Hurty Feelings, by Helen Lester

Online, it’s amazing how easy it can be to slight someone intentionally or unintentionally, but I think we’re all still getting used to how to navigate these hurt feelings.

One of the kid’s books I enjoyed reading to my kids and gave us a piece of vocabulary that we use until this day, is Helen Lester’s “Hurty Feelings.” The main character is incredibly sensitive and often takes innocent statements by others to heart, making drama out of the smallest things.  I read it to my kids, because one of them in particular, was using the “That hurt my feelings” statement to pretty much manipulate other family members.  “That hurt my feelings” became a defensive and offensive weapon, so we had to put that in perspective, and this book was great for that.  I had to teach the boys that sometimes, feelings get hurt, and unless it was clearly meant to be mean or nasty, we had to learn to roll with the punches, and also not use “hurty feelings” as a shield from all responsibility for our own actions. In fact, most of the time, people aren’t looking to be mean- they just are oblivious to the fact that you’re senstive on some subjects, and need to know when to back off.  Now, when someone seems to over-react, we now look at each other, and in a small voice, say “Do you have hurty feelings?” And if the other person says yes, then we try to make amends, but the interjection of the humorhelps us put the emotional issues into some perspective.

Hurty Feelings Online

I’m starting to wish I could read this book to some online folks who take lots of things personally, even when they have nothing to do with them, their business, product, or whatever.  We all are subject to feeling slighted from time to time, or left out, because we know so much more about what’s going on.  But we can’t do every job, go to every event, or read every email.  It’s impossible at scale.  I may feel left out sometimes, or not included when I see things other folks are going to, but I have to deal, because I’m not going to be able to be everywhere, all the time and sometimes, I will miss opportunities.  It’s the way life goes.

This post stems from a couple of incidents.  One was hearing from some friends that they had experienced incidents on Facebook that sound like kindergarten disputes- (cue sing song voice here…) “Well, if you are her ‘friend’ on Facebook, I won’t be friends with you, because I don’t like her.”  Really?  This goes on between adults?  That’s downright weird for anyone over the age of about 10.

The second incident was hearing recently that someone was surprised when I unsubscribed to their website/newsletter.  They told a third party they wish I had taken the time to tell them what they could do better rather than just opting out.  I get this.  I wish we all knew why some people read our stuff or did not, why they find us interesting or not.  I also know that unsubscribing from things is probably not so much about you, but mostly about me.

In fact, since Thanksgiving, I’ve been trying to narrow down the “bacn” email: stuff I’ve signed up for, but is tending to clog my files or inbox and something I’m not reading often when it’s sent.     I’m trying to be ruthless, because as of this moment, I technically have 2068 messages in only one of my email boxes, and I am gearing up to do an “Archive all” come the first of the year and start fresh.  I am drowning in interesting information- but unless I take the time to turn that information into action- transform it into knowledge or wisdom- it’s simply being wasted on me.  As a result, I’m doing the email equivalent of unfollowing folks.  For the record, I’ve yet to be a big unfollower on sites like Facebook and Twitter unless all I get is DM spam from your account.

From my perspective, I’m trying to improve my focus.  I’m trying to limit the inbox distractions.  And while I could politely just dump your email into a “delete all later” box, it seems a little more direct and honest to opt out.  It’s certainly my loss not to hear from you regularly, but after I narrow down everything to a manageable scale, I might be back.  Right now, I need to minimize things.

Moreover,  if I’m not one of your regular customers, should it really matter if I opt out?

Seth Godin wrote earlier this month about how scarce attention is, and how that’s our most important asset.   I may have decided to spend less attention on your stuff, but it really is my loss, I promise.

But the other thing to consider in this equation is that not everyone out there is necessarily your audience.  I may be an occasional part of your audience, but maybe not all the time.  And I certainly know from my stats that not everyone I know comes by and reads my blog, and I’m really okay with that.  I hope people care about what I write here, but not everyone will care all the time, and I’m good with that.

If you’re seriously concerned about people unsubscribing from your email, newsletters, or de-friending you on various networks, (and its more than one person…) only then might you start to think about how you are using your communication channels.  Maybe you only need to speak to people once a week.  Maybe you can segment your list and send stuff to folks who want to hear from you at different frequencies- some may be once a week people- others, once a quarter.   Perhaps an RSS feed into a reader is better for them than email.  Maybe they just like hearing from you on Facebook.  Investigating how often your audience wants to hear from you is probably a good thing, and gives you more insight into how to make your communications more effective.  You never know until you ask.

Similarly, like I have been telling my students, you need to think like a publisher.  How much of the content you put out would you independently go out of your way to read?  Why?  What are your communicating, and what do you want people to do with this information?  Heck, my friend Chris Brogan is so overwhelmed by incoming content that I make sure I only send him email when it’s necessary and I keep it as short and sweet as possible, with specific information that needs to be communicated or acted on.  He’s trained me to communicate like this with him, and as a result, I’m almost always certain he’s reading and replying to what I send.

Personally, I know that I have to be more careful with my time and attention than ever.  I’m having to make hard choices and I don’t have all the hours in the day I wish I did. (I keep looking for an effective way to create an extra 2 hours a day, but unless I develop a time machine, that’s not likely.)

To quote every high school movie out there, it’s not you- it’s me.  And likewise, I don’t think you should necessarily tweek or change what you’re doing just because I suck at handling my incoming mail.  If more than a few people are unsubscribing and you’re concerned, please, call me, and we’ll set up an appointment and I’m more than willing to help you and your business.  But don’t take one person’s opt in or opt out of your email as a sign that there’s something wrong, or they should have taken the time to give you thoughtful, constructive criticism.  That’s putting an awful lot of import on only one data point, and probably not one of large significance in the overall picture of life.

In the end, I think we all have to develop a slightly thicker skin to these minor online dramas and “hurty feelings” based on someone else’s actions.  It certainly gives a lot of your own power away when you are vulnerable to these minor slights.  And it seems especially silly when the action- friending a third party, unfriending someone, unsubscribing to a podcast or blog- anything-  almost certainly weren’t taken with a thought of you or your feelings in mind.  More than likely, it happened for a totally different reason, and to let yourself be concerned about this wastes your time and emotional effort you should invest in becoming more awesome to begin with.

I hope in the new year, we’ll all spend less time worrying about “hurty feelings” and more time addressing any problems directly to the person, ask questions, and see if there’s anything to be resolved.  We should also let a lot of the little stuff go, because it will just overwhelm you otherwise.  Look at trends, not data points, and then consider whether you need to change anything.

In the meantime, I do sincerely apologize if I’ve hurt your feelings in one way or another over the past year, but honestly- I never intended to, and it’s just my inability to cope, likely nothing about your personally.    I will try to get better, but I’m drowning in information and I’m searching for a life preserver.

Hurty feelings Video

Here’s a Youtube reading of the book, read by kids (the audio isn’t great, but it will at least give you a sense of the book, if you are so inclined.)