In Really Bad Powerpoint, Seth Godin suggests a better way to use Microsoft PowerPoint. While I disagree with one of his conclusions (“No more than six words on a slide. EVER”—I don’t like any rule that makes me do math when I’m supposed to be writing) his core point cannot be repeated often enough. As Seth puts it:
Communication is the transfer of emotion.
His focus is PowerPoint, but his message is universal:
You can wreck a communication process with lousy logic or unsupported facts, but you can’t complete it without emotion. Logic is not enough.
And this truth goes far beyond sales, to politics, the law, and even science.
Getting emotional in writing scares many of us. Why? Too much emotion (except for enthusiasm for the boss/product/company) usually gets us into trouble. An angry memo or email can get us fired. Besides, many of us were taught in school by means of blood-red corrections to eliminate emotion from our writing—an unfortunate result of the belief that we can somehow separate our logical being from our emotional being.
But we can’t.
And we shouldn’t try. Instead we need to recognize that everything we write has emotional content for both the writer and reader. Even if we think we’re being completely unemotional (which is different than being objective!) emotion exists. First, writers have feelings about the topic and the intended readers. Not accounting for how we feel about our topic and readers will allow fear, awe, boredom, disrespect, and more to show. And readers have feelings about the topic and the writer. Not accounting for these feelings almost guarantees our writing will have the wrong impact or none at all. Even if we think we’re just listing facts, emotions help us decide which facts to include, their order, and sometimes how we phrase them. And if we’re communicating facts that readers don’t want to read, we need to understand how easy it is for readers to dismiss them—or dismiss the writer—rather than acknowledge them.
All this doesn’t mean that everything we write should drip with emotion. That doesn’t work for most readers in most situations. In fact, we often—due to responsibility or strategy—need to generate a feeling (professional disagreement) different than what we actually feel (outrage). But we do need to acknowledge all the emotion so we can then craft a communication that achieves the desired effect.