If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time and energy conversing with other people. Often, you initiate the conversation because there’s something you want to tell them or ask them or simply want them to see.
The problem is, many of the people with whom you converse aren’t sure how emotionally “hot” is the information you’re sharing. In other words, they may be uncertain how important this information is to you, how fervently you want them to understand and absorb it, and even how insistent you are that they incorporate this new information into their thinking and their actions starting now and for the rest of their lives.
I understand that. And I don’t want people to ascribe more “heat” than I do to any information I share with them. So I try to give them an indication of how strongly I feel about the information I’m sharing, in hopes they will feel easier and more comfortable about receiving it.
My emotional rating system goes something like this:
I tell people a piece of information is “interesting” when it’s strikes me that way, either for myself or for them.
For example, I’m interested in renewable sources of energy, so when this category of news or information crosses my desk, I generally read it. Sometimes, I find it so interesting that I pass it along to others in my network in hopes they will find it compelling, as well.
But irrespective of how interesting I find them, there are other topics I know are very interesting to certain individuals with whom I regularly communicate. These topics include civil engineering, architecture, clothes, information technology, cars, acting, motorcycles, individual sports teams, poetry, certain aspects of politics, and more.
When one of these hits my desk, I often forward it to the person I know cares greatly about it. These people have learned that information I mark “interesting” is intended to pique their interest, but not necessarily mine. In fact, I may not even have read what I send them any more deeply than to know it’s of interest to them. Or if I have read it, they know the details will not stay with me.
This category of information overlaps extensively with what I find interesting, but has the added benefit of helping me get better results in my work and/or my life. For example, I’m “interested” to read about dashboard cameras that record events around a vehicle and can document how an accident happens (and thereby prevent other people from lying about who’s at fault). But I would mark as “useful” a specific comparison and ranking of several different dashcams, because that information is helpful in choosing which one to install in my car and on my motorcycle.
Other pieces of “useful” information might include places to visit, experiences to seek out, how to carve a turkey, and non-obvious but helpful ways to handle finances.
When I send information I mark “useful” to people in my network, they know they can safely assume it’s worth more of their attention than if I had marked it merely “interesting.”
The next step up the relevance scale is this one. I mark information “generally important” when I feel it offers advice or a suggestion that is more broadly applicable than simply what product to buy or where to go on vacation.
“Generally important” information includes topics like how to avoid the latest scams, how to benefit from emerging tools and technologies, newly minted words that might be helpful to know (hey, I’m a writer!), and cultural developments such as how people are starting to behave differently or how younger generations are different from older ones.
My idea is that, just as fish don’t think very often about water, most of us are rarely conscious of the “culture” in which we swim. When it changes, which it regularly does, we are often caught unawares, unprepared, and sometimes even unprotected.
If I can share information that’s “generally important” for those I care about, I’m happy to do it.
This category is even more relevant than the others I’ve mentioned. I’ll mark something “specifically important“ if it involves a flood warning, a vehicle recall, a change in the tax laws, a great new restaurant near where the person I’m alerting lives or works, a product or service worth having, or something else that’s immediately actionable.
When I send information marked “specifically important,” I intend the recipient to recognize I’ve spied something that can have a sizable impact on them. This is the category that generates the most responses of “thank you” from people in my network.
An asteroid about to hit the Earth. A tornado, hurricane, or flood headed your way. A guaranteed method to hit the lottery. An invitation I’m issuing to dinner. I reserve this designation of “vital” for only the most immediate and important tidbits that I share, the kind of stuff that if I didn’t share with a person I care about, I could never forgive myself.
You might think I’d get a response of “thank you” most often from “vital” information, but actually I get more: usually a heartfelt and detailed response from the person I contact, one that frequently leads to a meaningful exchange and a deepening of the bonds we feel.
Marking information in one of these ways takes me but a second, but it saves those I’m sending it to a great deal of time and energy, avoids the possibility of them ascribing more “heat” to the information than I intend it to have, and creates opportunities for us to experience and appreciate the depth of our relationship in ways that might not otherwise occur.
If you have a different system, or a suggestion for improving this one, please let me know in the comments.
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