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Social blunder: don't make people feel wrong, or you disempower the receiver

Referencing this line from one of the many TPM reviews (see Yes!):

Lucio: "Don’t Make People Feel Wrong. What a huge concept to make us better influencer and higher-quality individuals: never make people feel like they made a mistake or they get defensive. Instead, tell them that their decision, based on the information they had, was good and rational."

I'm collaborating with a branding and PR expert to put out a press release on my life journey (so far) in the near future.

We wrapped up the first draft a couple of days ago and a part of my feedback was this:

The yellow part I highlighted above is the mistake I made in this situation.

The headline analyzer I use was recommended to me by a mentor of mine who's been featured in major publications (Business Insider, Wall Street Journal, Forbes) and TV (Oprah, CNN, Today, Good Morning America). And, it's the same one that I used to do my own PR for over half a year. It helped me get featured in MSN, Entrepreneur, and a load of other publications—as well as to offer some value to TPM.

So, I assumed that he was already in agreement that this headline analyzer is accurate, useful, and worth using. It seemed like an industry tool most media professionals use for good results anyway.

But, he emailed back:

Maybe it would've been better if I had said something like:

Ali: "And, I think that, typically, we want it to be a 75 or higher to be well into the green."

That would have framed my statement as an opinion, which would've helped it come across less like an "assume the close" (assuming he agreed with me).

Now, it took me over half an hour to put together the headlines you saw in my email above.

So, when he said, "...headline analysis programs are voodoo...", I initially thought he was saying that they're so good they're like magic.

But, the surrounding context didn't add up. It seemed like he was actually saying:

  • "...headline analysis programs are voodoo..." (= "headline analysis programs are unreliable, non-scientific systems")

What led me to interpret his message this way is:

  • He uses "but" to negate the previous statement that headline analysis programs are voodoo: this made it seem like he knew that what he said is negative, hence why he knew to make sure he negates it.
  • He says "we can try something else": as opposed to saying something like "we can try that too". This made it feel like he truly didn't have much faith in headline analysis programs because framing it as "something else" felt vague and dismissive.

And, the above two points made his "Lol" feel like a microaggression.

But, all of that aside, he's a good friend of mine (that's why we email back and forth like we're texting) and he's a pro at what he does.

After he delivers his results, I'll consider making a recommendation in this forum based on how it all goes.

Feel free to leave your comments, thoughts, or feedback on this exchange below.

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood

I see what you mean that if the headline analyzer is widely used, it would be relatively safe to assume that he uses the analyzer as a benchmark too.

He's a PR expert so maybe he interpreted

The headline only received a 68 score in my headline analyzer (screenshot attached below).
And, typically, we want it to be a 75 or higher to be well into the green.

to be disempowering towards his authority or area of expertise.

I do think what you proposed

Ali: "And, I think that, typically, we want it to be a 75 or higher to be well into the green."

may come across as more power-protecting.

Or if you would like him to give more freedom of input, you could not mention the benchmark first

Ali: I used this popular headline analyzer for your suggested headline and received a score of 68.
What do you think about that?

I do think his statement can come across as condescending:

Lol this headline analysis programs are voodoo

especially with the "lol" that you referenced.

Though I think what he indirectly wanted to say was

The qualitative aspect of my expertise and experience weighs up more than the quantitative measure of the headline analyzer

I agree that he should have put this across better.
He could have said

Thank you for sharing this score and benchmark with me.
At the same time, I believe the qualitative aspects of the headline could be more important.
Shall we discuss this over our call tomorrow?

If he wanted to be more strong and direct without sounding condescending, he could say something like

I don't really believe in headline analyzers.
Though let's discuss how we can improve upon the current one.
Let's discuss tomorrow?

Nothing too serious in my opinion.
I believe with the traffic light analogy, his remark is in the yellow territory.

  • He uses "but" to negate the previous statement that headline analysis programs are voodoo: this made it seem like he knew that what he said is negative, hence why he knew to make sure he negates it.
  • He says "we can try something else": as opposed to saying something like "we can try that too". This made it feel like he truly didn't have much faith in headline analysis programs because framing it as "something else" felt vague and dismissive.

In my opinion, he wanted to express his willingness to look at other possibilities that you may prefer for the headline.
I believe that may include your suggestions in the email.

His "but" was indeed to negate his previous statement of dismissing the headline analyzer.
Though I think he wanted to be less dismissive rather than more dismissive.

He wanted to communicate that

I don't really believe in headline analyzers from my personal experience.
But I am very open towards discussing how we can improve upon the current headline.

I get annoyed with "lol" as well.
It feels condescending.

However, all in all, I feel that there was nothing too serious here.


On another note, thanks for sharing about your work!
Sounds really exciting to have your story drafted out and refined.
I'm sure it contains a lot of lessons that everyone could gain from.

Lucio Buffalmano and Ali Scarlett have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAli Scarlett
Thanks for the feedback, Matthew!
Quote from Matthew Whitewood on September 21, 2021, 6:09 pm

(...)

He's a PR expert so maybe he interpreted "the headline only received a 68 score in my headline analyzer (screenshot attached below). And, typically, we want it to be a 75 or higher to be well into the green" to be disempowering towards his authority or area of expertise.

Yeah, based on his response, I think that might've been the case.

For context, he made it very clear in the beginning that it was only a very rough first draft. So, we were both exchanging ideas under the assumption that everything is open for consideration. That's why I thought he would receive that statement with open-mindedness.

And, even so, I still made sure to say "the headline" instead of "your headline" to help him save face a bit.

But, he's still a professional, so you're 100 percent right that the feedback could've been received as criticism.

Quote from Matthew Whitewood on September 21, 2021, 6:09 pm

(...)

Or if you would like him to give more freedom of input, you could not mention the benchmark first

Ali: I used this popular headline analyzer for your suggested headline and received a score of 68.
What do you think about that?

Great point, Matthew, a missed opportunity on my end to set a more collaborative frame.

And, even with the assumption I made, simply adding that "what do you think" at the end would've made my assumption come across as more power-protecting (because it invites his feedback).

Quote from Matthew Whitewood on September 21, 2021, 6:09 pm

I agree that he should have put this across better.
He could have said

Thank you for sharing this score and benchmark with me.
At the same time, I believe the qualitative aspects of the headline could be more important.
Shall we discuss this over our call tomorrow?

If he wanted to be more strong and direct without sounding condescending, he could say something like

I don't really believe in headline analyzers.
Though let's discuss how we can improve upon the current one.
Let's discuss tomorrow?

Yeah, I was thinking he could say something like:

Ali: "The headline only received a 68 score in my headline analyzer (screenshot attached below). And, typically, we want it to be a 75 or higher to be well into the green."

J: "Yeah, I have a slightly different philosophy when it comes to headline analyzers. But, we can surely take a look and settle on a headline we both agree with."

And, I agree with you that there was indeed nothing too serious in this case study.

Plus, we got off the phone a couple of minutes ago where he explained his position more and was very power-protecting all the way :).

Quote from Matthew Whitewood on September 21, 2021, 6:09 pm

(...)

On another note, thanks for sharing about your work!
Sounds really exciting to have your story drafted out and refined.
I'm sure it contains a lot of lessons that everyone could gain from.

Thanks, Matthew!

Perhaps I'll share it in my journal here so everyone can read it when it's finished :).

Lucio Buffalmano and Matthew Whitewood have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoMatthew Whitewood

Yeah, I can see how, if PR is his job, the "typically we want it" might have come across as diminishing his authority and expertise.

But also his ability to add value in general, his "worthiness" in his ability to do something useful.
In general, people are afraid of being replaced by machines.

So every time you mention a tool that spits a quick and simple score it's generally a good idea to frame it as an "added

Even when you're selling incredible machines, you want to be careful if the buyer(s) were doing the same job manually.
As crazy as it might sound, the seller is probably far better off down-selling the machine and framing it as "a tool for the expert human", rather than a replacement.

Ali Scarlett and Matthew Whitewood have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettMatthew Whitewood
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on September 21, 2021, 7:49 pm

Yeah, I can see how, if PR is his job, the "typically we want it" might have come across as diminishing his authority and expertise.

But also his ability to add value in general, his "worthiness" in his ability to do something useful.
In general, people are afraid of being replaced by machines.

So every time you mention a tool that spits a quick and simple score it's generally a good idea to frame it as an "added

Even when you're selling incredible machines, you want to be careful if the buyer(s) were doing the same job manually.
As crazy as it might sound, the seller is probably far better off down-selling the machine and framing it as "a tool for the expert human", rather than a replacement.

Great point as well, thank you, Lucio.

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