Friday, January 24, 2014

Declare or Persuade?

In a bit of foreshadowing for an upcoming business non-fiction piece I'm writing, today's bit is based on a bit of pain I've felt over and over and over.

That pain comes from reading comments. Comments that make declarations. Comments telling me, the reader, that the writer is absolutely correct with their...(wait for it) declaration.

I wonder if the declarer has ever considered the impact of their declaration on the reader? If I go back to my days of trying to educate artists on the value of business (a futile endeavor for the most part), I remember the utility of the humble word pair.  For me the word pair that springs to mind here is:

DECLARE vs. PERSUADE; or declaration vs. persuasion; or declaring vs. persuading.

For me, reading a comment that is written declaratively, invites an immediate challenge, a disagreement with what the writer has declared, maybe even anger. I ask myself, "who made the writer the supreme knowledge holder on topic x?" Instead of agreeing with the writer's comment, my first thought is disagreement, followed by inquiry about the writer's credibility as I now go about proving the declarer to be wrong.  It's a guess, but I think the writer did not really want to inspire this in the reader.  I think most every writer wants the reader to agree with the written phrase, not fight it and go about trying to disprove it.

"No one is the supreme holder of knowledge on any one topic".  This is a declaration. I'm writing as if this is an absolute fact. For me, this tends to elicit a challenge in lieu of an agreement. I might point out that this fact is one that I can not prove. I can assert. I can declare, but I cannot call this a fact like 1+1=2 is a fact. Yet I have written as if it is a fact.  I'm inviting a negative response, when what I am looking for is agreement.  I think the writer needs to be persuasive here, not so much declarative. My intent is persuasion, but I am declaring something and in effect telling the reader to believe what I write. No show, no persuasion. Just "read what I write and accept it as fact."  Most people with critical thinking skills are going to go to the opposite end and immediately begin questioning the assertion. The opposite of what the writer intended.

"In my experience, I've never met anyone who was the supreme holder of knowledge on any one topic." To me, this says the same thing, but hopefully in a less confrontational tone.  Hopefully this is in a more persuasive tone, one that invites further interest in discussion, leading to agreement.

When does a declarative style work?  The easy answer is when one is writing about facts.  Instruction manuals come to mind right away. "Mix two parts resin to one part hardener." This is a declaration. It is an instruction. I daresay this might be an absolute fact, because if I stray from the declaration, the epoxy will not harden as I want it to. So there really is only one absolute way to do this.

So there is room for the declarative style of writing.  However, next time you are in a LinkedIn group and feel inspired to write a comment, you might consider this humble word pair of "declare vs. persuade" as you go about crafting the comment that establishes your authority on the topic.

Writing it one way invites a fight, writing it another way invites further cordial discussion, a relationship, maybe even a sale or something beneficial further on down the line.

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