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Empathy is the best way to tell the truth.

You guys ever see Glengarry Glen Ross?  I haven't, but I hear people talk about Alec Baldwin's "coffee is for closers" speech all the time.  Not having actually heard the speech or seen the film, I'm not sure that I have the right context or understanding.  But I think it goes like this:

I need results!  I don't care if you're having problems - if you aren't getting results, you're useless to me!  You fuckwits are all garbage!  Go sell some houses / insurance / whatever the hell we sell or you're fired!  Fuck fuck fuck fuck where's my Oscar?


The praise for this scene is echoed by many who consider it to be a great motivational moment.  (Among whom is Mr. David Wong, whose website is kind of like my spiritual arch-rival in ways that only make sense to me.)  It's often used as an example of a "let's cut through the bullshit and tell the truth" moment.

Similarly, guys like Anthony Melchiorri on Hotel Impossible or Gordon Ramsay on Any Cooking Show Ever With Gordon Ramsay have made entire careers out of spewing vitriol at their "patients" while telling them everything they're doing is wrong.  For some reason, we eat this shit up.

But here's the thing I find mystifying.  As a writer who occasionally values the quality of his work, I find that I always have to revise my writing when it's acerbic.  Even if I think I'm making a great point and I'm using my anger as a "wake up call" for the reader, the impression that is relayed back to me is always terrible.

Telling the truth - whether it's just your version or the actual truth - is always a passionate pursuit.  You can be engulfed in the flames of righteousness and you'll find yourself excusing anything you might do or say.  The thing is, if you actually want to achieve something - if you actually want to get the truth across or get people to change - your anger and righteousness just get in the way.

When I write an epic monologue, I think I'm being insightful.  When somebody reads it, they think I'm a douchebag who took seven paragraphs to prove how much of a douche I can be.  It ends up being a waste of time.

Going back to Glengarry Glen Ross again: my understanding is that Alec Baldwin is pissed off because his company isn't making enough money.  (Again, I'm not sure what they do exactly.  They're like, what, travel agents or something?)  So he comes into the office and screams "ALWAYS BE CLOSING" as if that's going to magically fix the problems.

You know what's going to be waaaaaay more helpful, Al?  Giving some sales tips.  Sit your staff down at their desks and role play with them.  Pretend to be a customer and guide them on things to say or not to say so they're actually prepared to do their shitty job.  News flash: if you train your personnel to do their job, then they will actually do their job.  Screaming about it like a child just makes you look like an asshole and suddenly nobody wants to be around you.  You go from being the boss to being the bad guy, the one who we have to work against instead of for.  You've created a conflict where one didn't need to be.  You're a real shitty manager, Al.

I have to assume that the only people who find that speech motivational are psychotic.  (Ya hear that, Wong?  Your philosophy is a lie.)

So, here's the lesson to learn if you ever have to break bad news: Don't be an asshole.

Write that down.  Put it on a banner.  Put it on a sticky note next to your computer.  Put it on your coffee mug.  Don't be an asshole.  And then people will listen.

I know that sooner or later you'll have to let people know some harsh truths, and that's going to be a drag no matter how you slice it.  Some people have to be told that they're doing a terrible job or that they don't have talent or that they need to find a new line of work.  Some people need to be told that they have an unpleasant odor because they aren't brushing their teeth or using deodorant.  Some people need to be told that their babies aren't as adorable as they think they are.

Not me, though. My baby's the cutest.
Unpleasant truth is a heartbreaking thing, but it's absolutely vital in order for people to improve.  And the easiest way to get people to digest it and actually take it to heart is to not be an asshole about it.  Nobody needs to be antagonized in order to listen to what you have to say.

So I'd like to pass this sentiment along to any fellow writers who may be working on a political treatise at the moment.  Especially if you, like me, are also a skeptic or agnostic and you have scientific evidence on your side.  It doesn't matter whether or not you're right.  The minute you start acting like an asshole, you'll lose your audience.  Say what you've got to say, and if you actually want people to take it to heart, be respectful about it.

Or, in other words, quit acting like you're on the Internet.



PS - Don't do that Glengarry Glen Ross thing at your office.  It's a bad idea.

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