So on Saturday, while I checked back periodically on the #care4Japan stream, I engaged in spring cleaning activities. As you might imagine, after I was done, I was more than happy to sit in a stupor in front of the television for awhile! My Cleveland Indians are little more than putrid stinkyheads, so I decided to do some channel surfing. I came upon an episode of Project Runway, and since I know SO many people who rave about that darned show, I thought I would give it a try.
It actually taught me something interesting, believe it or not, proving that you can really get inspiration from anything 🙂
The episode was “Design a costume for a drag queen,” and RuPaul was the guest judge. One of the designers created a gown that was actually kind of pretty, in my opinion, but for the judges and for that given challenge, it didn’t do the trick. It wasn’t ostentatious enough. It looked too normal. “It looks like a regular dress,” they said. The designer got kicked off, but he was clearly perplexed. For him, the gown had been a pretty loud departure from his norm.
There are three important lessons you can learn about online engagement from this silly television incident.
1. Nobody cares how it reads to you
Like I said, the designer really felt like he had gone pretty far out of his comfort zone. The dress he made was a pretty loud orange and yellow “tango” dress. Instead of saying, “Oh, ok, you actually win, then,” the judges actually further judged the contestant down because he refused to listen to them.
What does this mean to you? Even if you have the best intentions…even if you think you are going way out on a limb…even if you think your point is as crystal clear as a mountain stream…if someone else reads your content in a different way, that is how they will interpret it. This can be intimidating in the blog world because you want people to kind of get what you’re saying. It can really be intimidating on Twitter, where you need to express complex thoughts in 140 characters. It might be hard, but that’s just the way it is. Your content is being read by people outside your brain (hopefully). How THEY read your work is what matters in the online world.
Read your work out loud as if you had never seen it before. Have a family member or a friend read a post now and then. Do they see where you’re coming from, both linguistically and in terms of tone? Make sure you step outside yourself and imagine how your work will impact (or not impact) others).
2. Consider where you are
One mistake that the designer made, according to the judges, is that he didn’t fully consider the context for what he was doing. His gown looked kind of classy and like formal wear. “This is for a drag queen show, man!” The judges said. “Where are the sequins and the jewels?” Because this particular designer didn’t really understand the culture that he was getting involved in, these criticisms didn’t make sense to him, and you could tell that was the case.
In the online world, the trick is that you can think you have a 100% great handle on your environment, yet you can be 100% wrong. I made a jokey comment to someone who was actually being kind of sarcastic and abrasive, so I figured they’d find my comment funny. I found out later they badmouthed me for the next two days because they thought I had been serious. I had misinterpreted my environment and had miscalculated by a long shot, apparently. You have to be endlessly careful in making sure you are measuring the context in which your tweet, blog, or update will appear. And then…recalculate again.
Always remember, always, that anything you say online can be shared, even if your account is locked down. Always remember that people don’t hear your voice intonations when they read. They hear theirs. And remember that they don’t know that you are referring to that dirtbag from your 7th birthday, not, say…them.
3. Arguing makes it worse
It seems counter-intuitive, but defending your work can sometimes make the situation more explosive. Maybe that designer would have gotten a second chance if he hadn’t gone the route of getting a bit snippy with the judges and saying, “Well, this is way out there for me.” Maybe not, but it certainly didn’t help his cause.
There is a chronic disease among those in the online world. It’s called, “Iwanttoberight-itis.” It’s chronic because it never goes away. We always want to be read the way we intend. We always want to be viewed as the expert, as the resource. And when someone comes in and says, “You’re wrong,” or “I read this a different way,” or something like that, well, it can be enough to break our little hearts, right?
It’s time to cure yourself of that illness.
If someone reads something you did not intend, whether good or bad, that is your new reality. And it’s your reality only in terms of engaging with that one person. Even though there are millions of people in the online world, you deal with them one single person at a time most of the time. If you argue every time someone questions something you say, people will either avoid you or fight with you, and that can only make you look bad.
When you receive criticism that is well-stated online, push your slashed ego off to the side and see if you can see what the person is telling you. See if there is merit there. Most of the time, you can learn an awful lot by pausing to listen.
Do these three lessons make sense to you? Have you had to deal with any of these scenarios before? I’d love to hear about it!
this is post #24 in The Engagement Series. Do you have post ideas for me? Let me have ’em!