We all know someone like this: a topic is brought up in discussion or a post made on social media, and a reactionary rant ensues – or we read an unprompted rant. The person writes or says more than is necessary, has an emotionally charged tone, and/or may blame others or make judgmental comments.
Are you one of these people?
This is not to be confused with being able to express emotion – that is something totally different.
Most artists are emotionally charged and emotionally sensitive – it’s what allows us to do our jobs. And while we are in the moment of performing, it’s absolutely necessary to a degree. The potential issue comes when this emotional energy invades communication with others, especially online where one doesn’t have to say things in person. There’s a consequence to this, and if you’re a ‘public figure’ of any sort – someone who relies on others in order for your business to thrive – you should take the following into consideration before making such a post:
People who write emotion-based, reactionary comments can give the impression that they are unstable, difficult to work with, hot-headed, angry, and/or defensive. They can appear as if they have issues that are not under control. Most potential employers and clients will not find this attractive. Employers may see cause for concern that this kind of person may not be a good representative of their company; they may complain inappropriately about things to donors or audience members, and/or they may not be a good colleague to others. Clients may not want to work with someone who seems judgmental, temperamental, or close-minded.
People tend to distance themselves from those who make these kinds of statements, a recent case being the two opera singers who were fired last year for making anti-gay remarks on social media. And while those cases were specific to people already hired, it can certainly apply to potential or future work: anyone can perform a Google search and find out more about you, and now even individual posts are searchable on Facebook. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen a person’s rant, looked the person up, and thought to myself, ‘Wow, I would never recommend that person/company to my clients or friends.’
Now, I will confess – I used to be one of these emotionally reactive people. As someone with big energy and a lot of it, my mouth usually walked in front of my brain, speaking up and out about what was wrong or right. And I’ll never forget the day I witnessed the art of diplomacy in action, which was a reaction to my very own behavior…
Once upon a time a faculty colleague interrupted some students of mine who were taking an exam, saying there was a rehearsal scheduled in that space. Now, this was an exam space that was scheduled by the university, so clearly it was not this professor’s to take, but that wasn’t the issue – I was infuriated by the audacity of this professor to interrupt an exam and ask the students to leave. I marched into the department director’s office, fuming, and proceeded to rant about this unacceptable behavior.
The Director sat quietly and listened, seemingly unaffected, and when I was done remarked in a concerned but neutral tone, “I can see why that would be upsetting.”
Wait. Whoa. ‘How did he do that?’ I thought, as my heightened energy quickly dissipated from a lack of fuel. The Director didn’t tell me to calm down or to hold on; he didn’t agree with me, or seem to have any sort of emotional reaction to my highly emotional complaint. This was the art of diplomacy, and I realized right then that this was why this man had climbed the ladder of success and had been made a Director at a particularly young age. I knew I had to learn how to do this. Here’s what I did:
1. ‘Talk’ less, listen more.
Wow, does this take practice. Basically, I had to learn to shut up. By speaking less, I observed that I made comments many times when my opinion was not asked, when it didn’t concern me, or it was none of my business. I had no idea I was doing this so much until I stopped talking and started listening. Honestly, I thought I was being helpful, showing an easier way or another (read: better) viewpoint. It was difficult to watch people figure things out by themselves, especially when I thought I had a more efficient way. But in doing so I noticed that people gained self-empowerment, and that my opinion became more valued because it was only given when someone asked for it.
2. Take time before you respond.
This one is also tough for those of us who have strong beliefs and emotions. When we read something with which we don’t agree, the first reaction is usually to jump in with a response. Nine times out of ten, this is a bad idea. I once had to cancel a group recital due to all of the students being under-prepared. I received an angry email from a parent telling me how I’d ruined her trip and cost her thousands of dollars. It was highly accusatory, and I was ready to type away and defend my reasoning. And I did – but I never sent it. I let a few days pass so that I was not answering from an emotionally triggered center. I forwarded the email to a colleague and asked for a second opinion on how to respond. By the time I was ready to compose a rational response, I received another email from the parent apologizing for the first one. The issue resolved itself, and I was able to tell the parent that it was ok and explain that I was acting in the best interest of all the students.
3. Read what you write several times before you post/send, as if someone else wrote it.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Does this post/email seem emotionally charged or reactionary rather than observational?
Does this sound like rational thought or someone who has a bone to pick?
Would I want to react to this if I saw it posted and I didn’t agree?
Does this show a viewpoint without negating someone else’s view?
If I wrote this, would I be ok with everyone I know seeing it?
Answering these questions can give you some insight into how others may view you as a result. If you are aware and wish to post something that might fall outside of this range anyway, that is your right – after all, we do have the freedom of speech! We all have the freedom to make choices, and as we have all learned, choices have consequences – positive or negative.
4. Know that you will never please everyone.
Most marketers will tell you if everyone likes you, you’re doing it wrong. There’s virtually nothing that is loved by everyone, especially when it comes to the arts. You can be the most even-keeled, politically correct, no wave-causing person ever, and there will still be people who don’t like you. And that’s ok. 🙂 You can’t, nor should you, try to make everyone happy. By all means, stay true to yourself.
Sometimes the best way to stay true to yourself is by not saying things publicly. Refer to #1 above…
6. Get to know that with which you disagree.
We’ve all heard the phrase “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” This applies to concepts you don’t like as well. Before you make a remark, do some research. Open your mind and your heart to all viewpoints. This is, if nothing else, educational. It’s not to say you will change your mind, or that you should even consider doing so, but rather it allows you to be informed on multiple viewpoints and on opposing reasoning. Any debate speaker will tell you that the way to win a debate is to know your opponent’s subject and viewpoint better than s/he does. And if you don’t have time for this, refer to #1 above…
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