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We’re continuing our tour of conflict today. I had been searching around for examples of reflective conflict when I remembered that Nikki, one of my Nurture Email Mastery students, recently sent me this to review:
Pete, my husband of 29 years walked into the home office where I was working. He cleared his throat.
“Hey Nik, I’ve just spoken with a TV producer who wants us to appear on a documentary about infidelity. Is that something you would be interested in?’
He eyed me curiously, trying to gauge my reaction.
Would I be horrified by the prospect of this? After all, just four short years ago I would rather have poked red hot needles in my eyes than let anyone know my hubby had cheated on me. I certainly would not have contemplated broadcasting it on national TV.
I paused and considered the request for a moment. Then I…
Reflective conflict is the ongoing mind-chatter that goes on in your head. Rather than fight with another person you end up fighting with yourself. Reflective conflict is about the universal human notion of choice and dilemma.
Reflective conflict is unlikely to ever be a story in its own right, more often it will be a paragraph or two.
There are two reasons to use reflective conflict in your writing.
The first is that reflective conflict makes you vulnerable. In effect you are offering the reader a peek into the inner secrets of your head. This vulnerability is what creates real emotional connection.
You can’t emotionally connect with somebody who has their guard up all the time.
The second reason is to add intrigue. Nikki could have cut out the reflective paragraph beginning ‘Would I be horrified’, but the writing would be less intriguing. Reflective conflict delays giving your reader the answer to the question you have posed.
Another thing that works here is the reflective conflict paragraph has been set up by a much shorter intriguing sentence; ‘He eyed me curiously, trying to gauge my reaction.’
Reflective conflict paragraphs tend to be longer than average. You are trying to work things out in your head, and this takes more space on the page.
The correct way to lead in to a reflective paragraph is to deliver a short sentence that underlines the question in the reader’s mind.
Note also the question was not posed directly, but through dialogue. Dialogue is a subtle way of raising a question in your reader’s mind because the question is raised in the natural flow of the story, not directly by you as the narrator.
The question felt un-forced because it was worked into the dialogue.
We’ve gone more in-depth into this than I had planned today, but this is the sort of thing we go over for five weeks in Nurture Email Mastery.
If all of that sounded interesting you should join the course. If not, probably not!
Have you ever worked with a nightmare customer?
Three years ago I received a new AdWords management lead. George had been reading my emails for a few months, and one day he got in touch.
George’s company was using AdWords to generate leads for an offline sales process, which was something I looked for at the time. The company was spending £25,000 a month on AdWords (about $35,000). Which for me was a large account.
George mentioned on the phone they had ‘been through’ quite a few AdWords agencies. But he’d like to ‘see what I could do’.
On the eve of the project George sent me an email in badly-formatted English. ‘I’d like a daily report please Rob’, the email said. ‘The report should show yesterday’s spend by campaign, click through rate, conversions and cost per conversion.’
I’ve never sent daily reports to clients because daily fluctuations can be misleading. Weekly numbers are more meaningful. And monthly numbers never lie.
I’ve also since learnt that clients who demand a daily report are usually spending more than their resources will allow. Clients who shit themselves about a daily drop in conversions are usually flying a little close to the sun.
It’s a tricky trade-off as an AdWords manager. On one hand you are spending other people’s money, and those people have a right to know what is happening. On the other you need the time and space to get on with your job.
I always knew if the conversions were down for the day because at 3PM I would get an email. ‘URGENT Leads down Rob. Please action ASAP.’
Things like this make me rage. Please action what? I’m not a magician. Most of the time I would ignore it and rely on a natural upturn in leads the following day.
I’ve also since learnt that clients who routinely send emails with URGENT in the subject line, signed off with ‘ASAP’ are not great clients to work with. It’s a small clue that they see you as a vendor to be used, not an expert to be consulted.
Not long after the project had started I made a bunch of changes to the website, and George blew his lid. “We make changes on a month by month basis,” he informed me. “That way we compare apples to apples.”
Apples to apples – yeah right. You can’t have it all ways up. You can’t scream and shout about your AdWords results, but also refuse to make any changes to the website.
The project fizzled out after a few months. I was glad, too. The hassle wasn’t worth the management fee they paid me. Or so I thought.
A year later George was back in touch. His last business had tanked, and now he had a new business in another highly competitive market.
George asked if I would consider managing the account again, since I had ‘done such a good job last time’. I wavered for a moment. The warning signs were all there. I knew George was a well-meaning but troublesome client. But I also needed the revenue.
So we went again. This time George wasn’t my main point of contact; he had a marketing manager, Jane. Jane was nice enough, but clearly under a huge amount of pressure to perform. Once again I failed to set the boundaries on when I could and could not be contacted.
At 9.50 every morning my phone would go (Jane started work at 10). Despite my repeated warnings about daily statistics she would want to discuss yesterday’s numbers, and know ‘what I was doing for them today’.
“Nothing,” was the response I should have given. “You’re paying me for results, not graft, sweat and labour.”
I didn’t have the gall to say that at the time.
A few weeks later I went to Italy for a week. I tried to reassure Jane that her AdWords results were unlikely to tank for a few days without my daily hand-holding. I had no phone signal in Italy, and no computer.
Two days in to our holiday I logged on to Wi-Fi in my hotel, and my phone buzzed to life. Wotsapp. It was Jane. “URGENT: NO conversions yesterday. George won’t stand for it. Please look at this ASAP.”
Really Jane? You’re going to harass me on holiday… by wotsapp?
After three months of emotional conflict our second project came to an end. George finally discovered that I had been ruining his monthly ‘apples to apples’ comparison by sending traffic to pages other than the homepage.
Emotional conflict is our second type of conflict (we looked at physical conflict last week). Emotional conflict still occurs between you and another individual or entity, the only difference is nobody gets physically bruised.
That isn’t to say it doesn’t hurt. Emotional conflict can hurt just as much as physical conflict. It can keep you awake at night. It can make you dread going to work.
The point in using emotional conflict in your stories is to:
I can’t be the only person in the world who has to make every mistake twice before getting the message.
The final type of conflict is reflective conflict. We’ll talk about reflective conflict in a few days.
Squaring up to Tony I raised my fists. Tony did the same. “COME ‘ED! Fuckin hit ‘im!” someone shouted from the outside.
Suddenly Tony burst forward. This was it. We were actually going to fight.
I’ve only ever been in one proper fight, and it was with a friend.
I’ve known Tony just about as long as I can remember. Tony is, and always was, a hot-head.
We were in year six, which would have made us about ten or eleven. One bright spring day at lunch I went to the boys room and found Tony standing at a urinal. Spotting the opportunity for a cheap laugh I gave him a shove forward.
(I know. I’ve always been this funny.)
Tony turned round and exploded. “That’s it!” he yelled. “We’re having a FIGHT after school”.
There is something viral about the word ‘fight’ in a school environment. It seems to travel on the wind all of its own accord. That afternoon random strangers came up to me to offer advice, and sparring practice.
In the two hours between lunch and the end of school Tony and I shared the same classes. The classes had what you might call an atmosphere. I would occasionally look at Tony. He would refuse to look at me. You could hear the word fight travelling around on the breeze, etched in to people’s faces.
At half three the end-of-school bell rang – ding ding ding! Fight-time. We headed around to the back of the school, followed closely by thirty excited onlookers.
I think at this point I would have backed down, but fight hysteria has a self-sustaining snowball effect. “Fight fight fight figghht” chanted the crowd. Somewhat reluctantly we squared up and raised fists.
The fight itself didn’t last more than a minute or two. We threw a few punches. I took a few hits – the sort that make your blood race to your head. A teacher heard the commotion and came out to stop the fight.
The next day once the hysteria had died I apologised to Tony when we were alone. He accepted my apology.
We now joke about it occasionally when I threaten to push him in to the loo.
I remember this story with great clarity because the lesson was crystal clear. Cheap laughs at someone’s expense aren’t funny. And take responsibility for your screw-ups.
It was an event that caused a small revision in my personality.
Importantly, had the fight not happened I don’t believe the revision would have happened, or indeed whether I would still remember the story.
Next week we’re going to explore conflict. If you follow my timeline technique you can mark conflict onto the timeline with an X.
Conflict in your stories should mean that some sort of character development is happening.
Character development is what we really want from a story. Next time you watch a great film the question to ask isn’t ‘what happened?’ The question to ask is ‘who changed?’
The moral of the story or the deeper message always lies in personal change rather than stunts and special effects.
Conflict can be used purely as an entertainment stunt, but it isn’t its real purpose. Conflict is really a catalyst for change. And people don’t change unless their immediate situation is untenable.
Fighting after school surrounded by a mob was an untenable situation for me, so it forced my outlook to change.
Working conflict into a story also adds intrinsic suspense. Look at all the S’s on the timeline. The sparring. The classes. The bell. I could improve the story by really lingering on those things.
I don’t see too many businesses making use of conflict in their marketing stories.
Sometimes conflict can be construed as negative. And that’s okay, you don’t have to tell stories about how you used to beat people up. Conflict can be subtle, too.
I believe there are three types of conflict; physical, emotional and reflective. In many ways the second two are more useful for business purposes.
To be continued.
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