It’s Not Me, It’s You: The Sure Way to Get Your Message Across

The most effective strategy for grabbing people’s attention? Focus communication on their needs, not yours.

Most of us have been unlucky enough to have had a date with someone who looks great on paper, but who turns out to be a narcissistic jerk. The guy finds himself fascinating. He laughs before he delivers a joke’s punch line–that’s how funny he thinks he is. When you get a word in edgewise, you get the feeling he’s not listening–just waiting for you to stop talking so he can start again. Whatever his age, he’s the poster child for “The Me Generation.” The date seems to go on forever. You can’t wait for the evening to be over.

Contrast this with the experience of meeting someone who takes a genuine interest in you. This encounter could be romantic or platonic–the person could be a date, but could be a friend, a boss or a teacher. The point is that he finds you fascinating. He listens to you. He cares about what you say. He laughs at your jokes. You enjoy every moment in his company.

The difference between Scenario A and Scenario B is obvious. In the first instance, it’s all about him; in the second, you truly matter.

If B is so much better than A, why is so much communication like the bad date instead of like the rewarding relationship? Why would anyone create communication totally focused on what they want to say, ignoring what the audience wants to hear?

My only guess is that doing so is easier and familiar. After all, if you are writing to satisfyyour needs, there is not a whole lot of work to do. You know what you like.

On the other hand, trying to figure out what your audience wants, and then delivering it, is a lot of work. You’ve got to put on their shoes and walk around in them. But you think your audience’s Jimmy Choo shoes are ugly and impractical. The heels are really high. They hurt your feet. You whine, “Can’t I just wear my Keds instead?”

Get over it. The fact is, the key principle of getting and holding attention is to focus on the audience–to help anyone you’re communicating with (customers, employees, colleagues) solve a problem, meet a need, answer a question.

Your mantra should be: “It’s not about me; it’s all about you.”

Here’s how to put this philosophy into practice:

Old way New way
Me, me, me All about you
Share what I want to say Convey what you want to hear
List all the attributes of what I’m communicating Focus on the benefits to you
Give the whole story Cut out everything but what matters to you most
Make the tone sound official and important Be friendly and personal; chatty and colloquial


The upshot: Focus on what the recipient needs to know and communicate accordingly. After all, it’s not about you.


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