04 August 2014

Monday Musings: Four important words to remember when communicating your ideas


I’ll admit it right up front, I had a very different Monday Musing planned for today. Perhaps if I weren’t such a procrastinator and had written and prepped it yesterday, the planned topic would appear. But something happened that’s bugging me and unfortunately it’s not an isolated incident.

In this digital world where we can communicate with one another so easily and quickly, not just by email, but social media, texts, private messages, sometimes it’s easy to just type something and not realize the words can hurt.

But they can.

Having made my living for years in public communication, I’m well aware - and have been the recipient of - some of these emails. Usually the sender doesn’t intend the message to be hurtful but that’s what is conveyed. Unfortunately, the intent doesn’t magically enter the recipient’s consciousness. Just the words. And the words can hurt.

Friendships can be lost. Working relationships charred. Author and fan relationships harmed.

As I have a fairly quick temper, courtesy of my fiery Hungarian heritage on my mother’s side, I try to stick with a rule not to reply immediately if something irks me, but to give it time. How much time? At the least 15 minutes (cool off, deep breaths, calm thoughts), more realistically I’ll delay answering for a few hours, optimally 24-hours.

In my former life, I worked with one professor who, if only known through his email communications, was thought to be an irascible, misogynist, cruel terror. I was petrified when I was appointed to the position of administrative director for an Institute that he co-directed. However when I met him in person, he was the most charming, kind, grandfatherly person I’d ever met. He and his wife became close friends and I’d have dinner with them frequently. Shared gardening tips. Invited to family occasions.

I found it hard to reconcile the person who wrote these cruel emails (that were known throughout academia for reducing tenured professors - of either sex - to tears) and the man that I knew personally who would be loath to do this to anyone. But he did. And did it consistently.

I was copied on many of the emailed communications and then had the job of smoothing the waters over, keeping the relationships we were trying to build, being the calm reasonable one. Over and over I’d try to mitigate the reactions his emailed sentences would inflame. At the end of the week, I usually closed my office door and window and screamed or cranked the music and danced or just put my head down and cried. But in retrospect seeing what happened with the click of a finger that sent these emails, I became overly sensitive to how my own words would be perceived by others.

I don’t enjoy conflict. At all. I try to avoid it at all costs, but there are times when you just have to stand up and stand your ground.

Recently I’ve seen authors get thrown from their writing track due to a scolding and ungracious communication from a so-called fan who wasn’t receiving the swag she desired.

Now, this happened to an author that I adore. She’s had a hard year, but she has an incredibly positive attitude, an openness in communication with her fans, and a generosity of spirit that’s unparalleled. Plus she writes one of the best sexy paranormal series around.

To see her thrown, even for an hour or two, by a communication like this was truly disturbing. It’s because she’s so open and kind that she was truly hurt and concerned that she wasn’t being responsive enough for fans when she read the message. In her post about this, around 100 of her friends/fans reassured her that the only gift they want from her is for her to write. Yes, a writer’s real gift to us, the readers, are the books and stories told. Not the bookmarks, prizes, gift certificates.

I’ll blame social media for this. I really will. Every day I receive notices on Facebook from authors who are offering special benefits to their fans. And I love them. I really do. but if an author for any reason doesn’t do this should they be excoriated? No, I don’t think so. It’s not their obligation to make swag available for their fans, but an extra benefit of their inherent generosity. With the constant trend of all the freebies and prizes, perhaps a complacency and expectation is creeping in to fandom. I hope not. Each prize and communication from that author is a gift - an unexpected and unearned gift - to us.

Now I’m sure my author friend will be offering swag in the future, once her life becomes more calm and centered. But if she doesn’t? That’s absolutely fine with me and I think it should be fine with all her readers.

Authors, please don’t apologize for keeping your focus on writing. Please. Don’t.

I love the fact that we all can friend and follow these wonderful storytellers - in Facebook, Twitter, Goodbooks, Booklikes, and so many other sites as they pop up.

I’ll be honest, in the nine months I’ve been blogging, I’ve developed some real friendships that I treasure. But I don’t take any of my virtual friends for granted or see them as a way to benefit myself. I just see them as friends. Some I interact with. Some I just follow for news. Or for fun photos. Or man candy photos. Or for all of the above!

So once again, I’m begging that we all take a few moments before one-clicking our messages. To review them carefully. To make sure that if we were the recipient, the words wouldn't cause hurt or harm. You know. “Do unto others…”

Let your words, even those that may need to be critical, be imbued with four things and the world may be happier.

Compassion. Caring. Kindness. Generosity.