A friend and I were talking about the latest news about the plane missing in Lake Erie. In wrapping up the conversation, he created a clear word picture that has stuck with me. Unfortunately, it is an unsettling image, one I would rather not have in my head.
This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced that. One image haunted me for years.
Images Have Power
Your audience creates images of your words in their heads. This is a common way to internalize and make sense of what you are saying. If you talk about sunbathing on a sandy beach, one person might imagine a beach they visited on a recent vacation to Florida. Another might picture a beach they saw in Hawaii on their honeymoon. Others will have any number of different images. This is good when it helps them understand your message.
Negative images are also powerful, and sometimes necessary. If you are talking about an accident, you will include some details so the audience understands what happened. Typically, however, you omit the gorier details so as not to make your audience too squeamish or uncomfortable.
You manage your audience’s attention by talking about what you did, felt and thought instead of focusing on the gore. When more detail is needed, you share just enough to make your point. Adding too many details diverts your audience’s attention away from your message.
Adding Too Much Negative Diverts Attention
In today’s culture, people seem to be increasingly interested in the negative. Movies spare nothing, and YouTube is full of videos that show as much gore and mayhem as you can imagine. People sometimes seem compelled to add unneeded negative detail.
Personally, I find this unsettling. It isn’t healthy for me to be absorbed by this level of detail. Rarely do I need to know those details. Hearing them focuses me on what’s wrong instead of what’s right. The negative energy overpowers the positive energy I want and need to move ahead. Many others agree with me.
You don’t know your audiences past experiences, level of sensitivity or how they might interpret the negative. Therefore, you are better served to omit the negative unless there is a specific reason it is relevant. Pushing too far by adding unneeded details can damage your reputation and alienate your audience. (I am very grateful that I have not again seen the person whose image haunted me.)
What Does This Have To Do With Respect?
Showing restraint in creating gratuitous negative images shows respect for your audience. It can show respect for common decency. It shows respect for your self.
Creating images that help people feel good about themselves and the world serves you better. Make sure they are constructive.
There will no more posts until mid- to late-February as I take time off for some personal business. I will be back.