artists, or teachers of communication… but they’re all you had.”
“Holy. How have I not seen this before?”
“Because you’ve been like a fish swimming in the water. You don’t know there’s a whole world of awesome communication above you, because you’ve been immersed in the sea your whole life. You don’t notice anything strange about it, and you’ve adapted gills to navigate it.”
“So you’re yanking me into a new way of communication where I can’t breathe?”
“More like I’m turning you into a mermaid so you’ll know what to do whether you’re in old communication environments like the water, or new communication environments like dry land and fresh air.”
“That sounds beautiful.”
“It is, but you’ll have to let go of lashing out, over-biased assessment, lying to yourself, shirking responsibility, blaming others, deciding during emotionality, creating knee-jerk rules, playing the victim, and more. That stuff will come through in your writing.”
“I don’t do all that!”
“You just did! Saying you don’t is an over-biased assessment. The truth is, we all do those things, have done those things, or may slip-up in a moment and do those things in the future. Pretending they don’t exist, or that you’re some inhuman paragon of perfection who doesn’t ‘do that’ is where a lot of poor communication comes from.”
“OK fine, but I didn’t do that in my post.”
“We’ll examine your post further into our talk, but you’re missing the point. You don’t get the luxury of being a sh*tty communicator in most areas of your life, while somehow being masterful at it while you’re posting. You’re either a great communicator who gets positive results, or you’re not. Period. Are you honestly telling me you’re a great communicator? How would you even know?”
“I don’t know, I just am.” Emma sulked.
“Oh, my sweet child, this is what happens to everyone. You can’t improve and learn to be better until you admit there’s room for improvement. Admit I may know more than you. Learn to notice better communicators whenever they appear, and aim to be more like them. You must seek change… not argue, fight, and resist it when it’s happening. Especially when a kind teacher is guiding you towards a better version of yourself.”
“I still don’t think I do those terrible things you listed.”
“Okey-dokey.” I got up and began to leave the living room.
“Hey! Where are you going?”
“Well, you have communicated to me that you know it all, you don’t do any of the normal bad habits the rest of us humans do, and there’s no point in me volunteering my time and energy to teach someone who’s already nailed it. You clearly have this stuff handled, and in fact, I should probably be learning from you. So I’m going to head out, good luck with your future posts!”
Emma looked as if she was going to cry.
“Just a heads up, using tears as a response to the truth is another form of poor communication you learned from others, and won’t work on me.” As much as it broke my heart to do so, I left the house while Em continued crying.
“I wanted to apologize.”
“No apologies needed honey, but thank you.”
“Will you please continue explaining communication?”
“That depends, are you ready to do so?”
“I said I was sorry!”
“Isn’t that the whole point of the word 'sorry?'”
“Perhaps technically, but few people use it so. ‘Sorry’ only works like that if a person means it. If there’s the correct energy and value behind it. An empty ‘sorry’ is practically worthless. And as with most people’s words, it’s tricky for me to know if you really mean them. Since as kids we all learned to rarely say what we mean. We learned to manipulate with tiny white lies. We learned to try victimhood, and if that didn’t work, try blame, and if that didn’t work, try empty promises, and so on… most people learned to communicate in whatever ways we could to get what we want, but that doesn’t make them healthy. ‘Saying sorry’ but not meaning it, is a common way to placate a helper or teacher, in order to regain the valuable help they pushed away. The only real apology is ‘changed behavior.’ So, have you changed your behavior, or not?”
“I really have. I swear.”
“You can’t just keep saying that, it communicates nothing. There’s no proof. No energy. No value in these words. How do I know you won’t just fight my teachings and get defensive the next time I point out an area of improvement?”
“Well I don’t know what else to do other than say sorry.”
“You have to demonstrate change. Changed behavior is the true apology. Can you think of any way to communicate that?”
“How about this: I see how my defensiveness and tears made me an unreceptive student. I see how my dramatic response sent the message that I wasn’t interested in learning or changing. I realize that that’s no way to treat someone who’s taking the time to share years of wisdom on a rare topic. I appreciate you, and I’ll be better going forward.”
“Ah, lovely. Now you’re getting it. Instead of apologizing, you demonstrated your awareness of the situation, dropped blame, and took responsibility. That was your first healthy communication in a new style. It’s much closer to the authentic, honest way you communicated as an infant, with zero masks and layers. That’s a sign of more self-honesty, less bias, and more rational decision-making.”
“Thank you. Does this mean we can keep going?”
“Sure thing. And even better, it’s a step towards walking the ‘clickbait’ line.”
“Oh my god, you’re teaching me something that relates to my post?”
“This all relates to your post. Think about it.
Your post-headline is extremely vital, do you know why?”
“Because it’s the first thing people see?”
“Correct. More accurately, it’s the first energy they feel, since all communication has energy at its foundation. In a song it’s the first note or riff. In a movie it’s the opening scene. You get the picture.”
“I’m with you…
So how can I make clickbait and get upvotes?”
“It’s more like how to avoid clickbait and get upvotes. Do you enjoy clickbait headlines when you come across them?”
“Do they make you click?”
“Sure, for a split-second, then I find out the article is trash and never click that publication again and unfollow them.”
“Right. So you want to walk the line, creating titles that hook people strongly enough to get them to click, but also make it a headline that has truth and honesty at its core. You don’t want it to be an empty clickbait line that your article fails to deliver on, you want it to be a highly clickable line that your article speaks to.”
“What’s this got to do with my apology earlier?”
“Because the first step to writing epic headlines is the awareness to know when you’ve gone too far.
It’s the difference between:
‘The Earth Is Flat And This Undead Pornstar Has Proved Science Wrong’
‘Some People Still Think The Earth Is Flat In 2021: Are They Right?’
But we’ll get back to that. We have more poor communication habits to unpack.”
“Sounds good, like what? (And I promise you can tell me I suck and I won’t fly off the handle.)”
“You don’t pay attention to your beliefs & moods, thoughts & feelings, while you communicate.”
“What do you mean?”
“What’s the title of your article?”
“My Dream Journal – May 20th, 2021”
“OK, and what were your thoughts when you chose that title?”
“I dunno. I just called it what it is.”
“I figured. And what was your mood when you chose that title?”
“Who knows? I just wanted to get it posted and get those votes ticking up!”
“And that’s my point, you see?”
“The people with the winning posts are the ones who have put positive thought & feeling into their titles and thumbnails. They think deeply about their target audience and what may resonate with them. They choose their language with care and heart, almost like an amateur copywriter. They give consideration and experimentation to the thumbnail they choose. They treat these two things as if they’re important pieces of communication, and then do what they can to make sure it counts.”
“So, let’s say I sit down and put thought into it, say it with feeling. Instead of ‘My Dream Journal,’ I write what people want to hear, that will get me the upvotes?”
“Sort of. If you want to communicate well, your focus has to be completely off the upvotes and completely on using words that resonate with people you care about. Do you care about your followers?”
“Then you’ve gotta act like it. Make choices that show it. Does ‘My Dream Journal’ show a lot of care for the people you’re communicating with? Does it aim to give them value? Excite them? Make them curious? Does it make the time they invest in reading your title worthwhile? Or is it a waste of their time? Be honest, have you ever clicked on a headline like that?”
“Well I’m sure I have once or—”
“Are you defending again?”
“No, no. My bad. I get it, I rarely (if ever) click on titles like that, which is your point, sorry for focusing on outliers.”
“So what if I title it like this:
My Views On Being Woke (#MyDreamJournal – May 20th)
Would that work?”
“It’s definitely better. Your followers will read those words and feel a bit more of a connection. By mentioning the topic of the post, you’re giving them a taste of the article, but what’s all that other stuff? Is it important? Is that how big media publications get all their clicks? By adding day of the week and hashtags few people care about?”
“I guess not. How about:
“My Controversial Views On Wokeness?”
“Much better. Can you see how that’s far superior to your initial title? And are you able to admit that headline writing is a communication skill that’s worth improving?”
“Yes, I get it. And next time I post, I’m going to write a bunch of titles and see which one is the best.”
“Great, and feel free to ask me or your Mom for feedback if you want to test how your headline resonates with ‘fresh eyes!’ Just know you’ll get better at headlines over time. Effective communication takes practice.”
“But won’t this just turn me into the media?”
“Like I said at the start, all communication requires energy, value, and attention. The media understands this and uses it well. You can either join them, or stubbornly refuse to use their communication techniques. If you choose the latter, don’t be surprised when quality headline-writers steal all your upvotes and you can’t compete or stand out at all.”
“Hmmm… guess I better make peace with the headline game then.”
“Yes. And be careful labeling groups like you just labeled ‘the media’ too. That’s another language habit that can quickly turn audiences off.”
“Labeling groups like what?”
“Like you just did. You used a label (‘the media’) to describe real, living human beings, and you did it with disdain, painting the entire group as something terrible.”
“Are you nuts? I did no such thing.”
“Em, replay the moment in your head. Check the thoughts, feelings, and energy behind your communication.”
“I just asked an innocent question–”
I got up to leave once again. It was clear Emma was going to defend her bitter remark about the media, and I had no interest in dealing with her denial of reality.
Emma leaned forward hastily. “OK, ok, you’re right. Geez. I’m kind of biased against the media. I think they’re yucky. I judge them often, and that attitude crept out in my question. Please stay.”
“Well, you’ve improved at catching yourself, assessing things correctly, and admitting your miscommunications.”
“Yeah, I was lying to myself (and you) to avoid admitting my anger towards journalists. I apologize, and I understand your point. Communication tools have existed for ages, and the media uses them to great effect.”
“Yes, and you don’t have to be exactly like them, but hating on them for getting results while you don’t isn’t a mature (or effective) approach. Not to mention labeling groups is a a communication minefield and you’ll want to develop a light-touch here.”
“Avoid labels as much as possible.
Instead of ‘fat’ or ‘thin,’ say ‘people at different parts of their fitness journey,’ for example.”
“Ugh, isn’t this just political correctness?”
“C’mon Emma, this is me. I’m the guy who said even ‘bimbos can succeed at business,’ remember? I’m not timid and sanitizing my language to be politically correct, and I’m not afraid of labels. In fact they’re incredibly powerful tools to resonate with people.”
“Then why avoid them?”
“Because like I said, they’re powerful. Labels are the big guns of language, they can trigger people, accidentally hurt you or others, and even make precise ‘upvote hunting’ smooth and effortless.”
“I think you just disproved your own point, Dad. I literally want to use them more now.”
“OK, but honey, how often do you really want to be using a gun around other people? And are you really sure you know how? That you’re qualified? And even if you are, guns are loud and context-dependent, they’re not for common, everyday use, are they?”
“Ah. I see. No they aren’t. And the same goes for labels I guess?”
“Right, maybe you use a label in your headline, to get people’s attention or resonate with a specific group, but I wouldn’t spend your whole article talking about ‘fatties’ versus ‘beauties’, because both labels imply some pretty unpleasant things.”
“What do those labels imply?”
“‘Fat’ implies many things. Sometimes it implies lack of health. Other times it implies low self-discipline. Other times ‘genetic-inferiority.’ It can offend UFC fighters and sumo-wrestlers. It can distance you from talented people like Oprah. It can imply that not all body types are ‘acceptable.’ It can massively turn off people who are passionate about body-positivity. It’s fine to use the word, it’s not off limits, but like firing a gun, I suggest you use it sparingly and know exactly what you’re doing when you do so.”
“You said I’d get fat eating the double-fudge cake yesterday!”
“I was joking and you knew it. In context. With family. With kind intentions and love in my heart, aiming to bring some joy to your day and encourage you to eat whatever because we both know you’re blessed with a killer metabolism. It’s not saying the label out loud that’s bad, it’s knowing how to use it well. I don’t break it out with strangers or throw it around in my articles non-stop. I know you get this, Em, can we move on?”
“Yeah yeah. How about ‘beautiful?’ Surely ‘beautiful’ is fine to use?”
“They all are, but with care. As soon as you use the label ‘beautiful’, you bring it’s opposite to people’s mind. If you label something as ‘light’, people also think of ‘dark.’ If you label someone as ‘rich’ it makes less-prosperous people think of ‘poverty.’ Imagine someone with low self-esteem who’s out of shape reading your article. Imagine they see your line ‘…but guys, these next tips are only for beautiful people, and I know you’re going to love them…’ what do you think happens inside your low-esteem reader?”
“Well, they probably think something like ‘WTF? These tips aren’t for me because I’m not an hourglass figure?’ Or something like ‘Is she saying I’m ugly?’”
“Exactly, and now the reader hates the author of the post (you) for being so cruel.”
“But it was all in her head! I wouldn’t have meant that at all.”
“That’s my point, labels are super-triggering for so many people, regardless of your intentions. I wrote an amazing post on ‘genius’ recently, right? And you know what happened?”
“Knowing you, you got a ton of upvotes for your brilliant take on things?”
“Hardly. Using the label ‘genius’ probably killed it’s chances. Even with my light touch, understanding of communication, and conscious intention to use this label well, it still ruffled some feathers and turned readers off. It was one of my worst performing posts. I probably would have reached more people by going label-less and calling it something like ‘69 Helpful Tricks To Heal Your Mind’ or something. Zero labels involved.”
“But everyone uses labels all the time.
Sarah calls people liberals, woke, divas, and more. She labels herself a staunch feminist. She’s always referring to those people or that group.”
“Uh-huh. And how’s her communication effectiveness? Is Sarah getting fantastic results? Does she make her point clearly and people ‘get it’? Or do they just get triggered, respond with defensiveness, while Sarah gets nowhere? You seriously gonna sling labels around like her?”
“When you put it that way, no. They’re basically why our crew doesn’t talk to her anymore.”
“I rest my case.”
“What about people who are proud of their labels? Gay pride for example, or ‘spiritual’ people?”
“Well, that’s the flipside of labels. If you want to communicate with someone and you use one of the labels they already identify with, they’re likely to resonate with it. Same goes for ideologies. If I join a ‘spiritual’ facebook group and post about ‘manifesting abundance,’ they’ll upvote me. Careful though, if you use language that goes against their ideologies, it can go quite poorly. For example, if I posted about ‘making money’ instead of ‘manifesting abundance’ they’ll downvote me.”
“Aren’t those basically the same thing?”
“Yes, but because most self-proclaimed ‘spiritual’ people believe spirituality means distancing oneself from ‘material things’, and they see ‘making money’ as quite material, they’ll resist anything phrased in those terms. It’s common for authors posting such things in those groups to be looked down on for it.”
“Sheesh, labels really are a mine-field…
I thought you were going to make communication easier!”
“I am. Once you understand these simple principles, you’ll be able to pull off a lot of ‘communication miracles’ and get the results you want. Besides, labels are actually really simple. I’m not saying to walk on eggshells or be PC, I just want you to understand a key part of communication: Labels put people in boxes. They can empower people if used well, with consent and context, but they’re often just a way to limit or diminish people.
Learn to use labels well, and be careful with them in the beginning. OK?”
“Yes, understood. Thanks for this. It’s an extremely helpful perspective and I can’t believe no one’s clarified labels like this for me before.”
“Well, I do LABEL myself a GENIUS, after all.”
Emma punched me in the shoulder. “So what if I make my headline
‘Unpopular Opinion About Wokeness (Great For Feminists!)’,
I’m using a label but just as a shoutout to people who may resonate. I’m not aiming it at anyone.”
“Brilliant! Yes! And you don’t even need me to tell you so, do ya? You know that headline hits it out of the park, at least compared to your original.”
“That’s a nuance of labels I didn’t think you’d get ‘til later. Fast learner.”
“Well, I’m the daughter of a ‘genius’, after all.”
I punched Em in the shoulder this time, so gently it might as well have been a love-tap.
“Alright, ‘genius-daughter,’ let’s step back and look at the big picture again. Can you summarize what you’ve learned so far?”
“Yes. Communication’s purpose is to evolve each individual towards their potential. All communication relies on the foundations of energy, value, and attention. Labels are powerful ‘guns’ of language, and are best used with care… and…um… that’s it?”
“Yes, nailed it. And have you noticed anything interesting about all this?”
“Uh, it’s all stuff nobody teaches?”
“Yes, but anything else?”
“Yes these things aren’t commonly known, but the most important part is that it takes a pretty open mind to even consider them.”
“Oh, true. I guess I’m just a wonderfully open-minded person then.” Emma’s grin turned up about a thousand watts.
“Indeed. I only mention it because effective communication practically requires an open mind. If the entire tribe was close-minded to fire, Zog’s communication would never have had a chance, no matter how precise his grunts and fire-demonstrations were.”
“Makes sense. Actually seems kind of obvious.”
“Sure, right now in the calm light of day, but when our conversation first began and I had solutions, wisdom, and teachings to offer you, how ‘open-minded’ were you then?”
“Oooh, fair point. I, unfortunately, was more close-minded then.”
“Can you tell me why?”
“Because I was emotional? Yeah, that’s it. Because I was emotional.”
“Right. When we’re experiencing increased emotion is rarely the best time to communicate anything complex. A laugh, smile, tear, or scream is about all we’re capable of communicating properly when we’re saddled with increased emotion. Our minds become hyper-focused on whatever prompted our emotions, closing off to most other things. You were closed off to my perspective on things, until I waited out your emotions. If you or I tried to communicate anything substantial during that time, it would’ve gone poorly.”
“So basically you’re saying don’t write a giant rant-post and publish it while I’m pissed off.”
“But I thought that audiences want emotion-filled writing?
That’s what the media does.”
“Correct. But they don’t create their emotion-filled headlines while they’re furious with a family member. They submit it to their editor, who looks at it with a calm, objective eye, and then chooses the best emotion-sparking words to capture audience-attention. They choose effective communication methods from a place of calm. You can see the same thing from Steve Jobs handling a heckler, or Barack Obama in a debate. You can even see it when your mother pushes my buttons. She knows what to say to stir up my emotions, making me much less effective in our argumen—er—‘discussions’, at least until I cool off and revisit.
Effective communication requires an open mind, minimally ruffled by emotion.”
“Yeah, the best communicators are good at handling new ideas and opposing views without jumping to conclusions, I’ve definitely seen that.”
“Good. Can you tell me why this is so?”
“Hmm. It’s because there’s energy behind all communications, and a haywire emotional energy will be felt by the receiver, and usually turn them off.”
“Just so. You’re really understanding this.”
“So in all of my teachings so far, did you catch the brilliant thing you did?”
“Oh yeah, for sure, obviously, I totally did…just…um, refresh my memory?”
“You spoke clearly and directly to your target audience by using an ‘identifier label.’”
“Yes, you added ‘great for feminists’ into your headline.”
“Oh yeah, right. Let me guess, you have something to teach about this too?”
“Yeah, but it’s just a quick one.
Choose your audience well, understand them deeply, then echo the words in their minds.
Match the energy & value of your communication to the energy & value they already align with. Choose language that matches their beliefs and speaks to them. Just like my ‘spiritual’ folk example.”
“Got it. So if I decide I want to reach all the investors on Hive, my headline should talk about ROI or something, right? And if I want to target all the makeup artists my headline needs words like beautify, makeup palette, etcetera.”
“That’s the gist of it, yes. It can go a lot deeper, because most people have ‘hidden needs’ and ‘hidden objections’ floating around their head as well, which are important to echo back to them in many communications.”
“Hidden needs & objections? Dang, this is getting complicated again.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll get to that more advanced stuff later anyway, let’s keep it simple. Now that you’ve improved your headline game, what do you think comes next?”
“Ummm, knowing you, we’re not cutting straight to the upvotes.”
“Sadly, m’dear, no.”
“Then I guess writing the actual post?”
“Yes, but specifically what next?”
“I dunno, the first sentence?”
“Kind of. The first sentence, or even the first sub-heading is really important, but more important than that is…
The overall promise of your content.
You must have a clear idea of how to deliver on it.
If your headline hints at a poem, you’d best deliver one. If it suggests education or edutainment, your article had better teach well. If your headline promises a cute story, the body-text had better provide that.”
“I hear that. I’ve read way too many posts that promise something in the title, then meander into rambling streams of words that go nowhere, or jump from topic to topic.”
“Yep, the same thing happens in conversation. If someone says ‘you’ll never guess what happened’, audience-expectations is that an interesting tale is about to be related. If the speaker just says ‘I ate a meal today, the end,’ that is generally *not* an interesting tale and the listener will be annoyed. Can you tell me why this happens?”
“Uh, ‘cause people are bad communicators, obvi.”
“Ahem, some are, but I meant do you know why this ‘promise’ happens whenever someone hears a speaker begin to speak, or when they read a headline?”
“Oh, I mean… because people expect stuff. Cause and effect. One thing leads to another. Someone shares a thought, and others expect them to finish it.”
“You got it. Once your opening line has hooked people’s attention, they now have expectations that you’ll have to satisfy in order to get a good result from your post.”
“Oh, you mean like upvotes?”
“Yes, you obsessive little munchkin, among other things.”
“Sweet, so how do I satisfy reader expectations?”
“By making everything you say worth their time.”
“So like… write short posts?”
“Not necessarily. You can watch a short movie in the theatre, or you can watch Lord Of The Rings, the length of the communication doesn’t matter too much, as long as every part of it is worthwhile and necessary to deliver on the promise.”
“I think I get it?”
“Maybe an example will help. Let’s take your ‘Unpopular Opinion On Wokeness’ post,’ do you think a good opening line could be ‘Hi guys! I’m pretty new on Hive and thought I’d take a break from all the selfies I’ve been posting recently, and I’m even taking a break from talking about my dog Olive…’?”
“No, and I’m insulted you think I’d write something like that.”
“Oh really now? What’s your first line in your Dream Journal post?”
“Ah, nevermind, we don’t need to look at that–”
“No, you went and opened the door, now we’re gonna go through it together. Come on, load it up on your phone. Read it out, let’s go.”
Emma slipped her phone out of her shorts-pocket and brought her post up faster than I could’ve done. Kids were so tech-savvy these days, but for all their texting, DM’ing, blogging, and so on, most knew so little about communication. I sensed more irony in the situation, but didn’t get to explore it before she started reading aloud.
“Hey Hivers, I’m finally getting around to writing this post of random thoughts I had on cancel-culture and stuff–”
“Seriously Em? This is what you felt was better? ”
“It’s friendly, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Does it deliver on the expectations of Dream Journal?”
“Not exactly, but I will get there later in the post.”
“Does it deliver on your new headline about ‘wokeness’?”
“Well, it mentions cancel-culture.”
“You’re grasping at straws, Em. The fact is, your opening line wastes the reader’s time. They expect you to get to the point. To discuss what you mentioned in the headline. And if you’re going to delay that, then they’re expecting you to do so with good reason, like providing essential background, or a juicy surprise, or a setup or something.”
“Ok! Chill! I get it. Y’know, sometimes you’re pretty mean when you’re teaching.”
“Am I? Or am I stating important facts that no one else has the guts to tell you? Is it possible that I’m teaching you the secrets of good hooks, and opening sentences that get results? Am I doing it in clear, direct terms so there’s no mistake over what’s going on here? Is it possible you just threw out the label ‘mean’ to hide from the truth, put blame on me for your poor writing, and to make yourself feel better? Eh? Hmm?”
Emma’s lip started to quiver. “Sh*t. I did it again. I know you’re not really mean, and I know it takes a lot of guts to dish out real talk like this. And I know my opening line isn’t exactly extreme value for my reader. I just… I dunno. It feels bad that we’ve only covered the first two lines of my post, and they’re both trash.”
I walked over and hugged my daughter. “Em, imagine if you had played basketball in school. You weren’t great, and you learned some really bad habits. Then you lucked out and got a free lesson from Michael Jordan. He literally tore apart the way you stand, hold your arms, the shoes you wear, the way your eyes move towards the ball, everything. Are you gonna feel sad, or just relax and be happy for every tip?”
“Hmm, I’d relax and take notes. You’re right. But I’ve been talking and writing since I was young, it feels worse somehow.”
“Well, elevating communication takes a lot of self-awareness. It takes the ability to change your approach. And hey, there are some communication contexts where your kind of gentle opening line is great. But what’s better for your ‘wokeness’ post? The thing you wrote, or something like this:
‘If feminists are so woke, why do their twitter rants put me to sleep?’”
“Ooohhhh that’s fire! God I wish I wrote that.”
You clearly enjoy that line, but have you stopped to think about why?”
“It’s catchy? I don’t know, I just like it.”
“It speaks directly to the point. It asks a question. It plants curiosity. It uses resonant language. It echoes the thoughts you have in your own mind. It holds more value & energy, and captures more attention than other lines. And for readers, it’s the start of you delivering on the promise of your headline. Subconsciously, you know all this, which is why you wished you wrote it.”
“Real talk. All that. Would it be more powerful if you added the word ‘always’? Something like
‘If feminists are so woke, why do their rants always put me to sleep?’
Adds extra energy and value, right?”
Generalizing words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ are language-guns too.
They’re so absolute, and often send a limiting message. They suggest that something is a universal law, with no exceptions or room for discussion.”
“Understood. Now that I think about it, they’re one of the first things people pick on in comment sections too. ‘Excuse me? It’s not *always*, there’s this exception, and this one, and this one…’ It gets annoying.”
“Yep, they can be powerful and spark engagement, but if you’re not interested in the nitpickers, you can avoid them by making sure your communication doesn’t give them too many openings.
On another note, you removed ‘twitter’ which is an important word, since that’s where a lot of rants are happening lately. Using it paints a more relevant image in the reader’s mind. Specifics are effective sometimes, generalities are effective at others. A good communicator learns when to use both.”
“When to be specific vs. general then?”
“A lot of this stuff is figured out through practice.”
“How am I supposed to get that?”
“Em, you miss chances to practice all the time. Just last week you told me you were a ‘spiritual person’, which is vague, general, and unclear. What does that even mean? It makes communication trickier. The week before that you said your friend Mia ‘needed space’, again… unclear and messy to discuss. Does that mean move to a different country? The next room? Or did you mean emotional space, not physical space? These terms may work in poetry or a story, but for communicating a viewpoint, they often muddle things more than they help. Using general terms when clear one’s are called for creates issues. Let’s say you tell somebody ‘meet me at the park’, and they do their best to meet you, but it takes a long time to find each other. Let’s say you want to avoid this frustration in the future. What do you do?”
“I’d give a more specific landmark next time.”
“Exactly. Because of your communication practice, you notice something went wrong in your ‘general’, vague communication, so you add specifics next time. Now let’s say someone asks ‘if you want a burger’, and instead of saying ‘yes please’, you ramble on about how you’re a ‘vegan now, but you used to eat meat, so you might try a burger, even if it means breaking your vegan rules, but you’re not really sure,’ and on, and on.”
“Yuck. I hate people who do that.”
“Sure, but you’ve almost certainly done this at least once, getting way too specific and oversharing way too much detail in a response, simply because you’re passionate or excited about a subject.”
“Eh, maybe. Probably…” Emma rolled her eyes. “Fine, I’ve done it. And I’m assuming the fix is to be more general in this case?”
“Correct. Just say ‘yes please,’ or at the most ‘Yes, if veggie burgers, no thanks if only meat.’ Certain, solid, specific language has its place, just don’t over-rely on it. It’s most necessary when you’re dealing with math, dates, finance, data, and so on. It relies heavily on specifics. Flexible, fluid, fuzzy language has its place as well. This is more about emotion, artistry, and generalities. Going back to our earlier example, when most people use words like ‘always’ and ‘never’, they’re making a specific, absolute statement, but it lands awkwardly because they make it about a largely generalized group. You can see why this might go awry.”
“Got it. OK, so, if I want my article to perform, I need to use labels well, master general vs. specific language, and avoid under- or over-sharing… regardless of the length of my post. Which readers will ignore anyway, if I don’t nail down a headline that makes a promise I can deliver, all with resonant language that grabs attention of my intended audience, yes?”
“Hah. When you put it like that it sounds kind of crazy, but that is a decent summary so far.”
“Uh, it *is* crazy, Dad. No successful author is doing all this stuff.”
“So you’re telling me the audience has no part in any of this?”
“I’d never say that. Communication takes two (or more), and the audience plays a major role. If they don’t do their job, even the best communicator will fail.”
“Then I was right to blame Hivers for not upvoting, I *can* say it’s their fault!”
“Because a) you choose what audience you communicate with, b) a good communicator can reach nearly any audience they want, and c) your ‘Dream Journal’ headline and rambling opener makes almost every audience’s job impossible.”
“What is the audience’s job?”
“Well, if the author’s (or speaker’s) job is to offer information, just as Zog offered his fire-discovery to Grog, what would you say the audience is supposed to do with that offer?”
“They can either accept or reject it, I suppose.”
“Yes, and their job is to do that, moment-to-moment. They may accept your headline and click on your post, but in the next moment, reject your opening sentence, and leave. You don’t realize this, but every time you read (or listen) to someone, you are choosing to either accept what they’re saying into your brain for consideration, then moving onto the next bit of info, or you’re rejecting it, and putting a stop to communication. And your readers are doing the same thing.”
“That seems so simple.
I offer an idea, they accept or reject, and repeat, sentence by sentence.”
“Well, it’s a bit deeper, but that’s the core of it.”
“Well, the audience’s job is to seek understanding. They’re doing their job if they’re focusing on your meaning, your core message, and the spirit of your words. They’re not doing their job if they’re nit-picking every term, consciously misconstruing your message, or responding in bad faith.”
“And I suppose it’s my job to be as clear as possible in my communication, so they have an easy time understanding…”
“Yes, and it applies to body-language too.”
“What? I want to know about writing. Why blurt that out so randomly?”
“See? I ‘randomly’ switched topics, and you instantly felt uncertain, confused, and you’re more likely to reject my next statement, right? I made your job of ‘understanding’ where I’m going with all this, difficult. Maybe you’re frustrated that I still haven’t told you explicitly how to rake in the upvotes. Maybe you’re jumping to the conclusion that I won’t deliver on the implied ‘promise’ I made at the beginning of our chat, since I seem to be going off on tangents.”
“Whoa. Are you psychic? Double-you Tee Eff, Dad.”
“I told you, a good communicator echoes the objections and needs of his audience, it makes them feel understood. It increases trust. It makes them feel like their thoughts and feelings have been considered, and it prevents the communication from going off the rails, even if I suddenly start talking about body-language. Which I brought up for a reason.”
“Wow. Point well made. And what is the reason?”
“Because you’ve succeeded as a model.”
“So, you’ve used body-language very well your whole life.
Your photo-sets open with a ‘promising tease’. You imply that you’ll deliver some ‘scandalous’ shots. Then to keep people clicking, you order each shot to build up suspense with different poses and gestures. Eventually, you deliver a centerfold shot, and your viewers eat it up, all without words.”
“Hello, that makes me a good communicator!”
“It makes you a fluke, someone who communicates in one form, decently by default. It doesn’t mean you understand communication. Be honest. Would you say you do the same thing with your writing?”
“Clearly not. But it’s easy for me with body-language. How come?”
“Practice. Practice, practice, practice. You’ve been practicing entertaining with body-language since you were a toddler. You paid rapt attention to all the entertainers on TV. You dressed up in Mom’s clothes since you were little. Your early attempts were pretty bad, and wouldn’t get you in a magazine, but it wasn’t long before you were absolutely crushing it. All for one reason, and one reason only.”
“Yes, and you did it with a fun, light heart. You never blamed an audience for the reaction you got. Not once. You just went back to the closet and tried different costumes, and different poses.”
“Which is the approach great authors take with their readers too, I totally get it. This is so clutch, I love it. I’m getting psyched to write a new post and see how it does!”
“Well, hold your horses lil miss. If you post now, you’ll definitely do better, but getting someone to read a post is a lot different than getting someone to engage with a post.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what I’ve taught you will get you so far, but…
If you want people to take action, you’ll need persuasion.”
“I thought all communication’s persuasion, no? We’re all aiming to reach our potential in life, and we use communication as a tool to do that, as best as we’re all able. We persuade people to accept our ideas, whether fire-discovery, or a movie-invitation, yadda yadda yadda.”
“It is but there are lots of persuasion methods amateur communicators ignore, then they wonder why no one responds to what they offer.”
“Oooh, sounds powerful. Will you teach me these persuasion tricks?”
“Well, I’ll hook you up with my guide to Persuasion Basics That Work, but I’ll mention one of them briefly. The trick which gives the most impact for the least effort, is Blair Warren’s One-Sentence Persuasion Trick.”
“I’m all ears. What does Blair say?”
“He says ‘People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, soothe their fears, confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies.’ And it’s pretty reliable.”
“I’m not sure I get it. So like, my dream journal post needed to soothe people’s fears or something?”
“In a way. Blair points out that nearly everything that has ever persuaded you to act has used one or more of the 5 techniques in his sentence. Hitler used them and nearly took over the world. Cult leaders like Jim Jones & David Koresh used them and their followers eagerly died for them. These madmen used them well, but your favorite celebs, influencers, marketers, and salespeople use them too.”
“When I got people to click on all my modeling photos, I wasn’t doing any of them.”
“Yes you were. You targeted an audience of thirsty guys who dream of being close to a beautiful, sexy woman. You tailored your photos to make them feel like they were a step closer to their dreams. Their dull life stuck in a cubicle at a corporation, suddenly had a vibrant young woman willing to show off for them. Compare that to your dream journal post.”
“Ugh, do you always have to be right?”
“I’m trying to give you a leg up in life, so it’d suck if I was constantly saying incorrect things, no?”
“It’s just that I’ve been wrong about a million things in just this conversation. It pisses me off.”
“Wouldn’t I get downvoted hard by being controversial?”
“You’re on to something there, yes. Posting things that make others feel ‘some kind of way’ also comes with a percentage of haters and people who are… how did you phrase it? ‘Pissed off’ when you share your perspective or your truth.”
“Well I’ve been pretty clear about what I’m after…”
“Upvotes, I know. The thing is, when you share your truth boldly, in a persuasive way, you end up with thousands of upvotes, and only tens of downvotes. If you communicate anything substantial in public, there will always be a vocal minority who passionately argues against you, perhaps even verbally attacks you. Even Mother Teresa or Albert Schweitzer, two of the most loving contributors to humanity ever, had their share of haters. But they got far more upvotes than down, if you take my meaning.”
“So you’re saying don’t pull punches in my writing, just like when I posted my risque photos, then accept the haters, attempted censorship, and verbal attacks?”
“Exactly. And I’m sorry to say, but you won’t be doing that with your ‘Dream Journal’ post.”
“Sheesh. My poor post is really getting torn a new one today. But yeah, I can see how it was pretty weak on persuasion and definitely not a ‘bold truth’ in any way.”
“I’m glad this is clicking for you. Do you want to keep learning, or is this enough for now?”
“This is a lot to process, and I think it’s best if I actually do some work on it. You emphasized practice, right?”
“Right! Great attitude, a lot of people are just passive students, soaking up info and doing nothing with it, I’m glad I raised my daughter better than that.”
“Thank you. So I’ll spend the rest of the day writing my next piece, and aim to apply what you taught. Maybe we can talk more tomorrow?”
“Sure, but remember the lesson about specific language, is ‘let’s talk tomorrow’ general, or specific? What’s called for when setting up a lesson with someone? Should you leave it up in the air, or really nail down specifics?”
“Understood, ok, let me try communicating my offer again. I’d love to pick up where we left off tomorrow at the breakfast table, 9am please, does that work for you?”
I smiled. It was nice to see my little girl becoming so smart and capable. She’d navigate the world well by committing to meetings in this way. It puts her way ahead of most ‘flakes.’ I was honored to share what I could with her and thrilled she was eager for more. “Yes, my pleasure. See you then, Em.”
Emma skipped out of the living room, excited to try out her new knowledge.
I was basking in the rich, divine smell of bacon and eggs when my daughter flounced into our kitchen. Her shorts were replaced with a sundress and her triumphant smile telling me she’d written something she was proud of.
“Daaaaaaaad! I’m right on time for our lesson.”
“Well hello and good morning to you too, miss manners.”
“Sorry, I’m just excited, you’re gonna love what I wrote.”
“I will, but only if you communicate respect, appreciation, and common courtesy at the breakfast table instead of sending a message of a selfish desire to learn.”
“Oops, I’m saaawwweeee.” Em played up her youthfulness to take the edge off her ‘innocent’ mistake. She was a better communicator than she realized. Puppy-eyes like that’ll make her a demoness when her dating life picks up again. “Forgive me?”
“Tch. Fine, I appreciate your enthusiasm. Where did we leave off?”
“I believe we were talking about truth & controversy.”
“Yes, indeed. The basic point is this: writing about controversial topics is great, but when you do it, tell the truth as best as you understand it. You may get it a bit wrong, but you’ll field questions easier if you aimed to be honest and understanding in your writing. So what did you write? Did you post it already?”
“I wrote ‘Why I Think God Is A Woman’, and no way, I’m not posting it until you’ve taught me all your secrets.”
“Wow. You really took ‘pull no punches’ literally, huh?”
“Like father, like daughter, n’est-ce pas?”
“Don’t be switching languages on me now, it’s tricky enough to master communication in one. And anyway, I’ve never tackled divinity and gender-politics in a single post. You’ve outdone me, my girl.”
She laughed and clapped. “Good! Will you read it? Is it good enough to post? Are there other writing tricks I can use?”
“Let’s see.” She passed me her phone and I began to read:
‘I’ve seen the face of God, and it was female. God is gentle. God is nurturing. God is radiant. God is beautiful. God is soothing. God is kind. God is loving. God champion’s peace, not war. God co-operates rather than competes. For these reasons and more, I believe God is a woman.’
Well, that’s certainly more bold, attention-grabbing, and compelling than your last post.”
“I know, right? It’s got more ‘energy’ in it than my old boring writing, and I could see it being valuable to a lot of readers.”
“You know this may get hate from all sorts of people, yes?”
“Sure, but no point in playing small and timid with my communication right? You said to treat it the same way I treat my photos, that way I’ll reach people.”
“Do you think it may perform better as “9 Reasons I Think God Is A Woman?” Why or why not?”
“Probably yes. Because people love numbers and lists. Likely because they add certainty and clear, specific language. Readers know what to expect and they assume I’ll deliver, like most other posts with numbers in the title.”
“Yes, adding numbers is an overused –but effective– communication technique.
“Well, I’ll consider it. What did you think of the opening line? It got right to the heart of things, right? No fluff, no rambling!”
“It did, but it actually may ruin your whole post.”
“Because truth and understanding are so important, and your sentence appears either untrue, unprovable, or incomprehensible.”
“Well, is it true that anyone’s seen the ‘face’ of God? Does God even have a face? Why would an omnipotent divinity need a face at all? Can you prove you saw it?”
“Geez, take it easy with the third degree. It’s poetic license. Besides, maybe I saw it in my dreams.”
“Emma, when you ‘offer’ a point to someone, it can either be a solid, firm, easy-to-grasp ball, or it can be like tossing them a ‘splash’ of water, impossible to grasp. Do you think your opening line is easy for most people to process, or do you think their minds will throw up multiple objections, questions, and concerns, just like I did?
“Probably they’ll think like you. Man, you really are psychic.”
“No, I just pay attention to how people think. Copywriters, authors, and speakers all over the world do this all the time. All great communicators do it. Even song-writers do it when they’re choosing specific lyrics. They know that when discussing deep, controversial, philosophical concepts with very little known about them, to be careful not to pretend their opinions are absolute truths. You’d run into similar issues talking about electricity, black holes, money, or ‘good and evil.’ These are things that most people consider ‘unknown’, ‘unsolved’, or ‘up for debate’, so claiming you know the truth about them isn’t just opening you up for haters, it’s sending the message that you know more than all of humanity to date. It can come off as arrogant, an unnecessary exaggeration, totally uninformed, or anything in between.”
“Dang. I was pretty proud of that line. Energy, attention, and value.”
“A lot of people will see it as anti-value and bounce, is what I’m getting at. What if your opening line was something like: ‘TV shows use a booming male actor for the voice of God, but I say God is a woman’?”
“Ooh, that’s pretty good, and it avoids me claiming things that no one will believe at the same time.”
“Now you’re getting it. But you’ll probably still get downvoted way harder than you think.”
“Aww, how come? Did I do something wrong?”
“But why? Ideas can’t hurt people.
They’re not weapons. They’re not painful. They’re just ideas. ‘This ball is red. The sky is purple. Genghis Khan had a cool name. The earth is flat.’ I can say any random idea I want and it literally harms no one. They’re just ‘things’ floating around in the ether.
Sometimes people keep ideas to themselves, sometimes they write them and share them with others. The more ideas humanity has, the more valuable it is. The more options our ideas provide, the more freedom humanity has. If I want to propose the idea that ‘god is a woman,’ I should be able to without getting downvoted by spazmoids. You told me to speak my bold truth and communicate something of value, and I am! First social media censored my photos, and now my own father wants to censor my writing?”
“Whoa, whoa, easy girl. No one has censored your writing yet, nor may they even want to. Maybe Hive will love your post. I don’t know. I’m just informing you that a huge chunk of people get defensive and take knee-jerk actions. They do things like downvote people who make sweeping statements about these kinds of topics. They actually believe that ideas are harmful, something to fear, and something they must protect themselves from. Many of them also believe that being right is the holy grail, so they’ll never admit your idea is possibly better, and they’ll defend theirs to the death.”
“Or at least to the troll-thread and the doxxing.”
“I don’t know what that means, but… sure…”
“You’re so old.”
“And you’re so at a crossroads. You have a choice. Post your piece and see how people respond, or go back to the drawing board. Either choice is great. If you choose the former, you’re a true, bold author, putting her work out and learning from the feedback. If you choose the latter, you’re a true bold author, willing to ‘kill her darlings’ and create a better offering. It’s the same as thinking before you speak, only it’s redrafting before you publish.”
“Grr. I don’t know. I was excited at first but now you made me nervous.”
“That’s because you care too much about avoiding downvotes. A ‘real’ communicator just speaks their truth as best as they know how, and soaks up the feedback, for better or worse. Do whatever feels best to you, the world won’t end regardless.”
“Alright, I’ll edit in your opening line, then post it.”
“Great. Let me know how it goes.”
“Soooo… it was my highest-performing non-photo post on Hive ever. It got the most comments, most upvotes, and most reblogs. 719 upvotes.”
“Yeah, but you were right. It got the most downvotes ever too. 273 ‘broken hearts.’”
“Yeah. I’m kind of in shock.”
“You’ll get used to it, just like you did with people labeling you ‘slut’ for showing a bit of skin in your photos.”
“You’re right. But there’s more.”
“This dude, @rationalquibbler is like… picking a fight with me or something.”
“Well, he keeps commenting on my post with annoying little barbs and negative remarks.”
“Well here, read this.” I took Emma’s proffered Hello Kitty-themed mobile device and read aloud:
‘Your point about TV is a strawman argument. There could be any number of reasons why you’re noticing male voices playing god. Maybe that’s just the type of shows you watch. Maybe way more men audition for the role. Maybe screenwriters aren’t looking to make a point about gender and are focused on other things…’
He goes on for quite a while here. Owch, and I’m the one who told you to put that line in, I almost feel like apologizing.”
“‘No apologies necessary Dad.’” Emma said, mimicking my voice.
“Touche. Well, he’s got a point. It was a bit of poorly constructed communication, but to be honest, the point of it wasn’t to precisely assess the TV industry’s portrayal of God, it was to be a jumping-off point for your ‘fresh perspective’ of God being a woman. It was meant merely as a stage-setting contrast. And judging from the rest of the comments, many people understood that, and were able to read your post without pouncing all over this line.”
“Yeah, but this commenter picks on every word I write.”
“Ahem, let’s read more of mister @rationalquibbler:
‘How do you know god is gentle? Have you met him? Hmm? Maybe he’s committed, disciplined, focused, firm, and a total get-sh*t-done kind of guy!’
I see where this is going.” I rolled my eyes.
“See? What is his deal? Every comment of his just drains my energy. It feels like death by a thousand papercuts. What is he trying to do? Why is he investing so much time in calling out every other word I wrote? Doesn’t he have a life?”
“Probably not, hon. People like this think cold logic with minimal regard for the emotions, creations, or intentions of others is a high-quality way to live.”
“Who knows? Self-esteem, misunderstanding? Lots of reasons! You’d have to ask them. And it could easily be coming from a very positive place. For example, hyper-rational, logic-focused people often prevent really bad decisions. They often make sure abusive laws don’t get put in place. They often ensure points are thought out and debated well. The thing is when you have a hammer (logic), every problem appears to be a nail (nitpicking.) All that aside, the main thing to know is that emotion lies in the ancient ‘reptile’ portion of our brain. It’s what kept humanity alive back in the cave-man days. It’s got way more years of refinement than our newer ‘logical’ brains.”
“So even the biggest fans of logic make decisions emotionally, whether they realize it or not. Even the biggest happenings in politics, science, and law are founded in, and tinged by, emotion, intuition, and inspiration.”
“Then why can’t this guy feel the emotion behind my post and just let it go?”
“Probably because they think ‘correcting everyone on earth,’ —unasked and unsolicited— is a solid approach. Remember how I said everyone uses communication to reach their highest potential, the best way they know how?”
“Well there’s plenty of people like @rationalquibbler who’s ‘best approach’ is to tear people apart on the ‘net. It’s a phase many people go through. They’re often very smart people, actually. They know logic well. They know philosophy. They know debate. They can tear through most people’s arguments. They may grow up to be amazing lawyers, activists, accountants, and all kinds of awesome careers. They just know very little about communicating with other humans during this phase. They don’t know what I’m teaching you. They don’t understand how to persuade people. They know only debate, argument, and conflict. They don’t understand the energy behind their words, and so they bring rough, harsh, self-righteous energy to whatever they say. They don’t understand value very well, so they believe the only valuable thing is nit-picking your points apart and making sure you’re ‘letter-perfect’ with what you type. If you’re not, they’ll let you know about it, and feel like a good person for doing so. They love to point fingers. They love to ‘look better’ or ‘smarter’ than others. They love to be right and criticize people they see as ‘less smart’ than themselves, all under the guise of ‘logic’ and ‘straightening people out.’”
“Ugh, I feel like less of a person just hearing about people like this. People who communicate this way literally drain society’s energy, you feel me? I pour my heart into my boldest writing ever and they don’t have a single nice thing to say! Why are they even reading my stuff then? Just click away and go watch porn or whatever. They’re basement-dwellers. It’s unreal. Do they have friends? Why would anyone want to be around them?”
“Yikes. Em, careful. Don’t be so harsh, or you’ll end up just like them. Access compassion and understanding. And as you write more, you’ll get more commenters, and just by the nature of statistics, more of them will pick apart your words. If you judge every one of them you’re in for a rough life, and probably shouldn’t be a blogger. Judgment is a low-energy form of communication. It creates poor results. @rationalquibbler judges your writing, you respond by judging his current personality. Both of you lose. Both of you become worse communicators every time you judge. And besides, you’re just like him.”
“Well, probably not as often, but you sometimes behave like he does. For example, in the beginning of our chat, you were pointing fingers at your readers. You were blaming them as if you were righteously doing everything right, and entitled to upvotes. Just hearing it drained my energy, that’s why I wanted to leave… twice.”
“I think I’m gonna be sick.”
“Take a breath, my love. We’ve all been there.”
“Even you? You communicate so kindly, with so much understanding.”
“Oh, I thought I was ‘mean’, remember?”
“C’mon, you know I didn’t mean it. Seriously, you’re good at ‘reasoning’, like ‘Quibbler, but emotionally you’re much more caring in your expression. You explain complex, challenging topics so gently and understandably. Even when you’re calling me out on my sh*t, you’re always really good about it. I find it hard to believe you’ve ‘been there.’ Come off it, Dad.”
“Nope it’s true. Ask your mother, she almost divorced me for it. And she would’ve been right to do so, I deserved it. Back then I was way worse than ‘Quibbler. I tore apart everyone’s words. I got an adrenaline rush off of being smarter than others. I got dopamine hits from correcting people and I barged into any conversation I could just so I could lay the verbal smackdown with my skills. I’d blame everybody else, use my intellect to paint them into a corner or make them look bad or scratch at their wording, and always have the last word. I couldn’t just say ‘hey, I see the point you’re trying to get at, even if it’s phrased a bit irrationally.’ I couldn’t just use my talents to offer better phrasing that would strengthen their point and their writing. There are positive, kind, effective ways of correcting others, and there are petty, small-minded, self-righteous ways to do it. Guess which path I chose every time, for years? I could’ve taken the time to gently see if others were open to correction. Instead I always chose to destroy and tear down their writings like it was my full-time job.”
“Wow. I don’t even know what to say.”
“Well it’s not like I’m proud of it. I don’t really talk about those days much, ya know.”
“How did you fix it?”
“Your Mom kicked me out of the house and I lived homeless for a while. It humbled me, taught me a lot about life, and totally revolutionized the way I think, the emotions I bring to situations, and my approach to communicating with others.”
“Err, I don’t think I can set up an elaborate life-lesson for ‘Quibbler.”
“Yeah. It’s rare that anyone can wake these people up from their destructive communications. They’re convinced their approach is helpful and a good thing to do. Their phase will last a while until life wakes them out of it. Which means, you better get used to dealing with them. That’s the thing about mastering communication, once you get good at it, it can get a bit grating to deal with those who are less artful and productive in their expression. It also leaves you with the responsibility of handling the interaction, because they don’t have the awareness, skills, or practice to do it.”
“Well, since now I’m educated about commenters like this I can try and craft better posts that give them nothing to pick on. Or I can just ignore them as they rant into the interwebs.”
“Bingo. And it’s worth noting that he actually is offering value somewhere in there.
Buried in all his vitriol there is some useful feedback.”
“And I’m supposed to wade through that bullsh*t?”
“Em, Being a good communicator isn’t just about expressing and persuading well, that stuff is for the speaker’s side of things. Communication is also about being a good listener, taking feedback well, keeping an open-mind, and consciously deciding if there’s feedback worth applying buried in someone’s angry rant. Being a good listener is about digging for the nugget of gold in the sh*tstorm that many poor communicators will deliver to you.”
“OK, well if I’m going to be getting this much engagement when I post, I’ll need to learn how to do this. I know I’ve asked a lot of you, but mind explaining this deeper?”
“Anything for you my darling daughter.”
“You’ve got to do what @rationalquibbler avoids. You’ve got to put yourself in other people’s shoes, avoid taking things personally, and see through the language to the spirit behind it.”
“The spirit behind his words is a giant ‘f**k you’ to every sentence in my post.”
“Don’t pout. You’re better than that. It’s kind of like how Olive barks at somebody new. You can tell from Olive’s body language that she’s not really upset, it’s just an ‘empty bark’, right? And sometimes, even if she barks, snarls, and her tail stops wagging, you and I can still tell she means no harm to the newcomer, just from Olive’s ‘energy.’ The same thing goes for angry commenters a lot of the time. All bark, no bite, acting out of bad habits. Now let’s examine @rationalquibbler’s situation again.”
“Fine. I guess he’s trying to make sure my words are ‘logical’ to him or whatever, but that wasn’t the point of the post at all. It wasn’t some Einstein-level dissertation on the existence of God, it was a casual take on how normally ‘feminine’ traits seem pretty divine to me. Many readers understood that.”
“Right, but take a breath and be honest… even when you’re communicating poetically, wouldn’t you like to make a bit more sense? Wouldn’t it be nice to satisfy any logic-obsessed readers who happen to swing by in the process? Wouldn’t you like more upvotes, less haters, and more pleasant comment-sections?”
“I mean, yeah, but–”
“No ‘buts,’ remember you said you’d accept my teachings in good faith rather than get all defensive. The question is, wouldn’t you like to make more sense and have your sentences be on firmer ground, if possible?”
“OK, yes, I would.”
“And if we ignore all ‘Quibbler’s bad vibes, did he point out some ways you could do that, if you wanted to?”
“Yes, he did.”
“So although he’s a textbook pedantic, there’s still value in his feedback. He did try to elevate your reasoning, even if it was for a selfish dopamine rush. And if you studied his objections and addressed them with a better-written sentence, would it reduce these types of situations in the future?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Well there you have it, a skillful form of listening. One where you don’t blame, snap, or defend, and instead use your sharp mind and creativity to find value and use it to improve yourself.”
“Well, I’m still telling my model-friends not to go near him.”
“Eh, it sounds like you’d do it out of revenge. But even if that’s not the case, this whole thing is a communication block for you. It’ll stop you from writing on bigger platforms and growing your audience.”
“Your need for validation, attention, and praise.”
“Honey, I love you dearly, but like most youngsters, you’re quite driven by external validation, and it prevents you from communicating as well as you could. You love the commenters who upvote you, you hate the commenters who downvote you. You can’t just take the good with the bad. You’re unable to learn from both types of feedback. What you’ve really been looking for since we began is a way to write some words, click publish, and instantly earn clout and crypto, you just haven’t come out and said that directly, because like I said at the start, you’ve been trained not to be honest in your communication. You’ve been trained to lie to yourself.”
“If I’ve been trained that way it’s thanks to you, Mom, and the abusive a$hole we call my ‘bio-Dad.’”
After all the value I’ve given Emma, is she actually suggesting I’ve taught her poor communication on the same level as her convict ‘real’ dad? Unbelievable. I felt my bloodpressure rise. “Ohhhhhh… and here I am speaking the truth again, and what do I get in response? I get hit with the full force of your ‘blame cannons.'” My chin tilted downwards and my eyes narrowed. “Alright, little miss. You’re clearly trying to say that Mom and I raised you poorly. That we trained you to hide from your true motivations.”
Emma stamped her foot but I was a mack truck, barreling down the road.
“For some reason I can be completely honest about why I was nearly divorced and my past as a d*ckhead, but I left out my terrible parenting. You have caught-ed me. Me, your Mom, and you bio-dad are responsible for you validation-seeking. Whatever you say.”
“ARGH! You’re impossible!”
Emma peeled out of the house and slammed the door.
For someone who’s so high-and-mighty about his communication skills, it’s possible I mis-timed that particular lesson. Would she come back? Would she ever listen to my advice again? Would she hate me forever?
My wife Maria said Emma would get over it, but I wasn’t so sure. Em called her mother, from Mia’s house and said she was staying there. I pointed out that Em had never stormed out mid-conversation like that. Maria replied she probably learned it from me. Oh well. Communication by example, I guess.
I didn’t see Em for three days, when she quietly knocked on the door to my den. I closed my League Of Legends game and swiveled my chair to face her.
“Em, look, I never meant to upset you–”
“Dad, let me talk first please, ok?” I nodded. “When I got to Mia’s I was furious with you. I was totally gonna run away. I was complaining nonstop to Mia. I told her how you were a selfish, arrogant prick who thought he could tell me what I do and why I do it. I told her how you spent two days getting philosophical about writing and didn’t teach me what you promised. I told her you just love hearing the sound of your own voice.”
“Uhhh, and why am I letting you say all this?”
“Wait, please, I’m getting to it. I was ranting and raving until Mia interrupted me. She said ‘Em, didn’t your Dad help you when your photos got banned? And wasn’t he the one who helped you join Hive in the first place? And wasn’t he right about Dylan treating you badly? And didn’t he step up and care for you when your bio-Dad went to prison? So why are you so jazzed up about this one thing he said?’ And it got me thinking.”
“Thinking of murdering me in my sleep?”
“No! That’s terrible, shush. It got me thinking why was I reacting so badly. I reacted worse to what you said than I did to @rationalquibbler. That’s a messed up way to treat someone who’s been so good to me for so many years. And you didn’t have to sit down and explain all this communication stuff. And you were just trying to help. And you thought I was mature enough to hear the truth, so you told it to me.”
“Oh my god, thank you so much for saying that.”
“And I realized I was reacting that way because you were pretty close to the truth. I do want external validation, in fact, I was attached to it. I wasn’t writing ‘for my audience’, I was writing to see the little number go up. And I’d been lying to myself for so long about it, that having it lit up by you, was like shining a spotlight on the boogie-man. I’m sorry, and thank you for having the guts to tell me what no one else would.”
We embraced, and it felt like the entire universe was hugging me.
“Wow, Em, this is some impressive self-awareness, but I’m still sorry for how I handled it. I talked so long about how to gently communicate in ways that resonate, and then I didn’t do it with you.”
“Maybe, but I don’t think the world’s best expressor could’ve pointed this out to me without getting a harsh reaction.”
“Well, that brings us to another ‘big gun’ of communication that people neglect, and it’s one I should’ve used more with you.”
Emma squealed with glee. “Oh em gee! Are we continuing the lessons? What’s the big gun?”
“Yes, but don’t just add a question mark at the end of a sentence, put some thought into them. Most people overuse the ‘how’ question. They also underuse ‘why?’ For example, instead of just pointing out your boogie-man, I could’ve said ‘Emma, a lot of the celebrities you look up to say in interviews they never did it for the money or the fame. And they seem very sincere. Why do you think you’re so focused on upvotes?’”
“That’s actually a really good question. And it would’ve got me thinking without biting your head off too.”
“Why is probably my favorite question.”
“You’re a laugh-riot, Dad. But seriously, explain please.”
“Sure. Questions like ‘how’ are functional, but a question like ‘why’ is inspirational. Like there’s a world of difference between the two.”
“I can see that. ‘Why do random acts of kindness matter’ is a lot more inspiring than ‘How do I do a random act of kindness.’”
“Spot on. Also, asking ‘why’ clears up confusion.”
“Hmm. I get that too. ‘@rationalquibbler could’ve just asked me why I wrote what I did, instead of snapping to judgment, and we could’ve avoided all the messy drama.’”
“Well said. Thirdly, asking ‘why’ adds purpose to your pursuits, and positions you to win more.”
“I believe it. In life, good communicators ask ‘what’ people’s needs are, or ‘who’ is involved. But the best communicators I’ve seen start with ‘why’ instead, provoking people to think differently.”
“Sounds like you already know all about ‘why,’ Em. Great job. I’ll add that ‘why’ challenges people to constructively question their assumptions.
“Just like you’ve done to me over the past while. Wow. Maybe I can use questions to diffuse the ‘Quibbler!”
“Hah, it could work. But I’d advise disengaging from him, ‘cause he’ll keep going until he has the last word. He’ll suck you into a chain of debate that probably isn’t worth your time, and certainly won’t add to the earth’s overall joy-levels. But if you really want to be a top-tier communicator, let your last message to him be gratitude. Thank him for taking the time to comment, for asking ‘rational’ questions, and for ‘making you think deeper’ about your writing. He’ll be shocked, because he’s so used to everyone fighting his pedantic antics and semantics.” I burst into laughter at my own joke.
Emma rolled her head back and her eyes way up, then sighed. “You were saving that one up weren’t you.”
“You know it!” I laughed again. What can I say, wordplay is so enter-tay-ning to me. Maybe it’s a ‘communicator’ thing? “Anyway, we should probably go over ‘questions’ and ‘gratitude,’ because both of them will elevate your writing and get you results.”
“If you think questions and gratitude would’ve gotten me more upvotes then — actually, scratch that, I don’t care about upvotes, I care about my audience. And if you think questions and gratitude will add value to my audience, I’m in.”
“Heh, good catch. Here we go. Questions create engagement. They engage your reader’s (or listener’s) minds. They get them doing the mental work that a receiver is supposed to be doing, instead of autopiloting through your well-crafted words. They plant seeds that blossom. They penetrate to people’s core, where blunt statements will often bounce off, or cause people to armor-up, mentally.”
“A quick example?”
“Well, your bold post the other day might have been better if you ended it with a question, something like ‘What role does God play in your choices in life?’ Don’t you think that would’ve sparked more engagement and made people feel more included in the conversation?”
“Hey, I got plenty of comments, people were not shy.”
“Perhaps, but you don’t know how many people read it and bounced without commenting. Did you miss commenters, simply because there was no question inviting them to do so? Questions are like a giant red carpet. They send the message that you care about the reader, and that you’d love for them to walk down the red carpet and join the conversation.”
“Shoot, good point. I’m pretty sure a question would’ve helped.”
“Yep, next time try it and see. Next up, gratitude.
Humanity loves gratitude, gratitude gets attention.
Think it through: Which post gets more eyeballs on it, the post where you write your opinion and thank nobody? Or the one where you post your opinion, then add some art and tag the artist? Plus you dedicate the post to a few people who inspired it, and tag them too. On top of that, mid-post you quote some brilliant lines from others, and tag them as well. All told you have 10-12 honest, sincere, thankful tags. You’re showing love to those people. Giving them public credit. Which version of the post is going to perform better?”
“The second one. K, I get it. Questions and gratitude in my posts if possible, find the value in negative feedback, and write mainly for the audience not for external validation. I think I’m ready to write my next post.”
“Awesome, Em, I’m excited for you. Do you know what the topic is going to be?”
‘Crypto Is A Bubble, And It’s Already Popping’
Do you remember Pets.com? Webvan.com? Go.com? Do you remember the dot-comedy of errors that was the early world wide web? Everyone and their dog was starting a web-company, and thousands, maybe millions of them went belly-up, taking their investors with them. The same thing is happening with crypto. Pretty soon kids, autists, and seniors will all have their own sh*tcoins, destined to fail–’
My jaw dropped open and I instantly stopped reading Emma’s post.
I couldn’t believe she had written this, let alone published it.
“Oh my god, Em. What did I tell you about throwing around labels and putting people in boxes? I can’t believe you posted this without letting me proofread it. You’re not just going to get destroyed in the comments, you’re going to get canceled.”
“Um, yeah. I was mostly focused on the newer lessons about questions and stuff, I may have forgotten. Or been overconfident. Or both. On the bright side, it kind of went viral. Only problem is, a lot of people hate me. I thought it might just bother unwise crypto investors, but a twitter user named @SJWoker screenshotted it and linked it in her giant rant. I cried at first but remembered what you said about taking feedback, so that’s something, right?”
“I’m speechless. What were you thinking?”
“Nothing bad! I just wanted to make the point that altcoins are popping up everywhere just like dot-coms used to, so much so that ‘everybody and their dog’ will have one… but I already used that line, so I don’t know, I just listed some groups of people that seemed unlikely to start their own coins. It made sense when I wrote it. Looking at it now, I can see how it just opens the door for people to get mad at me.
She called it ‘able-ist language, whatever that means.”
“It’s basically prejudice against the differently-abled, usually with the attitude that ‘typical’ abilities are ‘better.’ So if you suggest that someone on the spectrum is unlikely to start their own cryptocurrency whereas a ‘normal’ person is more likely to do so, it could be seen as ableism.”
“Even after all your tips, it feels like my communication’s worse than ever.”
“Hey, hey, don’t be so hard on yourself. At least you’re practicing and taking risks. This is how you get better and learn to surf the wave of publishing for the public. Most people are too timid to do any of this stuff. And if you look at your post objectively, it’s much better. You replaced your ‘unprovable’ hot-button topic of ‘God’ with a more specific, niche topic of crypto. You opened with engaging questions that resonate with your audience. You used all the techniques I taught you and even added in some we haven’t talked about.”
“Yep, you have hints of storytelling in there! And storytelling is insanely powerful. It can move mountains. It can turn stuff people would normally never pay attention to, into a riveting read. It can slip ideas past defenses and mental armor. Plus stories are vastly more shareable than most other content.”
“Oh, well, yeah. That? Totally intentional. For sure. I definitely-totally-consciously aimed to add storytelling. Yep. That’s me. In no way was that an accident.” Emma babbled with over-the-top cheerfulness.
“And look, your sarcasm is still on point too.”
Emma grinned. “Maybe we’ll talk about storytelling more, but I really don’t understand what was wrong with my sentence.”
“Well, the main issue here is ‘implications.’ Your lines may seem fine. They may make sense to you. But if you don’t think through their ‘implications’, it may get taken the wrong way. For example, if I say ‘Emma is actually writing better than a 6-year old now!’ are you offended?”
“Uh, yes!? What the hell. Are you implying that I used to write worse than one?”
“See? Implications. Technically my statement is correct.”
“Yeah, if you’re a jerk.”
“Relax. Technically, you are writing better than a 6-year old now. And back when you were three, you did not. Just like you, my line ‘made sense in my head’, but guess what? Because I didn’t think through the implications, or how you might take it, I ended up upsetting you, perhaps even turning you into an enemy.”
“And that’s what I did with that line?”
“Yep, it’s something many authors do. Some out of ignorance, and others intentionally to create controversy, and even… virality.”
“Hmmm. OK, thank you, I get it.”
“Do you know how to fix a bad implication?”
“Well, when you communicate something, and it gets challenged you can either ‘stand firm’ on it, and ‘double-down’ on defending it. This means you don’t change the sentence, and you stand by your reasons for expressing in the way you did.”
“Or you apologize. You don’t defend your sentence, you don’t give solid reasons for why you wrote it, you simply own your mistake and let people know that your communication isn’t perfect, that you learned a lot, and that you’ll do better in the future. You may even re-write the line with an edit, and give credit to @SJWoker for bringing the issue to light.”
“Ugh, she was so mean. Like even worse than @rationalquibbler . But I remember what you taught me. Take feedback well, be as grateful as possible, and find the value in it. And I learned about the power of implication thanks to her.”
“What am I, chopped liver?”
“OK, fine, thanks to you too. Want me to tag you in my apology too?”
“Alright, I better go fix this.”
I was on the porch sipping lemonade when Emma rejoined me. She stood there with her hands behind her back, eyes gently downcast.
“Would you like some Lemonade?”
“Yes please. I’d also like you to read my apology before I post it.”
“Nice to see you recognizing…
...The power of ‘fresh eyes’ and redrafting before your post.”
“Yeah, lesson learned there. Here’s my post, I wrote it after studying non-violent communication by Marshall Rosenberg.”
“My, my, you’re turning up. Really taking your writing seriously if you’re actually bothering to do research and not just ask dear old Dad.” I gave Emma an over-the-top grin to show I wasn’t really criticizing.
“If you really want to dig deep you can explore Plato’s philosophy on language & symbols, or Wittgenstein’s ‘Philosophical Investigations’, or ‘The Language Instinct’ by Steven Pinker if you want a more modern take. They’re not perfect, but you can learn a lot from them and begin forming your own ideas. But anyway, let me read your new piece.’
‘I Insulted People On The Spectrum, Please Don’t Be Like Me.
Have you ever mis-spoke? There are people who when they mis-speak, defend their errors. They justify. They shirk responsibility. They double-down on their faux pas. They simply refuse to admit they were wrong in any way. And I was one of them. When we speak, we often have the chance for fast corrections, but when we write something and hit publish, we may not be able to clarify a poor statement before many have started berating us for it. I love people, and in trying to express my views about crypto, I mis-spoke, and implied some not-nice things about certain groups of people. And I got raked over the coals for it by @SJWoker , and I totally deserved it. This is my apology to her, and to anyone and everyone who felt slighted by what I wrote. I hope it doesn’t make you think less of me, but I understand if that’s your take. I hope it doesn’t detract from the point I was making, but I understand if that’s the case. The world could use more kind, loving communication, and it’s my intention to contribute to that as best as I can. Sincerely, Em.’
“Wow. Really beautiful self-expression Em.”
“Do you think it will fix things?”
“Like with all communication, all you can do is do your best, experiment, and see the feedback. But yes, I do. It’d be weird if people didn’t soften up their knee-jerk, cancel-culture ways after an honest message like that. This kind of thing shows you’re gaining mastery over the energy, value, and attention in your writing. And a side bonus, you’ve learned something many communicators never learn.”
“Well now I feel special. What did I learn?”
“The power of ‘working with the negatives.’”
“Uh, this makes me never want to touch a negative ever again.”
“Now, now, you know it got you major results.”
“Fair point, but there must be a better way to do this.”
“There is. Dealing with negatives, pain, and controversy in your writing is like playing with fire. It can unlock amazing new discoveries and results, but you can also get burned. This is why a lot of ‘nice’ people simply refuse to work with them. They think they’ll somehow hurt others. What is a more compelling headline? ‘I Totally Understand Cheaters, And You Should Too’ or ‘All Healthy Relationship Models Have A Place’?”
“Many self-proclaimed ‘positive’ or ‘spiritual’ people have a bunch of words and ideas in their head that they label as ‘negative.’ They literally refuse to use them. People are scared to say things like ‘I Was Homeless For Years, But I Don’t Think Charity Is The Solution’ or they run in terror at words like ‘Genius’ or ‘Slut’, or they think if they ever cuss, they’ll lose their entire audience forever and ever. They won’t work with things they consider ‘negatives’. They refuse to write about ‘uncomfortable truths.’ And it’s a shame really, because they’re basically cutting out half of all language and the ability to resonate with people who are in dark places. They limit their audience pretty massively. Human beings have frustrations. They will seek help for those frustrations, as long as those frustrations are spoken to clearly. If a plumber refuses to talk about clogged pipes, he may have trouble getting customers. If an author refuses to talk about the elephant in the room, he may have trouble getting attention. Not to mention that it’s very hard to take a reader on a thrilling, fulfilling emotional journey if they start way up at bliss. If everything is happy, happy, joy, joy at the start of your story and it only goes up from there, it’s not a lot of room to play.”
“There’s a line in a Drake song I’ve always loved but I’m understanding it on a deeper level now.”
“What is it?”
>”She asked what have I learned since getting richer / I learned workin’ with the negatives could make for better pictures”
“Wise words. And overlooked by many. The idea is to ‘offend with purpose’ or ‘stir emotions in order to help.’ Many authors do this well, it just takes nuance and finesse. So how do you feel about some of your ‘negative’ writings now?”
“Well then I’m kind of glad they happened. They got me more comfortable with people getting triggered. They taught me to really pay attention to every sentence. They gave me practice at fixing things if my writing goes too far. Plus it got me thinking about…
...The way kids communicate, or those who’re non-verbal.
Some of them struggle to communicate or get their point across in ways that others can grasp. Do you think you could teach them all this stuff too, I bet it’d be really helpful.”
“Well, it’d be a different teaching and learning experience, but yes, I’d say so. All of them can understand energy, attention, and value, because these are very primal things. They’re instinctually and intuitively realized. Even animals know how to use their energy and attention to create value. They know how to move towards their highest potential, whether they do it effectively or not. I firmly believe anyone can improve in communication, if they apply themselves, often at a pace that surprises even themselves. Anyway, I’m more psyched about your mature, calm approach to communication. Very impressive!”
“Thanks Dad. And honestly, these last few posts have had more engagement than I’ve ever had on my writing, even if it was more hate than I’d prefer.”
“Exactly, as you improve at communication, your results improve too.”
“Makes sense. So I have a new question.”
“Are there tricks and tips I should be using in my writing that I’m not? I signed up to the copywriting subreddit, and they’re full of X Tips To Convert and stuff.”
“Well, talented copywriters are wonderful to study. And yes…
...Copywriters often have clear, practical tips that help.”
“Well, like I said before, storytelling. If you want to learn that, I’d check out Storynomics by Robert McKee. And copywriters use something they call ‘The Big Idea’, to learn about that, find an old Lecture To Philips Publishing by Eugene Schwartz. You can try structuring your writing according to the 16-Word Letter by Evaldo Albuquerque. They also use ‘juicy’, emotional language. They’ll use ‘Show Don’t Tell’, ‘Action Verbs’, ‘The Magic Square’, and more.”
“Holy! I can’t learn all that!”
“Yeah, that’s why I didn’t get into all of it. Firstly, it’s stuff you can easily google, and secondly, none of them will work if your communication beliefs aren’t properly aligned. You need the fundamentals.”
“Whew, ok. Good to know.”
“There is one thing from copywriting you’re going to want to use if you’re still interested in upvotes though.”
“It’s nothing too crazy, and it’s not exclusive to copywriting, they’re just the people who’ll talk about it the most. Have you ever watched the old campy Batman TV show from the 60s?”
“Yeah, but only ironically.”
“Well that show is a giant piece of ‘communication’ to their audience, right? And at the end, they always make sure to say ‘Tune In Next Time! Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel.’ That’s a call to action.”
“You want me to have a lame catch-phrase in my post?”
“Not at all, just write a suggestion of what action readers may want to take next. Maybe something like: ‘If you feel I shed a little light on women and god, please upvote this,’ or ‘The world needs to see more honest apologies, please share this article,’ or any other action you want to suggest. If you’ve given decent value in your communication, people will often be ready to reciprocate, but only if you provide a clear path for reciprocation.”
“Ohhh, so inviting them to do something at the end of my post is a big part of getting upvotes! Er, not that I care about those anymore.”
I chuckled. “Yes, you’ve got it.”
“Great, I’m going to write one more piece for practice. Is there anything you think I should study on my own before I do?”
“Hmmm… very good question. A good writer reads a lot and writes a lot, just like a good teacher learns a lot and teaches a lot.”
“OK Dad, you’re a ‘good teacher’, geez, fish for compliments much?”
“Hey, just noting something many neglect. A good creator creates a lot and consumes a lot. There’s two sides to all communication, and you’ll be terrible at it if you don’t have both side’s perspectives.”
“Ahem… book-recommendations please?”
“Ah, yes. I’d study anything on ‘writing voice & personality.’ I’d study ‘plot twists & suspense.’ I’d study ‘niches’ and ‘audience rapport.’ And I’d probably read ‘Writing For Emotional Impact’ by Karl Iglesias along with ‘Breaking Through The Noise’ by Tim Staples or even ‘Hey Whipple, Squeeze This’ by Luke Sullivan. But honestly, once you have good fundamentals of energy, attention, and value covered, you’ve got enough to go on. Writing is a journey and it’s not about learning everything from me all at once. It’s not about reading every book under the sun.”
“Oh I know, I get it. I’ll just pick one of them and explore a bit, but I wanted to email a list to myself just so I’d be ‘stocked up’ on materials that may help down the road.”
“Smart girl. Good luck with your new piece!”
Emma found me in my den once more, this time fortunately, I wasn’t in the middle of a game. I was just reading and sipping some home-made chai Maria had made.
“So Dad, I thought about everything you said, and put together this post about my fight with Cassie a couple weeks ago. Mind proofing it?”
“Sure, but you really should get proofreaders from your target audience, not ‘Professor Dad’ over here.”
“Oh I will, I just wanted your input first.”
“Alright, let’s do this.”
‘Why My Sister Went Nuclear Over A Blouse
Who turns violent because they can’t borrow a top? No one, right? Wrong, my sister Cassie does. Now, I’m not going to paint her in a bad light here, because this whole situation was entirely my fault. I know better than to push her buttons like I did. You see, conversation is like ‘word-tennis.’ Or more like two tennis partners practicing to keep a rally going. The object isn’t to smash and dominate an opponent, the object is to lob enjoyable shots across the net, well within reach of your practice partner. That way each person can contribute positively to the ‘conversational momentum.’ But I didn’t do that. I was mean to Cassie. I was short, sharp, and cruel. The energy behind my words was spiteful and petty, not gentle or loving. I was in a bad mood after dealing with my ex earlier in the day… and I took it out on her.
At first it started with me interrupting her way too much, and in the wrong way. Interrupting to prevent someone from going down a dark path that benefits no one is great. Interrupting so that a person can’t express their honest feelings in a safe space, isn’t. Plus I was just mean.
If we were on a tennis court, every shot I made would’ve been out of bounds. And you know what Cassie did? She did what anyone would do. At first she tried to play fair. She wanted my clothing, so she didn’t immediately become sarcastic with me, instead she was kind with her words. But her body language was giving me clear signs that she wasn’t finding value in what I was saying. I noticed it, it’s pretty obvious when someone turns their body towards the door. It’s easy to see when her shoulders rise up to her neck.
But I ignored the signs and just kept hammering her with verbal abuse. I criticized her looks, her approach, our history together, and more. I threw everything in her face. And what do you think happened to our conversation? The word-rally broke down. After trying to stay calm in the face of my harsh expression, Cassie snapped. She went nuclear. She let me have it, but good, and even started throwing things at me. (Sidenote: heels in the wrong hands are literally deadly weapons.) Eventually she stormed off and I was left alone in my room. I still had my top, but I’d lost my sister. And as I sat there in the deafening silence, I realized something.
Good communication requires a good heart. Words are expressions of ideas and emotions. They start in our minds. So if we see our words having a poor effect, there’s a high chance that one or both communicators involved have personal issues deep inside. Ones that are being reflected in their conversation. I’d been getting cocky with all the things I’d been learning about communication, and I didn’t realize I’d been judging my sister and myself for a long time. I didn’t realize I had issues with abundance and sharing. I didn’t realize I was actually jealous of my sister’s body-shape. And all these issues bled out into my communication with her.
I always considered myself at an ‘8 out of 10’ at emotional maturity. I considered myself an ‘8 out of 10’ at communication. But like Dad said, many of us are trained since birth to lie to ourselves and to lie in our communications in order to look good and get what we want. I considered myself ‘better’ than Cassie, and that ‘superiority’ turned ugly, fast. Good communication requires good self-assessment, not painting a happy face on all my less-than-positive qualities.
This realization was a real gut-punch.
Ultimately, I realized that the more my heart and mind are free of issues, the more effective my communication becomes. My lessons recently hadn’t talked much about the connection between a pure heart and pure writing, but my fight with Cassie was an aha moment for me.
I’d rather communication be tennis-practice over a battle.
Or maybe I’d like it to be a beautiful dance between two caring souls. And I had the chance to make sure that happened with Cass, but I let my crunchy mood and my sh*tty beliefs take me down a bad road. And now I have to fix it.
I’ve tried apologizing. Taking my words back. Showering her with praise and gifts. Nothing works, probably because she can tell I’m trying to ‘get’ forgiveness from her, just like I started this whole thing out trying to ‘get’ upvotes. My communication is still selfish. (Sigh.)
As it stands, Cassie’s still not talking to me, and after the way I communicated, that’s totally understandable.
So let me know what you guys think. What would you do in my situation? Have you ever done something similar? How’s your communication these days? I’d love to hear it in the comments. And even if you don’t feel like writing, if sharing my honest tale here was of any value, please consider upvoting, it means a lot to me.
“Stunning writing, Emma. Truly.
It’s got personality, authenticity, emotion, impact, suspense, engaging questions, a persuasive ‘big idea’, positive value, hints of controversy, self-awareness, an eye-opening perspective, and tons of soul.”
“You really like it?”
“I really do. I’m so impressed, my darling.”
“Thanks, I poured a lot into it. I believe it’s my best piece to date, I believe it’s gonna help me, Cassie, and everyone on Hive. I’m proud of it, but I’m not chasing upvotes. They’ll come if they’re meant to, and if not, I’ll just go back to the drawing board and improve my communication. I feel really good about this piece, no matter what external reactions I get.
“Brilliant. You’ve somehow learned the biggest lesson about getting upvotes ever, and without me explaining it at all.”
“Yay! Go me! Was it the ‘communication should be a dance’ part?”
“Actually no, although that is a fantastic point.”
“Then what did I do? What was the biggest lesson ever?”
“To put heart and soul into what you write. To approach it with a blend of pride and humility. To bring positive emotion and belief to your writing. Belief is key. And I don’t mean a little bit of belief, once in a while, while you worry and doubt and live in upvote-anxiety the rest of the time. I mean true, consistent, solid belief.
You’ve got to believe in what you write. You’ve got to believe it’s valuable. That it’s compelling. That it’s persuasive. That it resonates with its target audience. That it’s share-worthy and engaging. You have to believe it in your bones. And that kind of belief doesn’t come by magic. You get it through practice. Practice, practice, practice.
Michael Jordan didn’t just randomly believe he was great at basketball, he practiced over and over, and as he practiced he came to believe that he could sink baskets. That he could outperform others. Lady Gaga didn’t just randomly believe her songs would click with people. She practiced and failed, and practiced and got closer, until eventually she began to believe ‘I’ve got this, this song is the one, they’re gonna love it.’ And if it didn’t succeed like she thought, she’d do it all again. Her practice improved her confidence, until she believed it in her bones. Until she believed her content was going to succeed, and no external validation or criticism would change that belief. This is the secret ingredient of truly great communicators. Self-belief. Belief in their content. Belief in their audience. Belief in humanity. This is the secret no writing book teaches you, and it’s the culmination of all the other things I’ve explained over the last few days.
You can’t be ‘playing it safe’ or ‘playing small’ with what you share. You’re on earth to express your truth, the best way you know how. You’re here to speak out on topics that matter. And you’re meant to practice doing so in the most loving, effective ways you know.
Ultimately, as long as you’re satisfied and confident with your self-expression, that’s what matters. Tell the truth with purpose, tell it with love, tell it as clearly and accurately as you can. Have pure beliefs, a pure heart, pure energy, and pure intentions when you write. Practice so that you become masterful at these things. Learn to recognize how people are using language around you, and how you use it yourself. Learn to communicate in ways that foster clarity & prosperity in others, not ways that diminish and limit them. Learn to persuade responsibly. Learn to create compelling environments for communication that resonate with your audience… then, once that’s all done… soak up the amazing results you’ll get.
Commit to mastering communication and watch your life (& upvotes) soar.”
Thank you all so much for reading!
I believe the more people who read this, the better content and conversations our world will have. I believe that not just writing, but many relationships could also improve if people understood this stuff. And I believe you have the power to make sure content like this reaches people… instead of getting buried in the depths of the internet. So if you’re tired of boring writing, awkward conversations, and way too many misunderstandings, take action and help more people find this content. Please share it with your networks on various socials.
I appreciate anyone who uses their power and makes a few clicks to help this reach the people who need it most.
And just in case, I’m going to tag some great writers and communicators… not because I think they need to read this, but because I believe they care about improving content and writing across the board, and because they have the power to share: @nonameslefttouse , @traciyork , @drbenzz , @ashleykalila , @riverflows , @minismallholding , @streetwize , @barge , @stormcharmer , @keco , @dandays , @meesterboom , @pitboy , @nevies , @regenerette , @starstrings01 , @josie2214 , @thoughts-in-time , @mattclarke , @crosheille , @geekgirl , @acidyo , @intothewild , and @cynshineonline , whew! Thank you all in advance. You rock.
P.S. Special thanks to DreamsTime.com, Envato.com, and FlatIcon.com for my favorite stock image sites for doodle-art.