Not So Risky Business

As you are no doubt unaware, my older brother – my much older brother – turned 70 this past week.

And so, in celebration of this truly once in a lifetime event, assorted family members are gathering tonight in celebration at a restaurant in Harvard Square, Cambridge.

Harvard Square can be a busy spot. Finding a place to park (we live too far to have any other option) is difficult.

How difficult? Well, let’s just say that on a Friday night, you’d have an easier time getting admitted to Harvard than finding a parking spot on the street.

But as my friends down south like to say, this ain’t my first rodeo. So I called the restaurant to inquire as to whether they had any arrangements with nearby parking facilities.

Sure enough, they did. Sort of.

Because when I asked, the friendly woman on the phone said, “We offer ‘partial validation’ with the lot across the street.”

Now you know me; I don’t pass up the chance to demonstrate how insanely witty I am, and so I said, “Partial validation? You mean like just the driver’s side?”

Her response? Deafening silence. Not even a polite titter.

Finally, after what felt like about five minutes of dead air, she simply repeated the phrase, apparently assuming that I did not have full command of the English language.

Speaking Up Feels Risky

Jokes don’t always work.

Sometimes, as was the case with my restaurant friend, they fall flat. Other times, thankfully, you get a big laugh.

Which means you’ve got two options: Say nothing and risk nothing. Or give it a shot and see what happens.

Of course, this phenomenon isn’t limited to joke-telling. Any time you share a point of view – write a newsletter, give a presentation, post a video, comment on someone’s blog, etc. – you run the risk of striking out.

Someone might object. Or ignore you. Or laugh (not in a good way).

And so, many people choose the safer route. I understand it, but I don’t recommend it, especially if you want to be remembered and respected as a professional service provider (hint: you do).

Let the Chips Fall

Two reasons why speaking your mind in an authentic way is a good thing in a professional setting:

#1. It helps others decide if they like who you are and how you think.

The fact that you have read this far today suggests that you and I are somewhat on the same wavelength.

Others, who may feel that personal stories and dumb jokes in a business newsletter have no place, have already stopped reading, if not unsubscribed entirely.

That’s fine. Our personal styles represent a filtering mechanism. The people who don’t like my approach to writing this newsletter would be even more unhappy if we tried to work together.

But if you don’t share the authentic you – in terms of style, belief, and point of view – the mismatches don’t know to run away and the soulmates don’t have any way to recognize a kindred spirit.

And let me tell you, kindred spirits make great clients.

#2. It helps you figure out what you actually believe.

Novelist Henry Miller said, “I write to find out what I am writing about.”

Voicing an opinion is not just for the benefit of others. It’s an exercise in deciding what you actually think and believe.

Each time you create content, even something as simple as commenting on a blog post, you are sharpening your understanding of your own perspective.

The more you do it, the clearer things become.

As you gain more certainty and fluency in sharing your point of view, clients and prospective clients can hear that. Some of them hire you as a result.

Here’s the bottom line.

Whether telling a joke or putting a thought out into the world (business-related or otherwise), the risk is generally small, and the pain, if it occurs at all, is almost always short-lived.

The real danger as a professional is in fading into the background, either because you only communicate in plain vanilla, or because you say nothing at all.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been partially validated? Was it at a rodeo?
  2. What ice cream flavor describes the way you like to communicate?
  3. What is your favorite medium for creating and sharing content?

Share your answers below…

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23 thoughts on “Not So Risky Business

  1. Don Kleiner

    Not one medium for me to share on rather almost an ecosystem. Blog posts (on my website) shared on social media (only a couple are useful) . Then used as blocks in my newsletter that is also shared on social media and posted to the website.

    The real point is to get folks to visit the website and maybe look at a video or even read about the trips I offer and it all starts with an interesting story. Luckily in the guide business sharing stories is reall what we are about.

  2. Brad D

    A 3rd reason to take that risk, even with a restaurateur with a blackened personality, is this. If you have to be somebody else in your own business, what’s the point. You’re going to be miserable. Being miserable can’t be hidden, but can be misunderstood.

    Could be your hostess friend is just miserable at her work, but appeared she thought you weren’t funny. Dash that thought to bits.

    I was partially validated at a songwriter’s event in a one-time performance. I say one-time because I forgot my own lyrics to two of the five songs I played in that round. It wasn’t pretty.

    But I’ve given myself the chance to forget them again many times since and, darn it anyhow, it never happened.

    Ice cream flavor? Chocolate Mocha. Casual as a cup of Joe but hopefully enjoyable as rich chocolate.

    My fav medium is e-mail, After that it’s e-mail. And a strong 3rd is…?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I appreciate your positive (if unlikely!) spin on how the hostess could have possibly not thought I was funny and am with you on the chocolate mocha!

  3. Jennie Jolly

    You opened a loop you didn’t close! What did you find out about what “partial validation” meant in relation to restaurant parking… please… do tell! I suppose I was partially validated once when someone chose to marry me but then threw me back, so to speak!

    The ice cream communication flavor is probably Chick-fil-A’s ice dream because I love it, and my newsletter is dedicated to chickens + grammar!

    Earlier referenced newsletter, Fowl Language, is my fave medium for sharing content!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Yes, sorry for the unclosed loop. It means, apparatnely, that they will get you a reduced hourly rate, but won’t cover it entirely.

      Speaking of which, I am a long-time user of SpotHero, an app that lets you find and pay for parking ahead of time. I paid just $6 last night at a garage in Harvard square for a five-hour stay!

  4. Evelyn Starr

    Partial validation feels to me like when your adolescent child agrees you are right and is still annoyed at you anyway.

    Ice cream flavor to describe my communication? Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel. Delicious, substantial, a tad unusual.

    I love creating content to share via my Varsity Marketing Newsletter. Just started my 12th year of it. I’ve also enjoyed making some LinkedIn posts, but those I do as the subject or impetus arises.

  5. Laura Kelly

    Your newsletters are always short, funny, and useful. Can’t beat that. I wish all newsletters were like yours (and I guess your clients’ might be).

    In answer to your Discussion Questions, I was partially validated by my mother once, who told me my forehand was pretty good, but my backhand needed a lot more work.

    My communication flavor is Jamoca Almond Fudge— something healthy to chew over (almonds=topical info), with a lacing of something that most everyone likes (fudge=humor); and a savory jolt to keep people awake (coffee=unexpected questions and provocative tidbits). In a small neat little cup, not a big, drippy cone.

    My content is helping people with their words and images, and I used to share a lot of it via social media to diminishing returns. Now, for business, it’s mostly occasional direct emails to targeted clients, friends, and ex-clients. Not in huge growth mode at the moment—obviously!

  6. David Katz

    You could park at my house and walk 20 minutes. I’d give you full validation. I’m 70 and will meet you at the restaurant if I can straighten up after tying my shoes.

    PS Cherries Garcia. Hey, it’s my birthday.

  7. Sri Srikrishna

    The fourth week of every class I teach, I ask the students to provide anonymous feedback on what’s NOT working and what’s working. Talk about partial validation with half the kids saying nice things or don’t change anything and others saying everything from lack of clarity (usually on assignments) to speaking too fast. Truth to tell I had thought of it as character building but realize partial validation may be truer!

    Alas I usually stick with anything caramel with a dash of vanilla in there!

    Blogs are my chosen medium though am making a conscious effort to contribute on LinkedIn!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Very brave of you to ask such a direct question of your students. And I’m sure both you and they benefit as a result!

  8. Kristine Schroeder

    I took a chance last week and it blew up in my face. Ok – not really, the client just decided not to work with me. That stung a little. The thing is that WAS my first rodeo. So now I’m scared to get back up on that horse.

    Wow, the metaphors are plenty tonight.

    I’ve been married for a lot of years. So, I’ve been partially validated more times than I can count.

    The way I communicate is Rocky Road. It’s wonderful when you want it; but can be full of crunchy parts or soft spots and sometimes suspiciously too sweet.

    I love creating newsletters. I’m not quite the artist you are…I aspire to be one day.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Congrats on the horse ride. Just rememeber that everyone you follow or admire because they appear to be successful, started in the exact same place as you (and they still fall off sometimes).

  9. Vickie

    So true! (everything). Just today I was supporting one of my clients at a book expo. She is an indie publisher here in Florida where I live. I serve as her virtual assistant/proofreader/editor. I was standing at her table, talking to authors (mostly wannabe authors). One woman came right out and said, “I thought I had a story in me, so I just sat down to write to see what came out of me.” Why not, right?!

  10. Jack Lynn Peters

    Hello Michael,

    I’ve not come across anyone who has expressed this sentiment before you. Once again, you hit the nail on the head. Too much vanilla and you fade into the background. By speaking up, you share your authentic self. No need of working with people who don’t share the same values, laughter or outlook on life. It’s best to eliminate them from our lives as soon as possible.

    I’ve only been fully validated. And I cannot eat ice cream anymore.

    Be good,


    1. Michael Katz Post author

      As my friend Betsy says in describing someone she knows, “He’s a white stripe on a white wall.” Not exactly a good marketing strategy!

      And sorry about the ice cream. Me too (vegan).

  11. Bill Honnold

    My deceased father-in-law was known for his corny jokes and one liners. He frequently came up with some off the wall joke while engaged in a conversation. Most were funny and made you chuckle and shake your head. It’s one of the things we all miss most now that he’s no longer here.

    It was part of who he was. He loved to laugh and find the funny part of life. Most people loved him for it. If they didn’t, he figured something was wrong with them, not him.

    What a great way to go through life. Finding the lighter side of things and being yourself, regardless of what others think.

    BTW: Your sense of humor, Michael, reminds me of his.


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