The Story Economy Blog

I’m Insulted: So, Thank You

man holding giftA few months ago, I gave a talk about how to tell your story through your marketing to an audience of business mentors: people who were actively counseling start-ups. All of these experienced executives knew their stuff. But this story business? I saw the quizzical looks as I came to the podium. But I have to say, most of them came along with me for the ride, and got it in the end. It was a great opportunity, and really enjoyable.

In fact, I had a handful of great conversations after my talk—people telling me they hadn’t thought about “story” the way I articulated it, or that they appreciated the tools I’d just given them to help pull stories out of their mentees.

But, you know how there is always that ONE person who comes to talk to you, and you feel the negative energy drifting toward you? Yeah, THAT guy. Allow me to reconstruct the conversation that followed as best I can. (Technically, there were only two of us in the conversation. But it felt like there were three: him, the Judi in my head, and the actual polite Judi.)

Him:  So . . . I took a look at your web site while you were giving your presentation.

Me, in my head:  Way to give me your undivided attention.

Me, in reality:   Oh . . . ?

Him:¬† And, you know, the minute it loads, the first thing it says is: “Disconnection sucks.” I found that off-putting, you know?

Me, in my head: Everyone is entitled to their opinion, Judi. Just breathe.

Me, in reality: Okay . . .

Him:¬† Now, I kept reading, and I see that you’re talented. But that just threw me. I mean, what are people going to think when you say something like that? It doesn’t seem professional.

Me, in my head: Clearly, my site is doing its job, because the two of us would not be suited to work together—so the fact you are off-put by plain language and my point of view is exactly right. Thank you for confirming this for me.

Me, in reality:¬† Well, that’s a fair point, but it does represent what I think—that disconnection does suck . . .

Him:¬† <interrupting me> I mean, just think about the image you’re putting out there. I just wouldn’t say that on a web site. I think it could be costing you clients.

Me, in my head:¬† Only the clients I don’t want. Like you.

Me, in reality: Well, thanks for your thoughts . . .

He walked away with a smug smile, and unsubscribed from my list the next day. Which is exactly as it should be.

The Gift You Didn’t Even Ask For

Now, coming up to someone after they’ve just poured their heart into a talk to criticize them is something I would never do. Because while I do want to be a person who calls it as she sees it (saying things like “disconnection sucks” and all), I’m also very cognizant of time and place and, well, mean-spiritedness. Plus, I believe that “calling it as you see it” is often just code for hearing yourself talk and trying to feel important. And that’s of zero interest to me.

But it takes all kinds in this world. And sometimes the people who just want to hear themselves talk offer you a gift, especially if they are people you don’t resonate with. The fact that they are criticizing you—specifically, a choice you’ve made about your message or your brand or your voice—lets you know that you are on the right track. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel harsh to hear it. Or that you don’t go to a defensive place first (I only gave you the PG-rated version of the conversation in my head; the real version probably wouldn’t make it through your spam filters). But it actually is a gift—the same way that truly constructive criticism from people you do respect and resonate with is a gift.

When I first started writing copy for companies and helping them with their brand messaging, I didn’t have much of a brand myself. I didn’t have that strong of a point of view, because I was still formulating what I thought about stuff. But now I know that I have a certain kind of person and a certain kind of company that I want to work with, and they are not afraid of plain language and a strong voice. In fact, it’s what they want. They listen as much as they talk, and they are more interested in engagingpeople than talking at them. They are not afraid of an outside point of view. They find it refreshing to listen to someone who doesn’t know all of the lingo about their industry. Of course they want writing that is professional and appropriate, but they don’t confuse having a point of view that provokes a bit with being unprofessional.

I’m clear on this now. So I can see pretty well when someone doesn’t come from this place. The problem is, sometimes that person can’t see it. Hence, they think it’s their job to tell you what to say to appeal to them. They don’t get that you don’t want them as a client. I say: let it be what it is, and recognize that it isn’t even your job to explain it. Just smile and move on (or write a newsletter about it).

Your brand is your best filter. So use it. Use the constructive feedback you get from people to make your message better, and the people-who-just-want-to-hear-themselves-talk negative feedback to reaffirm that you’re on the right track. Thank the cosmos for delivering this gift to you, right to your doorstep. And then move on.


  • Tina Baker

    Posted by Tina Baker on 10/09/13 1:33pm

    Fabulous Judi! You hit the nail on the head! I think a lot of us have a fear about sharing our point of view, our story because of people such as this guy. How many more beautiful souls have a great message, but are too afraid to share? Lesson learned.....we need to think about the souls that in our audience that absolutely need to hear what our messages can bring to their lives and business! The haters? Filter out and remember, not every one connects, but the ones that do.. bless you!

    • Judi Ketteler

      Posted by Judi Ketteler on 10/13/13 5:00pm

      Yes, it can be hard to feel gratitude for the haters. But I think it's a great exercise if we can! Thanks for your comments, Tina &amp; Beth.

  • Beth Rees

    Posted by Beth Rees on 10/09/13 3:02pm

    Loved it! And I could not agree with you more Tina Baker!

  • Lisa Tener

    Posted by Lisa Tener on 10/09/13 7:14pm

    I love this story! It illustrates your point so well--and is a great reminder of how to find the gift in such situations.

    • Judi Ketteler

      Posted by Judi Ketteler on 10/13/13 4:59pm

      Thanks for your comment, Lisa!

  • Peter Bowerman

    Posted by Peter Bowerman on 10/12/13 2:25pm

    Hey Judi,

    Okay, just for the record, I LOVE your stuff. You're smart, savvy, funny and easy to read. You're one of the few blogs I read (and will continue to read), because I like how you write, and you go deep, which so few people do.

    AND, I'm afraid I don't really agree with your point of view here. Yes, we should be clear about who we are, what our writing "voice" is, and by extension, the types of people we want to work with and those we don't. So, no argument there.

    But, I’m just not sure all the conclusions you came to in the wake of the encounter with this guy are valid. I think the verbiage “Disconnection sucks” on your home page could absolutely be off-putting to some people who are otherwise cool and open and receptive to fun, engaging copy. And I think you may be doing yourself and your business a disservice by being that hardline about it.

    The word "sucks" is an edgy, pushing-the-envelope word, and because it teeters right on the edge of acceptable and unacceptable, I’m not sure it's a fair “litmus-test word” to decide whether someone is the type of person you want to work with or not.

    I get that he was kind of a d--k. And I think you did a very human thing (heaven knows, I’ve done it plenty of times, we all have): you let HOW he delivered his message shut off any acknowledgement that WHAT he was saying possibly had merit, which, I believe it did.

    Just to check myself, I ran it past a very experienced and very cool (i.e., not a tightass…) friend of mine, asking her (without revealing how I thought) what she thought, and she said something very interesting: “My first observation is that she's saying she most values (i.e., plain, direct communication) EXACTLY what this person who pissed her off, did!”

    Bottom line, it's totally logical to conclude that someone like him (i.e., a d--k) wouldn't be a good match for you as a client. But, to decide that because he was turned off by the use of "sucks" in a headline on your home page, he wouldn't be a good client, and moreover, that anyone else who'd be turned off by it wouldn't be a good client, either, seems a lot less logical.

    Just one man’s opinion! ;) Look forward to reading more of your wit and wisdom.


    • Judi Ketteler

      Posted by Judi Ketteler on 10/13/13 4:58pm

      Thanks for your point of view, Peter! As you know from our email exchange, your comments did make me take a second look at this. I appreciate you making me think. I've come to realize that I put A LOT of stock into people's tone and personality--and *sometimes* I confuse that with the message. I wouldn't have done anything different in my discussion with this guy, but it did make me think about the conclusions that I've drawn. Perhaps it requires a part 2 to the post!

      -- Judi

  • On Insults, Part 2: The Beauty of Being Trapped |

    Posted by On Insults, Part 2: The Beauty of Being Trapped | on 10/16/13 12:51am

    [...] guy who came up to me after I had just finished speaking and criticized my web site. (The post is here, in case you missed it.) I wrote: “Sometimes the people who just want to hear themselves talk [...]

Leave A Comment

Related Posts