February 6th, 2008


Being Heard

In order to save you from more blithering posts, I thought I'd dig up some of my old sent mail. Sometimes I'm inspired to write to a particular list on a topic that might help more than just that one list. In our wonderful internet age, there is a lot of noise and sometimes it is difficult to filter out the signal. I wrote this a while ago regarding being heard on Order lists, so that your signal comes through. This can also be applied somewhat to writing recommendations in general, not just to discussions on Order lists.

I hope this helps.
Comments cheerfully accepted.

In response to one of my postings in the (then) recent discussions, I received a private note saying I should offer lessons on how to write to the list. While I'm certain that none of what follows is new, perhaps it does bear repeating after this weekend.

The first thing is that we must rethink how we compose messages to lists. We initially write from the point of view of what we want to say. Sadly, this often leads to plastering emotion all over the message. Instead we all need to write from the point of view of what we want others to hear. This is a subtle but distinct difference. When you are emotionally riled at the keyboard, you may wish to say "You are a bunch of poo-poo-heads for not recognizing the brilliance of..." however the insult will override the message you want to get across. If instead you compose your message thinking what the rest need to and will hear, it comes across stronger. "The brilliance of so-n-so can be seen in their reasoned response to problem X and how they manage Y..."

We are mostly all friends with someone on the watchlist. We often rally to our friends' support, but when we do so, we need to remember that everyone knows we are close and may just see us as blindly supporting our friends. Instead of saying "they are constantly in the kitchen doing dishes at every event", giving the Order circumstances helps more. "They were seen in the kitchens for our last five local events and at Coronation outside of our group, working during the prep at dishes to leave less work at the end of the night." Do not stay silent in the support of your friends, for those closest know how hard a person works. Instead present as many facts as possible, and follow-up with a qualifying statement on the quality of their work and that you recognize your bias, because you are friends, but this is your opinion and what you see.

It is rarely useful to respond bit by bit in response to another letter, despite how easy it seems. Try to work your responses into an entire cohesive note without quoting, unless the particular wording is important to respond to. It can come off looking childish in behavior, "He hit me back first!" instead of presenting a well thought out argument for or against someone/thing. We've all done it, but I think on the whole it makes our comments stronger, and easier for our Principal to add to the watchlist, if we avoid the practice of responding in-line.

Lastly we need to know when to say when. Once you have given the facts you have, have responded to any particular questions, and presented the best case you can, it is time to step back from the keyboard. There is an adage that roughly states "Do not wrestle with a pig in the mud, for it only gets you dirty and the pig enjoys it." Carefully read over each note you wish to send twice or more. Your phrasing could make you sound like a hero, or it could make you sound like a raving lunatic. Consider whether the note you wish to respond to even deserves a response. It is possible that no one else is bothering to respond for just that reason. Only when it does, should you respond and ensure that your response is as eloquent and rational as possible. And if it is something you will have to apologize for later, just save yourself the trouble and don't hit send. There are times and places when asking forgiveness rather than permission works wonders, but Order lists in particular are not those places since actions are always remembered and forgiveness rarely universally forthcoming.

These are some of the ideas that immediately come to mind. Please note that normal netiquette still applies, and yes your spell checker is your friend, as is knowing the difference between their and there, and your and you're. None of these ideas are hard and fast rules, but hopefully reminders that will help us all write better notes to the list that will get our recommendations and messages heard by the rest of the Order. It will take you much longer to compose a message, this is true, but what you say will likely have greater impact.