Have you ever heard the story of the one-armed economist? President Harry Truman famously requested such a person, because he was tired of all his economic advisors immediately following their opinions with the qualification, “Well, on the other hand…”
When writing for a broad audience, it can be tempting to follow the example of Truman’s advisors, always giving pros and cons on sensitive topics without ever really taking a stand. But when we give in to that temptation, our writing becomes limp and boring, filled with platitudes and qualifications that fail to help anyone. To avoid this mistake, add a dash of personality and courage, and don’t be afraid to take a tough stand.
Readers Want Your Real Opinions
Conventional wisdom holds that readers are not interested in your opinions that are unrelated to the topic of your blog or platform. Nothing could be further from the truth! Your readers follow you because they learn from you. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they disagree, but they were originally attracted by an element of inspiration and education. Don’t give them the “on the other hand” treatment all the time.
Once in a while, if not frequently, readers want to know what you think about something controversial. Sure, readers are attracted to you because of your great writing, but they are also attracted to your personality. Many of them want to know more about who you are, and that includes your opinions on politics, religion, and other sensitive topics.
Be Bold, Not Rude
The goal in taking a tough stand is to clearly present your views and challenge readers — without being a jerk. Devote more positive language to describe your opinions and less negative language that denigrates another view. In other words, lift up as much as possible without bringing someone else down.
I apply this standard: if I read a different opinion on someone else’s blog that I regularly visit, am I going to be offended? Answer: probably not, unless they beat me over the head with their views or make me feel insignificant for believing someone different. Instead, I’m just going to think, oh, that’s interesting – and move on. I’ll return next week or next post because I identify with the writer in other ways.
For example, on the night of the recent U.S. election, I had a post on Lifestyle Design and Your Ideal World all queued up for Wednesday morning. That post had nothing to do with the election, a decision that I originally thought was good since everyone else would be talking about politics the next day and I wanted to do something different. Besides, I thought, I’m not really a political blogger, and I attract readers of various backgrounds… so better to stay out of that fray, right?
At 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, though, I knew I had to scratch the previous plan. There was no way I could let this moment pass. I told people how I felt watching the concession and acceptance speeches, acknowledging other perspectives but also clearly presenting my own.
Yes, a few people unsubscribed from my newsletter, including two who wrote hostile comments in the unsubscribe notice. But far more people said they appreciated hearing my stance. “This was too important to pass up,” one said. “I’m really glad you wrote this,” said another.
Strengthen Your Writing By Filtering
When you share a real opinion instead of a watered-down one, you’re naturally taking a risk. Some readers will leave your site or put down the page. This is OK. This is normal. In fact, this is what you want. When you decide on a target market for your writing, remember that there is no everyone.
Assuming you’re not an extremist who pulverizes people for disagreeing with you (see above), then the people who decide to stop reading after they learn of your tough stance weren’t the best fit for your audience anyway.
Let them go. Wish them well. Then, focus on the readers who do stay with you. Give them what they want. Tell them how you really feel about something without aiming for the middle ground. Take a stand!
Editor’s Note: Don’t hit “Publish” yet!
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