assume positive intent

Here’s an observation – especially in today’s world of frayed nerves and insta-snark kneejerk replies at anyone who’s even perceived at being “out of line”.

What if the person reaching out to you didn’t intend it the way you interpreted it?

We’d all go a lot farther by giving folks grace and assuming positive intent.

An example from my personal experience –

Recently I read a really great book. Inside that book, the author mentioned an online forum.

I thought, “self, that sounds like an awesome place run by an awesome author – let’s go check it out”.

I got to the page, saw a link to log in or sign up, and then signed up.

Then… nothing. For over a week. It just kept saying my membership was in the process of being approved. So I’d check every other day or so to see if it’d gone through (’cause I love me some online forums, as many of you know). And one day, the system kicked back my login info as “unrecognized”.

I thought… well that’s weird. Maybe after sitting in an approval queue for a bit, it just resets?

So I signed up again. And I looked for a contact form. I sent in an email saying, “hey I tried to sign up for this thing and I keep getting error messages. Is there something else I need to be doing in order to complete the process?”

Shortly thereafter I got a message from the author of the book (!!!???!!!woooooooooot). I open it up and my heart sank –

I don’t recognize your name. On what basis are you signing up to join this site? You have to be invited or pay.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk…. ?

I mean I DID ask (at least I’m pretty sure I asked) what I needed to do to join… so like, telling me it’s a private paid forum and sending me a link to sign up would have been totally appropriate here.

I was confused by the response but I wanted to help get to the root of the confusion – so I wrote back:

Hi there,

I saw it mentioned in a book I purchased, and the book didn’t mention it was paid/by invitation only so I decided to join because it sounded like a great community.
If that’s the case, then no worries.
I realized I’d left something out and quickly sent a follow-up:

As a follow-up – had I seen an opportunity to pay to join, I would have already done so as:

1) I already recommend your books and trainings to all my students, and
2) I’ve already had tremendous experiences with paid membership forums ranging from $99/year to $2500+.

I’m not looking for a freebie, but simply didn’t see anywhere that mentioned it was a paid membership or that gave me an opportunity to purchase a membership.

The reply had me kinda flabbergasted…
I’m sorry you interpreted it that way, but no one else has had that problem. I have a free, public blog, and dozens of free newsletters, audio, video, and so on you can access on my site.
Ranty Angie was about ready to let loose, because at this point I was seriously frustrated.
Here I am, wanting to join a group. In my mind, it’s as simple as telling me how to sign up and pay. But I’m perceiving this vibe, this assumption that I’m trying to get something for nothing… which is weird because I already indicated I’m a buyer (I own several books).
Instead, I took a deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep breath.

I like this author. I have already received a lot of value from reading several of their books. I also see being part of the community as being incredibly valuable – both for me and for the community, because I know I have a lot to offer in terms of marketing expertise and coaching.


So instead of tapping into the frustration I felt and going full ham, I simply wrote back:

I wonder if we’re having a miscommunication?

Again, not seeking a freebie. Was interested in joining a forum I thought would be valuable based on the incredible value I already received from the materials I purchased. Didn’t see an opportunity to pay to join, so simply chose the “sign up” button I saw on the page.
If that’s not a forum that’s available to me, either because it’s paid or not available to the public, then that is fine. I am already a follower of your free works and was more interested in getting further involved in the community.
FINALLY… the reply came with a link, and a heads up on the cost to join.

Do you see what I’m trying to get at here?

This is a pivot point in your business… a crossroads where you can choose the temporary satisfaction of snarking at someone (who would have ultimately become a customer) or digging deeper, assuming positive intent, and communicating.
THIS is why we talk lifetime value (LTV) of your customers. Because that whole interaction COULD have ensured that I spent only $100 or so on books and never bought anything else. And not only that, I’ve got an incentive to recommend people steer clear because of one not-great interaction.
But this could also pivot me toward being a lifelong fan, community member, and serial purchaser. The difference is how you, as the person they’re buying from, conduct yourself (or your customer service team, if they’re engaging on your behalf).

There are two key takeaways here for me:

1) Make it clear how to buy, if you’ve got stuff available that isn’t free. 
On the page where I tried to sign up, it literally said “Welcome, you need an account to view this.” and then there were two buttons, “log in” and “join”. The “join” button didn’t take me to a sales page, an order form, or anything that showed me I needed to invest. If it had, I would have simply paid to join, finished registration, and been in by the time this email chain started.
Not everyone who sees your stuff expects you to give it away for free. And not everyone who wants your stuff is put off by having to pay. Give them the option to self-select into one bucket or the other and demonstrate clear intent with freebie seeking before you go full snark.
2) Assume positive intent.
If someone’s taking the time to go to your site, figure out who to contact, and put together a relatively coherent message – they’re probably invested to an extent. Most freebie seeking types are content to fire off complaints on Twitter or leave rambling, angry messages on review sites. Someone who reaches out to you without making explicit “MAKE ME HAPPY OR ELSE” demands? They could very well just be looking to solve a problem real quick and then continue on their way as a satisfied customer.
Give them the simplest solution. In this case, it would have been a link to join. Then the follow-up conversation never would have happened.
And I want to emphasize that last part… because it took MORE TIME to snark and do the back-and-forth than it would have to simply send a link saying, “hey, sorry about the registration trouble – that’s actually a paid group, and you can sign up here: LINK”

The whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth, and I admit to thinking long and hard about whether I wanted to join after that interaction.

Thankfully I’ve received a lot of value from other works I’ve purchased from this author over the years. So this time I’m going to chalk it up to a bad day (or these crazy times we’re all dealing with) and give the author the grace I wish I’d been given.

Maybe I’ll sign up next week.



If you’re an aspiring freelancer who’s working up the courage to leave the day job… good news! I’m sharing all the things I WISH I’d known before making the leap so that hopefully your journey goes a little more smoothly than mine.

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