Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Correcting people on the internet

This comic is constantly referenced in my house. Visit XKCD for more great comics.

Hello Polite Readers,

Oh goodness, I gave in and added an image. I couldn't resist, this comic is just so perfect for today's topic, which is about how to be polite when correcting misinformation on Facebook and other internet forums.

Now that we live in a world where we're constantly connected to almost everyone we know via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, Tumblr and more, we're also constantly bombarded with their opinions about everything. And sometimes, we find that the people we know are just plain wrong. Next thing you know, you've spent the entire day arguing with them and five of their like-minded friends, and you have nothing to show for it.

Personally, I don't really like to argue on-line anymore. I got burned by too many people who were not at all interested in my politely stated facts and just decided to insult me. I do still occasionally get into it with people over something I feel especially strong over, or when people are spreading clear misinformation, but otherwise I avoid it. Here are my guidelines for when Someone is WRONG on the Internet:

1. Is it fact or opinion? It's very hard to change people's opinions by arguing on Facebook. But if you're polite, you can usually correct people about facts. Say things like "Actually, that study has since been proven to be based on bad data" or "I'm sorry, as much as I wish it were true, this one is an urban legend."

2. Is it important? In the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter if your uncle believes that Microsoft will give him a million dollars for forwarding an e-mail. On the other hand, it does matter if someone is spreading dangerous misinformation about treating the flu with lead paint (I think I managed to make up something so ridiculous that no one has actually suggested it and no one will be offended, right?).

3. Do you feel confident in your argument? If you don't have a really informed opinion and reliable sources to back you up, don't jump into the fray. "Actually, I heard someplace that Donald Trump's toupee is made of kittens" is not as strong as "Here is a five page expose on the wig factory that uses 100% kitten fur."

4. Will it make things awkward? Arguing with a distant family member who you see every few years is not a big deal, but getting into a political debate with your parents before Mother's Day brunch might make for a sulky family meal. Likewise, arguing with your troupemates might lead to sore feelings at the next practice, and arguing where would-be customers and clients can see it may cost you business.

5. Can you stay calm? There are some things I never get into arguments about because I am SO passionate about them that I will get myself so wound up that I can't even function for the rest of the day. Even if I manage to remain polite in my posts, I stomp around the house buzzing with anxious energy, just wishing I could say what I really want to, wishing the other person wasn't being so dense. It's unfair when those around you have to suffer the results of your arguments.

Over all, it's a complicated subject. Sometimes it feels like by not arguing with people, you're tacitly agreeing with them. Sometimes the answer is to make an opposing post of your own on your Facebook or blog, but that can look passive aggressive and cowardly. So choose which soapbox you're going to stand on, and make sure that whatever you say is polite, well-informed, and has plenty of sources to back it up. Good luck out there.

Is there a situation where you struggle to keep your cool? Send me a letter at and I'll do my best to advise you on how to be calm and collected.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Politely Worded Guide to Blogging

Hello Polite Readers!

Recently some of my fellow business-ladies have complained about how hard it is to maintain a blog. As someone who has three blogs of her own and writes occasional content for other blogs and ezines, I understand. Even if you have a lot to say like I do, the well can eventually run dry. And if you're not a natural writer, it can be hard to know what to say. To that end, I thought I'd write a little post containing my thoughts on how to keep your blog professional, polite, and fun!

Note: I blog a lot but I am not a "social media expert". If you are looking for advice on maximizing the SEO potential of your blog, you are definitely in the wrong place. I am just a wordsmith and I am here to help you write, not to help your ranking.


-Remember that your blog is part of the public face of your business! Try to keep a professional tone. Now, I don't mean you have to talk like a businessman, but I do mean that you should avoid using your blog to trash-talk your competitors or otherwise engage in unprofessional behavior.

-Spelling and grammar count. Blogs are semi-casual but you still want to come across as well-written. Proof-read your posts! If you struggle with language, find a friend who excels at it and is willing to be your beta-reader.

-If your blog is for your business, talk primarily about your business. I'll discuss exceptions in the "fun" section, but for the most part your blog should talk about things like your products, upcoming shows, and goings-on in your industry.

-Try to keep it positive. It is alright to occasionally post about how illness is keeping you from working as hard as you would like or that a sudden tragedy is weighing heavy on your heart, but if your blog is always negative customers will not want to come back. Focus on your business's success, happy events in your life, fun things happening in your field.


-Your blog is not the place to air your grievances with customers, competitors, suppliers, or the government. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to write a scathing post but I've held back because I remembered how I felt when I read similar columns from other writers. It comes across as very bitter, especially if you do it often. The exception to this rule is that you can offer occasional humorous bad customer type stories, or use your blog to spread a warning about scammers in your field. Otherwise, these complaints should be saved for private professional groups where you and your fellow vendors can vent.

-Don't feed the trolls. I know it's tempting to argue with them, but if your blog gets trolled (and I hope it doesn't!) you should ignore and probably even delete the comment. Trolls call this "censorship" without realizing that free speech does not grant you the right to say whatever you want on someone's blog. Don't let them guilt-trip you.

-If you need to correct misinformation, do it politely. If someone says "That's a beautiful pair of ruby earrings!" the proper response is "Thank you! I can see how you would mistake them for rubies but they're actually made with Swarovski crystals. I do hope to work with more genuine gemstones in the future." Correct them without making them feel stupid.

Fun (aka, writing stuff people want to read)

-Show people that you're a human being. Yes, you want to primarily write about your business, but share a bit about yourself, too. The occasional pet picture, kid story, and mention of the good book you just read helps readers get a sense of who you are.

-Share your creative process! Post in-progress pictures. Discuss the design process. Share your inspiration. Get people excited about the fact that you make what you sell and that you are an artist.

-Set up a regular feature. If you have something that you do, say, every Friday, it makes sure that you blog at least once a week and that your readers come back at least once a week. This can be a weekly picture of your workspace, or an opinion piece about trends in your field, or book reviews.

-Be passionate. If you aren't excited about your business, why should your readers get excited? Gush about your favorite materials. Wax poetic about the early days of your career. Swoon over the work of your idols. Geek out! Freak out! Passion is contagious.

-When you're struggling for inspiration, go read some successful blogs. What are they writing about? What are their readers responding to? Is there something similar in your life that you can write about? Read the blogs of those working in your field, and the blogs of people who are doing something completely different.

-Think about what you would like to read. If the thought of certain content bores you, it probably bores your readers, too. And if you're bored writing it, it will come across to the reader. Write things that you enjoy, and you will eventually attract readers who enjoy it.

-Start discussions. Ask questions in your posts! Encourage people to share their own experiences. Engage your readers. Just don't do it in every single post if you post daily, because that looks desperate.

-And remember, you are probably reaching more people than you think. When I go through a long period of not getting comments, I ask myself why I bother blogging... But oftentimes people comment on Facebook instead, or mention it in e-mail, or when we see each other in person. So don't get discouraged by all those posts that say "No Comments."

If this post inspires you to kickstart your own blogging efforts, post your blog in the comments! I'll have fun weeding out the real bloggers from the spammers. And remember, you can always send your questions to to be included in a future post.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

No Solicitors!

Hello, Polite Readers!

We're having a beautiful Spring week here in Tucson, which has apparently pulled the door-to-door solicitors out of their Winter hibernation. From missionaries to security companies to meat salesman, they all knock at my door and set off a flurry of barking corgis. I should really remember to hang a "No Solicitors" sign to deter them, and set the dogs on those who don't read it (don't worry, my dogs aren't vicious, only excessively affectionate and excited), but until them, I have to politely tell them to go away.

The trick is to not let them get started. As soon as they ask you a question which you instinctively answer, they set off on their spiel and waste 10 minutes of your valuable time, never letting you say "Thank you, but I'm not interested."

So this is the one time where I think it is acceptable to both interrupt somebody and shut the door in their face. When my corgi doorbell alerts me to someone at the door, I always open it in case it is a mail delivery or an unexpected drop-in by a friend. When I see that it is not, and my polite "Hello" (punctuated by a sharp "quiet!" at my dogs) is answered with a "Hello I'm with --" this is where I cut them off and say "I'm not interested, have a nice day" and close the door before they can argue with me.

It's important to be polite, because whoever they are, they are just doing their job (well, except for the missionaries. Is that a paid job or volunteer work? I guess it varies from church to church), even if their job might be to scam you out of your money. Invariably when I do get suckered into talking to one of these people, they are full of high-pressure sales tactics and want you to buy right away, without any chance to read up on their product or research it on the internet or discuss it with your spouse or roommates. No thank you!

There are times when you may want to let the person at least finish saying who they are with. Maybe you're waiting for Girl Scouts to come by with cookies, or if they have a clipboard, you may want to see if they're collecting signatures for something you believe in.

That said, please remember to put safety first! If anything about the person at the door strikes you as off, do not open your door to them! Don't let them in, don't step outside to talk to them on the porch! If they are insistent, it is perfectly OK to say "I'm sorry, I'm too busy right now" and close that door right in their face.

Lastly... please feel free to give the stink-eye to anyone who thinks it is OK to ring your doorbell before 10am on a weekend morning! There is nothing polite about waking people up.

What would YOU like to see me write about next? Send your letters and suggestions to please!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Taking This Week Off

Hello Polite Readers!

I've been up to my eyeballs in preparation for a large event and as such I completely neglected to come up with a column this week! Shame on me, I know. I apologize for not giving you anything to read today. But I do invite you all to send your ideas to so that I will have so many letters to choose from next week!

Thank you for reading,