The Value of Words
Numbers are concrete.
Unless they’re being manipulated by a slug, I don’t look at “2” and wonder if it is really “4.”
I know that the absolute value of 2—whether it has a negative sign in front of it or not—is still 2, because numbers are ultimately about distance. Both 2 and -2 take up two spaces on the number line, whether I’m moving forward or backward.
Imagine words being absolute numbers.
The “2” version of your words convey the exact same meaning, whether presented in the positive or negative. One absolute value, void of interpretations.
Below is an example from a recent e-mail, where the words and message exist on different planes.
What was written:
My client likes you book. He’s a big deal in the film industry and I want to give him a signed copy. Can you sign and overnight it to this address xxx xxx xxx?
What was likely meant:
I’m trying to kiss my client’s ass and I need your help.
How it could be translated:
I’m trying to kiss my client’s ass and I want you to bend over backwards to help, even though I’ve never met you, have had no contact with you, and will not offer to pay to send you the book or pay for shipping because you are an author and must have copies that your publisher sends you for free just sitting around your house, and because you’re a recognized author, you must have a ton of extra money and time to deal with my self-serving request.
With words, there’s a lot of wiggle room. They are not absolute. Baggage makes them so.
Every time a new message arrives, the lens through which we view it switches out, like an optometrist’s test kit.
If we’re on the writing end, we have to know that the intended interpretation could be missed.
What to do?
Let’s rework the e-mail above.
What should have been written:
I have a client who admires your work.
I’ve enjoyed working with him and want to do something special to thank him.
I know this is a lot to ask, but would you consider signing a book to him?
If yes, I’d make it as easy as possible for you. I’ll buy a copy of the book and send it to you with a FedEx return label, so all you have to do is call for a pick-up.
Thanks for considering the above,
What you would have meant:
I have a client I like—and I want to send him a thank you present that I know would make him happy. I know you don’t know me, but I’ll make it as easy as possible if you are able to help.
How it would have been translated:
I’m a nice guy. I have a nice client. I want to do something nice for that nice client. I need your help. If you help, I promise I’ll make it as easy as possible for you.
Get your words as close to their meaning.
Say what you mean and drop everything in between.
PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION:
In the last few months, Steve has received a few e-mails from individuals asking him to review their books, which include links to where Steve can pre-order the books on Amazon.
No offer to send a free book.
No offer to pay for shipping.
Just a request that he spend his time and money on a complete stranger.
If you use extra words to say what you mean, make sure they are dripping in Kindness and Consideration.
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