The “You” Attitude

Stories of Organizational Communication, Part 2

Geri’s question: Our text stresses the “you” attitude. What is your perspective on this? Any illuminating stories to illustrate your point?

candy fundraising

"$6? I only spend that on sustainable chocolate bars. Got any Endangered Species Chocolate?"

So there I am, working from home on a project, when the doorbell rings and breaks my train of thought. I open the door to find a kid who should be in school trying to sell me something, usually candy. Most of these kids, according to their mumbled pitch, are selling their overpriced candy to keep them off the streets and off drugs. The most audacious pitch, I thought, came from one kid who was trying to raise funds so she could go on a field trip to Sea World.
And I’m thinking: “you want me to pay $6 for a candy bar so you can go to Sea World?”

I know this isn’t a class about selling candy. That’s not what I want to focus on here. What I want to address is: the demand for my time and attention.

I was busy.
I was interrupted.
I was then asked to do something for someone else with no benefit for me.

Consider that when you send out an email. Your email will compete with tens to hundreds of other emails and phone calls and memos and meetings and visits from co-workers and projects for the recipient’s attention.

Go ahead. Make that email all about you. I dare you.

We trainers don’t call this concept the “you” attitude. We use the acronym “WIIFM,” which is to say: the people who attend our course need to know: “What’s in it for me?” As trainers, we are constantly cognizant that the other person isn’t attending our class to hear about us and what we know. They want to hear about how they can improve their performance. But if we don’t take the time to draw the link between the information we have to share and how it could benefit the participants, we could be shouting golden nuggets and they wouldn’t pay attention.

I’ll share an example: sexual harassment training.
If you ever have to take this class, you’ll probably get an email that says something like: “CA law something or other mandates that you attend one 3-hour course on sexual harassment within the first 90 days of hire, and an hour refresher training each subsequent year.” At which point you, a very busy manager, say: “CA law can kiss my…” well, that sort of thing is covered in the training.

That’s an example of an email that doesn’t take into consideration the reader. It’s all about the company being compliant and covering their…well… and we tend to resent that.

But what if that email were worded differently? What if it began: “Did you know that shouting at your computer: “CA law can kiss my …” can make the workplace environment uncomfortable, alienate your co-workers, and cause disciplinary action that could include termination? Learn what’s important to maintain a comfortable work environment for you, your employees, and your peers in our class: All about CA AB 1825.”

I think that better reflects the “you” attitude, don’t you?

There’s another facet to this “you” attitude, which is that the participant isn’t us, so doesn’t know everything that we know.

When you’re writing: challenge your assumptions. Many times we write as though we were the audience, and we assume that the reader knows about things that we’re talking about. Does the reader recognize an acronym? Are the terms you’re using commonly known, or argot that reduces comprehension? Are key pieces of information that led to the generation of the memo/email/document included?

I send a lot of emails that basically state: “I need this information.” I only send those kind of emails when I’ve already been working with the recipient on a project.  For all the other emails, I take some time to explain what the reader may need to know in a way that involves them. A person who has to guess at what you mean will not see the benefit of the information you’ve shared, or why they need to take the action you want them to take.


This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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7 thoughts on “The “You” Attitude

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