To the marginalized and silent 99%: You have something of value to contribute.

I recently snatched up a $1 offer for access to a huge amount of content within an online writers group for 30 days and I’ve been DEVOURING it. The first day, I listened to a podcast interview with Albert Y. Hsu (pronounced “shee”), a senior editor with InterVarsity Press. Based on the description of the interview, I wasn’t sure if the content would be for me, but one teaser stood out:

“What publishers look for in an author’s platform (and it’s different than you think!).”

What PUBLISHERS look for wasn’t what drew me in, it was the WHY. I was hoping that the WHY would give me insight on how to identify and reach people who are interested in learning and practicing the communication methods I teach. And while I’m not currently writing a book that I want to pitch to a publisher, I do recognize some parallels between being an author and being a teacher: we both want to reach, inspire and help people.

Below are some quotes from the interview that I was still thinking about the next day – so much so that I re-watched the video in order to capture them and continue working through the answers:

“Part of what we do as authors, is that we meet people where they’re at and then we take them somewhere else. Take them further. There has to be a point of identification, but there also has to be a point of dislocation. So we are both contextualizing; saying our words in a way that people can receive, but then we are also being counter-cultural and giving them something that doesn’t just reinforce what they already know. It has to take them another step.”

This is huge for me in consulting and coaching. I ask a LOT of questions and – based on the answers – I ask more questions. Sometimes clients get impatient and want to skip this part of the process, but I have to start with where they ARE – and what led them to where they are – before I can help them explore options for their next best steps.

“Who is the audience and what are the channels to GET to that audience?…If you don’t have a channel to that audience, it’s almost like those readers don’t exist.”

How do I reach people? I’ve learned I have to meet them where they are. Forget the “if you build it they will come” mentality. That only works for ethereal baseball games and Disney.

“What do I have to offer that other people don’t. What’s missing?”

And look who just showed up. Imposter syndrome, my old friend.

In answering the question, “What would you tell first time authors?” he said, “I often ask them, ‘What’s your thing? What are you known for?'”

What’s my “thing?”

I know I’m passionate about communicating well. Effectively, respectfully and empathetically. I genuinely believe that the world would be a MUCH better place if we consistently tried to say what we mean without BEING mean. There would be less division, more respect and comradery and relationships would be stronger.

I think I’m known for that. but I’m not sure.

I’m also not sure who is interested in strengthening their communication skills or how to reach them.

After listening to this podcast, I had a tiny little epiphany. Am I having trouble finding these like-minded people because they are so quiet?

I have to remind myself again and again of the 1% rule:

“The 1% rule states that the number of people who create content on the Internet represents approximately 1% (give or take) of the people actually viewing that content. For example, for every person who posts on a forum, generally about 99 other people are viewing that forum but not posting.

And the internet population is only 40% of the world population.

But the 1% is so freakin pervasive.

On a daily basis, in every nook and cranny of the internet, I’m inundated with language that dehumanizes, mocks, dismisses, creates division and feeds polarization.

It seems like everywhere I look, language is used as a weapon to bludgeon someone.

Do the people doing the swinging genuinely not recognize the damage they inflict? Do they just not care? Are they oblivious to how they are perceived?

For instance, a facebook friend posted about the cruise ship that wasn’t being allowed to dock during the Covid-19 quarantine, sharing her disapproval of the passengers for even getting on the boat in the first place. But she backtracked pretty quickly when another facebook friend commented to tell her that a couple they both knew were stuck on that ship.

When “those people” became people she knew, she DID care how she was perceived.

Another commenter, not so much:

“I may be a jerk but they knew the risks…. stay on the ship. 🤷🏼‍♀️”

I held myself back from adding to the snark by replying with: “Well, you got one thing right. And how could they have known?”

I held myself back. Because if I had called her out like that in front of her friends,

1. I would be a jerk.
2. She probably wouldn’t care, because when I looked up that emoji she ended with, I found this:

The person shrugging emoji can designate ignorance, indifference, self-acceptance, passive-aggression, annoyance, giving up, or not knowing what to make of something. It could also be a visual form of the one-word response of indifference, “whatever.”

So here’s my take. When this person led with “I may be a jerk” she KNEW she was being a jerk. And she posted it anyway. I don’t know this person, but this is the first impression she made

1. with me and
2. with all the other commenters on that thread, and
3. with all the friends of the original poster and
4. with all the friends of every other commenter.

Because that’s how facebook works.

But I digress.

My thing. Being passionate about communicating well.

Who needs what I have to offer?
I believe everyone could benefit from strengthening their communication skills. I’ve been studying and practicing communication methods for decades and I’m still learning and growing.

But who wants what I have to offer?
The 1%?
Maybe.

What about within the other 99%? What “channels” should I use to reach them?

Looking at local, in person and possibly off-the-grid people, I already know some first steps to figure out who is interested: networking, public speaking to special interest groups, continuing with the consulting, training and coaching I already do…but moving beyond that…

Talking through my thoughts with the hubs:

“I’m wondering if one reason I’m having such a hard time [identifying people I can help] is because they are so quiet. Are they hidden in the 99%?

If 60% of the population isn’t even active on the internet and of the remaining 40%, only 1% is posting, then we’re talking about a fraction of that 1% who don’t seem to care whether they add to the negativity in the world.

I know so many people who, in real life, seem so kind and gracious. Then they get behind a keyboard, post a passive aggressive remark and sit back to watch and stir up the $#!+storm they’ve created.

Do they not recognize what they’re doing? Do they not care?

I genuinely don’t understand the duplicity.

And I don’t think I ever will. But I think that for the first time, I do understand those are NOT my people. They aren’t interested in communicating well or how they are perceived. When they post something that tears down, they either don’t know, don’t care or don’t care that they don’t know. I don’t comment on their negative posts because it’s pretty clear I would be the odd man out. WAY out.

The comment threads are full of 1%ers. The 99%ers are quiet. We all know that if we counter-comment on a negative post, one of three things will happen:

1. We’ll get attacked and it won’t be pretty.
2. We’ll be covertly blocked from their posts in the future.
3. We’ll get unfriended.

Maybe the people in the 99% are staying quiet because they’re taking a look at what’s being posted and instinctively responding with: “Hard pass.”

So, while the 1% may be the loudest, it’s definitely not overflowing with people who want to be intentional about communicating well. Those are the people I’m looking for.

Are they all in the silent majority?”

Hubs, after listing to my rambling stream of consciousness thought process: “You need to work on this some more. You’re onto something, but you’re not there yet.”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Hubs: “A cow has four stomachs.”
Me: “So…what? I’m on stomach #2?
Hubs: “I love how you knew what I was talking about.”

So is my thing metaphors? I do love metaphors.

And so I continue to work on it.

I remembered something else Albert Hsu said in the podcast:

“We don’t write apologetics books for the non-christian. They’re not going to pick up a Christian book. We write the book for the Christian friend…to serve them to reach their friend.”

Translating that to helping people strengthen their communication skills: I can’t help people who don’t care that they use language as a weapon. I can help the people they hurt – to respond effectively, respectfully and empathetically.

I can help those who DO care about the impact of their words and those who are silent, not because they have nothing of value to contribute, but because because they feel marginalized. If I can find them, I want to equip some of the 99%ers to become effective peacemakers, to model respectful debate and to resolve conflict empathetically.

And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, some of the negative 1%ers will notice. and begin to care.

Fauci, the Surgeon General and the “lady” doctor who didn’t smile.

I saw something in a facebook comment yesterday that immediately and instinctively evoked what I’ll conservatively refer to as a negative reaction. It was about members of the coronavirus Task Force and the comment was posted during the live briefing. I tried to let it die in the cluttered recesses of my mind, but it was literally the first thing that came to me when I woke up this morning – much too early. So, in an effort to get a full night’s rest tonight, I’m hoping that writing about it will lead to sleeping in just a bit later tomorrow morning.

Here’s the sleep stealing comment:

They must be doctor shopping, Fauci, gone, surgeon general home., the lady doctor no longer smiles. She must be on her way out

Pushing past the primary school level punctuation, I wondered if I was the only one reading this thread who noticed that Fauci was referred to by name and the Surgeon General was referred to by title, but the “lady” doctor was referred to by neither and – although the briefing was packed with nearly two hours of content including her taking a turn at the microphone multiple times – this guy’s comment about her was that she wasn’t SMILING.

Because when you brief the press about a global pandemic, you need to smile.

Like all the men standing on the dais with you.

Stifling my inner Red Foreman, my mind went next to the part of this video about one minute in:

“Do it again, but just this time try it a bit more…smiley.”

“You want me to s-smile?”

“yeah. Just, you know, more…leading lady.”

“The scene gets quite tragic…”

“So?”

I thought about replying to the comment, but judging by the content of the other comments and replies I already saw and how fast they were being posted (including the bird finger emoji above the lady doctor comment), I had a strong sense that anything positive I might have to say about the “lady” doctor would be of no more interest to this person than her actual name.

Which is Deborah Birx.

And while the commenter was correct in assuming she is a doctor, he also could have referred to her by one of her other titles, like (retired Army) Colonel or Ambassador.

“Birx was nominated by President Barack Obama as United States Global AIDS Coordinator and confirmed by the Senate; she was sworn in April 4, 2014.”
Wikepedia

Before she was confirmed as an Ambassador under the Obama Administration, Birx served as the Director of CDC’s Division of Global HIV/AIDS from 2005-2014. From 1996-2005, she served as the Director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

But according to this particular pundit, she and everyone else on the Task Force “have no clue.”

Maybe the people who actually know this guy in real life wouldn’t view his comment about the “lady” doctor not smiling as misogynistic.

But I don’t know him. And this comment – on a PUBLIC facebook post, where anyone can read it – is all I know about him. He summed it up well with his last comment:

a lesson in humility. and a reminder.

Dr. Doofenshmirtz might call the first part of this post my “backstory.”

~ I’m a firstborn and an ISTP (67%) / ISTJ (33%) who’s worked with IT personnel (mostly guys) for decades. My instinctive approach is always content over context. Logic over feelings. I’d say that about 90% of the time, I have a male gender communication style; Report talk over rapport talk. I read instruction books and follow procedures – unless of course, the reasoning behind the procedures isn’t logical, which stems from my content over context approach.

~ Pragmatic is my favorite word. The definition that most resonates with me is:

“focused on needs and results, rather than with ideas or theories”

~ I’m a trainer. I’m always learning and I sincerely believe I can learn from everyone, whether I benchmark successes or analyze failures – including my own. As an educator, I have the opportunity and responsibility to share what I’ve learned. Theoretically, the people with whom I share will make more informed decisions, increase efficiency and generally be better as a result of the knowing.

~ As a consultant, I’ve become accustomed to collaborative work groups made up of people who are task oriented and focused on problem solving.

~ Since 1994, I’ve trained and consulted for and with clients ranging from corporation presidents to managing partners to firm administrators to executive support staff to entry level support staff to volunteers. I interact with all of my clients showing the same level of respect, regardless of the formal or informal hierarchical structure of an organization.

That’s my backstory in a nutshell.

So, given all that is me, I found myself in unfamiliar territory when someone recently told me that I had overstepped a boundary.

A little over a year ago, I was working an event and just before the program officially began, this particular person gave some opening instructions. A particular part of the instructions was incorrect.

My thought process was:
1. 300+ people were just given incorrect instructions about the event.
2. The event hasn’t started yet.

So, the firstborn, ISTP/J, problem-solving educator in me gave this person the correct information.
The instructions were restated accurately.
The program began.

But I had overstepped a boundary. And for over a year, I had no idea.

Now that this had been shared with me, I could have gotten swept up into a circular debate about whether the 300+ people needed or deserved to know the correct information before the event began. But I firmly believe the Holy Spirit stopped me from that pointless and selfish attempt to be “right” and redirected my attention to the more important issue, past the factual actions which took place and instead to the person who identified a boundary where I did not.

If God was telling me that the boundary had nothing to do with the accuracy or inaccuracy of information shared, what was the implication of my crossing it?

This person felt disrespected by me. It’s possible I embarrassed them.

It was a humble reminder that my education and experience don’t automatically translate to success in my personal interactions. I’ve got a degree in Organizational Communication. I’ve taught and coached communication theory and its application for decades. I had been involved with this organization for over a decade. I was experienced and familiar with its culture and hierarchy of authority. Yet it didn’t even occur to me that correcting this person might be at odds with the norm. Looking back now, through their perspective, within the context of the organizational culture, I can see it clearly.

hindsight.

Pride and HumilityI’ve been in identical and similar events, in other venues, with different groups of people – in different cultural contexts – and the kind of interaction I’ve described has never been a big deal, even in cases when the person corrected has been upper level management or an owner of a company. In my own personal experience, the person corrected – myself included – has casually tossed back a kind of “thanks for having my back” response and has continued without skipping a beat.

“In my own personal experience…”

That’s what makes communication so difficult. It’s not one-size-fits all.

Although I was familiar with both the culture of this particular organization and the expectation of this particular individual, I drifted into my communication comfort zone. I assumed the situation was similar to the others in which I navigate.

From that assumption, came the perceived disrespect.

And the humbling reminder to actually USE my communication skills.

UPDATE: Someone asked in a comment what I SHOULD have done instead. Here’s my answer:

The person who told me I had crossed a boundary actually specifically stated what they would have preferred:
(1) to be told the correct information after the event,
(2) in private,
(3) and to be told by the person who organized the event (not me) so that,
(4) in future events, they would relay the information to the attendees correctly.

I acted instinctively, not intentionally. Although it goes against all that is pragmatic in me, I could have – should have – allowed the incorrect information to go uncorrected. It would have resulted in decreased participation in the event, which would have disappointed a number of people who had expected to be able to participate and it would have made the event less memorable. Not a tragedy, just not an optimal experience for those of the 300+ who were able to actively engaged because they had been given accurate instructions.

All that said, in full disclosure, just one month after this conversation, my husband and I attended a large meeting at another venue and while the organization’s founder and president was addressing the audience, he misstated some information. Immediately, he was interrupted from the back of the room and corrected. His response was “Thank you for that correction.” And I leaned over to FirstHusband and whispered, “And THAT’S how it’s done.”