ON CRITICISM + KINDNESS IN THE DIGITAL ANALYTICS AND MARKETING FIELDA Data Story
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Pssst…I have a secret. No, it’s not a new tutorial on Google Sheets charts or PowerPoint secrets.
It’s something much more personal. You see, my greatest passion is storytelling, and I’d like to do more of that with the things that matter to me most.
The secret is…I have a little girl inside of me who’s still terrified of trolls.
Internet trolls, that is.
AKA, people who send inflammatory messages over the internet to incite discord for personal gain.
This fear has grown alongside my increasing visibility in the world of digital analytics and marketing.
As someone with a childhood riddled with bullying and rejection, trolls and I don’t mix very well.
Luckily, I am blessed to receive mostly glowing feedback from my audience.
Other than one particularly unkind tweet referring to a podcast episode, I’ve managed to evade the troll’s den.
An Unfortunate Email
That is, until I received a message from a subscriber several weeks ago in response to my new guest post on Beautiful.ai, about 6 Effective Presentation Techniques inspired by Marie Kondo.
Here’s what that message said, verbatim:
“How about doing Marie Kondo on your site? I see 21 trackers on even the login page. I know you do web analytics but that doesn’t give an excuse for being so messy about it.”
Oof! went my belly. I reread the message several times to be sure that someone actually wrote to me this way.
Then, I proceeded to experience a sequence of emotions and reactions that went something like this:
First I be like:
Then I be like:
Finally, as is characteristic of my deep family legacy of fiery retaliatory energy, I be like
Now, I had put an exceptionally large amount of blood, sweat, and tears into this guest post for several months, and created it from a deep place of service to others.
So to have my theme used as fodder for this person’s sour words wasn’t exactly the way to get on my Christmas card list.
As such, I had to work hard to stow my itchy trigger finger and prevent it from firing off a scathing response poste haste.
Instead, I went through a specific process that I’d like to invite you into.
The Two Tasks of Confrontation
I believe that in every challenging situation, we are charged with two tasks (in no particular order):
- Receive the lesson within the challenge
- Decide how to respond to the challenge (if at all)
Regarding the first task: several years ago, I made a conscious commitment to view life’s ups and downs as a compendium of learning opportunities rather than a series of unfortunate events.
This episode was no different: I had a choice to stop ruminating and start illuminating.
Once my steam kettle got back to a simmer, I was able to see more clearly and work on having the humility to see the lesson. Because this was an asynchronously loading email conversation, I had time to formulate my response.
Part of the reason I was so triggered was that he had hit on something really sensitive. For a long time, I’ve struggled with maintaining my own website analytics simply because building a business as a trainer in the field of data presentation has been all-consuming of time and attention.
Converting my private data presentation and storytelling workshop into a web class and now into an online course has eaten up the better part of the last year.
I was still regularly monitoring my site stats, but I was aware that there were major gaps. Which was why I set out to hire a fantastic consultant to audit my site analytics.
I was just weeks away from kicking off a major audit with them to tie some of these loose ends. But this email subscriber shown a bright light on the cracks I already suspected were there.
I almost allowed my “Imposter Syndrome” to kick in, wondering how I could help anyone in the field of analytics if my analytics were jacked.
And then, I had compassion because I’m not out there teaching analytics implementation with shitty analytics on my site; I teach data storytelling and that’s where the bulk of my available time goes.
Regardless, the lesson was received: prioritize “tidying up” to ensure clean results for me, preserve the integrity of my reputation, and avoid provoking sleeping analytics dragons.
I silently thanked them for taking the time to illuminate me and then moved on to the second task of response.
Choosing To Respond from the Space Within the Moment
If you listen to my podcast, you may have noticed that I’m a bit of a quote junkie; quotes frequently pop up in my life at the precise moment I need to remember something important to teach myself or others.
One of my favorite quotes of all time came to mind as I pondered my next move, beautiful words to live by from Victor Franklin:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Having the presence of mind to take a space within the moment before response to choose the response is incredibly difficult, and I f*ck it up all the time.
My first choice was probably what most people would recommend and just ignore it. Why feed into an obvious attempt to antagonize me?
It’s a fair question. And yet, I am a teacher, and in my assessment of this situation, I decided that this was an opportunity to spread the message of one of my brand’s value pillars: kindness.
And, I didn’t really care whether they were open to the lesson or not.
On top of that, there are medical studies that show that the root of illness is a lack of expression and withheld resentment.
Emotions are stored deep within our tissues and can cause rampant health issues. Unfortunately, in our incessant drive to please everyone, we don’t let people rightfully know when they’ve crossed one of our personal boundaries.
So, I got myself out in nature, made myself a mug of soothing lemon balm tea, and contemplated all of the, erm, elegant ways to communicate what I was really thinking…
As I considered my response, I felt saddened to remember how rampant judgment flows through the corporate world, with the digital marketing and analytics field being no exception.
During meetings, we jump down each other’s throats without hesitation with counterarguments and rebuttals.
We expend effort showing how right we are and how wrong they are.
Entire websites are dedicated to taking public potshots at each other‘s work and creating a virtual lynch mob environment.
And I’m sharing all of this with you because I dream of a world where this doesn’t exist anymore.
It’s a world where we collaborate to help each other level up rather than use each other as piñatas to make us feel better about ourselves. /soapbox
With full expression and kindness in mind, I evaluated, I contemplated, I deliberated. Finally, I chose my response.
I knew that if I said something really mean it could be used against me and I was determined to be a champion in this field for kindness and compassion.
But if I was going to walk my talk, I also needed to sit with myself and remember that “I don’t know what I don’t know.”
I tried to imagine possibilities of why this person would respond this way other than the seemingly obvious fact that they are simply a d*bag:
- Maybe they were having a really bad day, like getting stuck in traffic or getting fired.
- Maybe they were annoyed that someone projecting herself to be an expert in something wasn’t holding up her end of the bargain.
- Maybe they thought they were helping me and tough love was their communication toolset.
- Maybe they were raised in a culture where extreme radical honesty and directness is the bridge to trust.
- Or maybe, they’re just a d*bag.
The point of the exercise is not which possibility is the right one. It’s to blunt my sharpening ax enough to soften my response.
It brought me back to a more centered place where I could respond true to my values.
The trick would be to be forthcoming and hold the line with kindness.
Another quote surfaced that was one of my favorites; a gem of timeless wisdom by Rumi about how everything we say should pass through three important “gates”.
I thoughtfully wrapped the quote in what I thought was a balanced yet direct response:
Hi! Thanks so much for the tip.
Your message brings up one of my favorite Rumi quotes:
“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:
- At the first gate, ask yourself ‘Is it true?’
- At the second gate ask, ‘Is is necessary?’
- At the third gate ask, ‘Is it kind?’
While what you pointed out may have passed the first and second gates, it certainly didn’t pass the third.
Just because someone can say something, doesn’t give them the excuse to say it without kindness.
I hope that serves you. Be well!”
I reviewed and reworded the message several times, and decided to leave out a retort on his extraneous spaces and the fact that I don’t actually have a login page.
Yes, I still missed a typo which I chose to keep here. I was in a heightened emotional state, and I’m not perfect. But I am authentic.
Finally, I clicked send and then immediately unsubscribed them from my list, blocked his email, and completely disconnected on all forms of social media.
I felt fully expressed and wasn’t going to invite any sort of debate or continuing engagement.
Then, I took a moment to visualize them and sent them kindness and compassion. Finally, I let it go.
The reality is, like me, this person had a choice. They had the opportunity to choose their response in that space of being triggered by my actions.
And my responding with strength and kindness helped me stay in line with my brand’s values, as with my Conscious Critique method for delivering constructive feedback.
The irony is that if they had positioned their feedback from an angle of opportunity rather than judgment, and they were offering analytics audit services, I may have even considered partnering with them!
But instead, I’ve left them to their own devices to examine how they want to show up in this world as a member of the digital community.
Did I twist a little baby butter knife by repurposing their words at the end? Sure, I’ll cop to that. I am a human being, Captain, not the Buddha.
But I felt resolved because there wasn’t a single word in this message that could be construed as unkind, and sometimes you need to use a common language to facilitate understanding.
The ultimate goal of my response was giving kindness:
- To myself by delivering my unhappiness to them rather than holding it, and
- To them with the possibility of planting a seed that could change how they treat others in the future.
In the end, Richard Carlson said it best:
“Choose being kind over being right and you’ll be right every time.”
If we’re going to be a world obsessed with being right, we might as well go about it the kind way.
So let’s pause, find the space in the moment, and choose to be nicer to each other, people. Mama is watching.
Because there’s more mug where that came from.