Several years ago, I attended a workshop that Mark Wiskup presented. I remember him vividly because the topic was billed as “improving your communication skills” and I had a bee in my bonnet and decided I didn’t need to improve my communication skills. I am, after all, a professional communicator.
But my business mentor forced me to go (perhaps he was trying to tell me something??) and I begrudgingly did so. For the first hour, I was a little jerk. I sat there with my arms crossed and I asked questions just to antagonize him. But he knew what I was doing and he was a consummate professional as he put me in my place.
It ended up being one of the most engaging and interesting workshops I’ve ever attended. I will never forget his overarching message: you never know who you’ll run into at any point in your life, so behave appropriately.
In the middle of the workshop, he had a man in the middle of the room stand up. He introduced him, saying he had just met this man that very morning and then he asked him to tell the story.
On his way to the workshop that morning, Mark and this attendee were both at Starbucks. Mark held the door open for the man and then got in line behind him. They did the typical “waiting in line” small talk. After they got their orders, they went their separate ways.
Imagine their surprise, then, when they ran into one another at the hotel where the workshop was being held.
Mark used that as a way to illustrate that you never, ever know who you might run into, who they might know, or—in a completely different situation—what bridges you might burn. Imagine if Mark had been grouchy or slammed the door in the guy’s face or cut in line or any other seemingly rude thing. It could have ended very badly for him, as the day’s speaker.
It’s a small, small world, which isn’t famous just because Walt Disney said so.
You Just Never Know
When I started dating my husband, I noticed something about his 20-year-old self that I hadn’t ever noticed in any of my other friends. Truthfully, I’m not sure I behaved this way back then, either. No matter where we were or the other humans we interacted with, he looked every one of them in the eye.
I remember being at dinner with him in the early days and watching him as he looked the busboy in the eye and said “thank you” as he filled his water glass, brought him a dropped fork, and cleared away our dishes. I was so impressed by this behavior that I’m pretty sure that was my first indication that I was falling in love with this tall, gangly boy.
To this day, Kelly Dietrich is one of the most charismatic, interesting people you will ever come across. He may not remember your name (he’s terrible at that), but he will make you feel like you are the only person in the entire room. I’m 99.999% certain he has never, ever burned a bridge and that’s because, even when people (cough, Republicans, cough) vehemently disagree with him, they still feel special.
Living the Golden Rule
I believe there is a rule for this kind of behavior—in fact, it’s golden. Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
Mark Wiskup demonstrated this when he chatted with the man in the line at Starbucks, only to discover later he was one of the workshop attendees.
Mr. D does this with every human he interacts with. He always says, “You just never know.”
Charles Sykes, the author of “50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn In School,” famously said, “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you may end up working for them.” (This quote, by the way, is often attributed to Bill Gates, but he didn’t actually say it.)
This was used to explain how the geeks and nerds are the ones who are starting to shape markets for new products and services, but if we revert back to high school (shudder!), they were always the ones who were picked on. I know. I was one of them. And I did not have a fun high school experience.
I guess this is why I’m always surprised when someone behaves badly, burns a bridge, or lashes out at someone they think can’t help them. The Golden Rule exists for a reason and sometimes, the older we get, the more often we forget about it.
Exhibit Professional Decorum
I’m going to preface this by saying that I know Spin Sucks is not even on the same planet as the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. It’s a blog. Not some gigantic media outlet that influences the opinions of millions of people.
But I also know we have enough influence that communicators think it’s a big deal to be published or mentioned by us. They also know that our domain authority is high enough that if they get a link from us, it helps with their SEO in a significant way.
The amount of pitches we get is shocking. Most of them are terrible and we just don’t respond. I learned early on that the moment you engage, it becomes an online argument and they try to talk you into running their content or into giving them topic ideas or feedback to improve. As much as I would love to do that, it would easily become a full-time job for two or more people…with no return on that investment. So we ignore most of it.
But every once in a while, we get an excellent pitch or we are introduced to a communicator by a friend or someone in the Spin Sucks Community and we happily work with them.
But, just like with the bad pitches and utter crap we receive in our inbox, if your pitch is great and the content stinks, we’ll turn it down. We may let you edit and improve the writing and agree to run the piece at a later time, but that work is up to the content producer; not us.
We have some pretty specific guidelines that are posted on the website so we figure if you can’t follow those, we can’t hold your hand.
It might sound a bit harsh, but I’m a people pleaser and I want everyone to be happy. Because of that, I’ve had to learn over and over and over again that if spend time trying to keep a communicator happy who is pitching us and wanting to use our platform, I lose every time.
Don’t Burn Bridges
This comes back to the Golden Rule in a minute. Bear with me.
A few weeks ago, we agreed to run some content for a communicator we’ve worked with before. The article submitted previously was great, followed our guidelines, and this person was easy to work with. It was a no-brainer to work with them again.
But when we got the second piece of content, it was terrible. It was not well-written, it was haphazardly put together, it explored several different themes, and it passively-aggressively linked to two Spin Sucks articles I had written—things this person didn’t agree with and was not shy about saying so.
Totally fine. My opinion is not the way for all, but they wanted the article to run on my blog. Sort of not the way to get it placed, nor the way to win friends and influence others.
I emailed them the next morning and politely explained all of the reasons we weren’t going to run it. I said that we would be happy to work with them again, but the next open date we have isn’t until May (it’s nuts, y’all!).
This person emailed me back and gaslighted me. They told me all of the reasons it was my fault their article sucked. They asked why we have a deadline a week in advance of publication if it’s not to give the author time to make edits (it’s because there is actual work that goes into publishing content).
I ignored that email.
They emailed me again and it got worse. This happened six, SIX, times. Every time I got another email, I would ask a trusted colleague if I was being overly sensitive or reading it incorrectly. Everyone agreed it was going from bad to worse.
You Just Never Know, Take Two
It gets even worse.
Remember how Mark Wiskup had NO IDEA the man standing in line in front of him at Starbucks was going to end up in his life 30 minutes later at the workshop he was giving? It ended really well for Mark but had he forgotten his manners or if he was having a bad morning and took it out on that stranger or myriad reasons he may have forgotten the Golden Rule, it could bit him in the butt and made for a really uncomfortable day for him.
Fast forward to a conversation I was having with a friend who is the CMO at one of the PR industry vendor companies. He told me his agency said they have a monthly column with Spin Sucks and that they’d reached an agreement with us to run client content as part of their column.
We were on Zoom and I looked at him and said, “What?” So he repeated himself.
I told him that was categorically false. We’ve never had monthly contributors and I would never let someone shill their clients every month, no matter how great a partner they might be. Heck, we don’t even shill our own clients.
I asked who the agency is and he said the name of the company that this person who came after me owns. I nearly fell out of my chair.
Even after being treated as badly as I had been, I didn’t want to get them in trouble. So I said that we don’t have monthly contributors and that this person had written one time for us and we had tried a second time, but it was a bad experience.
I said that we would be happy to entertain content from my friend’s business, but not every month and not guaranteed. I also said that based on the lies his agency had told my friend about their relationship with us and how I had been treated, we would never, ever work with them. I told him to come directly to me when they were working on something they thought we’d be interested in.
People Never Forget How You Made Them Feel
This is a very long story to illustrate the importance of always maintaining professional decorum. Sure, we’re not some huge media outlet, but in the communications industry, we are pretty well-connected. And, even if we don’t know someone, they almost always know us. It’s a small world as it is and the industry is even smaller.
It could have ended much differently had they been kind to me or even taken the wheel on their own, looked up our guidelines, revised the piece, and resubmitted it. Had they taken the Mark Wiskup approach, it’s likely we would still work with this agency—and certainly entertain some of the work they do for clients.
I believe it was Maya Angelou who said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
It’s a small world after all. Be nice to the nerds and geeks. Always be professional. Never burn a bridge. And always live by the Golden Rule.