I regret to report that when I was in high school, I was one of those geeky people on the debating team. I didn’t have glasses or a pocket protector, but I had the falling down socks and the intense demeanour. Much as I regret those days, I can tell you that my husband regrets them even more.
Whenever we have a discussion – you might know it by the more common name, ‘argument’ – one of his key points is always: “it’s not fair to use any of those debating tactics on me.” (Would it be cheeky for me to note that this point isn’t usually very effective?)
Of course there’s a time for nice… The very idea of being disagreeable upsets many peopl
e, including my patient husband, who is a born mediator. His skills shine when it comes to separating our warring pre-adolescent children or dealing with angry adults at a boardroom table or chatting with the nice officer who’s about to give him a speeding ticket. Where I am inclined to vent or roll my eyes, he’s inclined to charm or placate. And often, he’s right. But sometimes, my debating club training comes in very handy….
There is also a time to be “disagreeable”… You see, I’m not afraid to be controversial when I’m writing. And you shouldn’t be either. Here’s why:
When people disagree, they react physically. Remember the “flight or fight response” you learned in Biology 10? Something threatens you and the adrenalin starts to flow through your body. Your heart beats faster and your palms get sweaty. Well, reading something that makes you mad is the print equivalent of a 300-pound gorilla. You see it and your blood starts pumping. But here’s the key difference – instead of running away, you read more, and you read faster. You become engaged. You’re not just a passive observer anymore, you care. And that’s exactly the kind of reader every writer wants.
Link Strong opinions will make some people dislike you. But it will also bring out the people who looooove you. As mom always said: “You can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs.” Namby-pamby writing won’t offend anyone, but it won’t excite anyone either. As a friend of mine likes to point out, some of the best-selling books on Amazon are the ones that 50 percent of people hate.
When people read strong opinions, it forces them to think – if only to defend their own point of view. Never underestimate the value of getting people to think – especially when they’re thinking about you – and your goods or services.
People who feel strongly will phone, write letters and send e-mail. And that’s the best thing of all, because suddenly, you’ve achieved interactivity. That’s the first step in building a relationship with your potential customer.
There are payoffs to being fearless! A recent copy of my university alumni magazine reminded me why it’s so important to be fearless about disagreement. They ran an article by a retired professor and ignored the rule that one should never talk about religion. The article suggested our society would be better off if we looked at the physical world – rather than heaven – for a sense of the divine. Well! As you can imagine, the editor described the volume of
mail he received as a “Biblical flood.” He added soberly: “The article proved, at least, that people read the magazine.”
I caught a whiff of regret in that statement, but I say, “Well done, alma mater! Don’t be afraid of a little controversy.”
Can we agree to disagree? Now I’m not suggesting you go out and poke sticks in other people’s eyes. But I am saying Link you don’t have to be nicey-nicey or “safe” all the time. Don’t have an allergic reaction to anything that might be the tiniest bit controversial. Otherwise, your words will be bland and boring, and you’ll lull your readers to sleep. Zzzzzzzzz.
Writing that is vibrant and lively, on the other hand, has strong statements that will cause some people to disagree.
Disagree with this article? Gee, I hope so! (And, of course, you are welcome to write me about it. Please send your thoughts via the “contact me” page on my website
Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach with an international practice. Would you like to write better, faster? Sign up for her free weekly writing tip, Power Writing, at her website, www.publicationcoach.com