Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Audience - Essay from Newsletter 102

What do they hear

Compared to what

The spring Apple Event just ended.

There were announcements for a new phone, iPad, Mac, and display.

If you’re still with me, I’m getting to the point - this is not a technology post.

The iPhone announcement was particularly interesting to me. The current line of iPhones are the iPhone 13 offerings. It comes in four flavors and a bunch of colors.

The first iPhone announcement was for new colors for some of the iPhone 13’s.

The second announcement was for a new iPhone SE. This third generation model replaces the second generation that was released two years ago.

The new phone’s specs were compared with the iPhone 8. On the product page, Apple allows you to compare this third generation SE to the second generation SE or to the iPhone 6s, 7, or 8.

I find this fascinating.

This is Apple’s market for the new phone. Someone who owns one of the top of the line models for the last four or five years isn’t going to buy this phone. This is a phone for the person who hasn’t bought a new phone in a long time and needs to reminded that they might want something much faster - but not the latest and greatest.

It’s a lesson in knowing who you are talking to and how they are hearing you.


I’m coming to the end of writing my bread baking book.

I had most of the recipes and prose written a year ago but the story wasn’t quite right.

My reviewers weren’t responding to it the way I’d hoped.

So late last year I decided that what I was saying was fine but the way I was saying it wasn’t. I hadn’t understood how my audience was hearing me.

So I’ve reorganized the book around various themes. The chapter that I published today was based around preferments. We take the same basic recipe and bake it with just the flour, water, salt, and yeast in the recipe. Then we see what happens if we save some of the dough from today and mix it in with the dough tomorrow. Hmmm. The flavor’s a little different.

But what if I want to bake tomorrow but I didn’t bake today? I have no flour to hold back.

That’s ok. We can take a little bit of the flour from tomorrow’s recipe and mix it with some of the water and a pinch of yeast and leave it to ferment overnight. Then tomorrow when we make our dough we get the advantage of the little bit of dough that’s developed extra flavor. These require a biga or a poolish.

If we had a sourdough starter then we wouldn’t need to make one of these special preferments. We’d just take some of the starter and use it in tomorrow’s bread and then feed the starter so that we could use it another day.

Every chapter has a theme like that. You can jump in and bake any single recipe in the book - or you can read the surrounding material and get more context for that recipe.

Cut and pastos

There’s no such thing as a cut and paste-o but I mean it to be the analog of typing mistakes being called typos.

When I reorganized the material I changed the order. This meant that I had to look out for places that I said this recipe is just like this other one that you’ve seen - because you haven’t seen it now.

I also decided to change the formatting of the recipes to look nicer. This involved some cutting and pasting as well.

As a result, I ended up with some of the bagel making description appearing in the pita making section and a step in the pita making left out.

Cut and pastos.

Fortunately, readers send me notes pointing these things out and I can fix them.

Unfortunately, sometimes people don’t tell you the things that confuse them or even anger them.

No need

I’m sure I’ve told you before that when Maggie was little and would go out of her way to do something helpful, we’d say “thank you” and she’d reply, “no pleasure.”

She somehow had combined “no problem” and “my pleasure” into “no pleasure.”

Twenty years later that still makes me smile.

We understood her intent even though the phrase “no pleasure” meant exactly the opposite of what she meant to convey.

My friend Mark pointed out a while ago that I do this.

If I contact someone to thank them for something or to pass along a comment out of the blue, I want to let them know that I don’t want them to feel obligated that they have to reply.

I will write, “no need to reply” at the end of my note.

I don’t mean I don’t want them to reply. I mean that I don’t want them to feel that they must reply.

When Mark first said this to me, I didn’t get it.

Now I can see that it can be taken as me ending the conversation and saying, “I don’t care what you have to say.”

I had a friend who used to refer to her class as “you people”. It was her way of being inclusive and friendly. It was part of her charm until she taught a class of minority students who took it as racist and derogatory.

She understood how they had heard it and was horrified. It wasn’t at all what she meant.

“No need to reply” wasn’t what I meant when I said “no need to reply.”


Before one of the conferences I co-hosted last year, one of the speakers wanted to make sure that I understood that their pronouns were no longer he/him but they/them and that it was important that I got it right.

I said that I would do my best but that there was a possibility I could slip as we’d known each other before the change. I said that it wouldn’t be deliberate but that if this was a problem, I understood if they wanted to be introduced by one of the other hosts.

Fortunately, once I knew it was important, I remembered (though I have a nagging feeling I did get it wrong once).

Understanding the importance of these words to someone else made a big difference.

Last Friday I made a mistake with another pronoun and realized that I make this mistake all the time.

I use the word “you” when it isn’t always appropriate.

I was having coffee with a friend and he was asking me why I thought something was a particular way.

“Because you’ve been telling me that for five years,” I told him.

By “you”, I meant visible people that worked at his company.

By “you”, he thought I meant him.

It turned out “you” wasn’t what I meant when I said “you”.

And yet I had a harder time stopping saying “you” than I’d had changing from “he” to “they”.

I’m not sure why.

When I was in radio I learned this trick for stopping saying “umm” all the time.

Step one was to replace “umm” with “and”. Step two was to eliminate the “and”s.

It turns out that people don’t notice the “and”s as much as “umm”s and the two step process was easier.

So Friday, in my head I replaced “you” with “you people”. No, I didn’t say “you people” out loud. Instead I used the name of the actual people who had said these things that we were arguing about.

Understanding how people hear what you’re saying helps you say the things you want them to year.

And this time by “you” I mean “we”.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 102. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

See also Dim Sum Thinking — Theme by @mattgraham — Subscribe with RSS