craft, personal development

One Step To Being A Better Person

How many different motivational speakers and life coaches are in the world today? Approximately a brazillion.

I counted.

How many of them actually have something meaningful to say for your life?

Maybe 5 or 6.

Who are they?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Who knows. Those 5 or 6 will be different for everyone, and will touch everyone in a different way, at different times of their lives, impacting different spheres of experience: relationships, health, spirituality, career, finance, hobbies & play, etc.

I don’t know who they are, but I guarantee you they all have some 7 steps to success and happiness.

Their own flavor of 13 tips for living a better life.

A “27-point Foolproof Path to Fabulousness!”

Or something.

Do they work?


For the right people

At the right time.

But for you?

Right now?

Not likely.

You want my advice? Just be a better person.


I was reading Reddit and came across this nugget of self-hate. [] I’m not going to quote it, but it’s basically some guy in his early 20s complaining that he doesn’t know how other people do it. Everyone else seems to be better than him, and he wonders why.

And how.

How are they better people than him?

I offered my (admittedly unsolicited) advice with 5 steps to being a better person. I will, however, quote myself, because I think it’s worthwhile to have the discussion.

What to do? Stop reading “self-help” books that are written to exploit your addiction to “self-improvement”. The industry only exists to convince you that you’re going to get better if you just buy their next new source of tips and tricks. In reality, they want to sell you more books because, well, they don’t sell you any more books if you actually, you know, HELP YOURSELF to get better. You want 5 simple steps? Here, here’s 5 steps to becoming a better person:

  1. Read Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. It’s not a self-help book, but it is about being good with yourself.

  2. Go for a walk an hour a day, every day, for a year. No music, no audiobook, but just think.

  3. Write in a journal, not on the internet. Nobody here cares about you. you are the only one who does, so you are the only one who needs to know your thoughts.

  4. Stop smoking dope and drinking alcohol. You’re poisoning yourself and using intoxication to mask your real feelings.

  5. Stop swearing. It’s laziness. Put in the mental effort to think of a real insult. Swearing is simple, so it’s the mark of a simpleton. Be better than that.

So that’s my advice. But again, it’s “5 Steps to Being A Better Person”. And I realized, he doesn’t need 5 steps.

He doesn’t even need 3.

Or 2.

He, and everyone else, just needs ONE STEP to become a better person.

Are you ready?

It’s pretty radical an idea.

One that might revolutionize the self-help industry.

Here it is:


Just be better.

That’s it.

Don’t like who you are?


Don’t like your attitude?

Change it.

Don’t like your emotions?

Change them.

Don’t like your anger?

Change it.

Recognize that you are choosing, every moment of every day, what you are going to do with that moment and that day.

If you don’t like what you’ve chosen, choose differently.

Be different.


Be a better person.

I’m not the only one saying this. Here’s the Holstee Manifesto, which says a lot of the same stuff, in a pretty picture:


The Holstee Manifesto, available at

Just be that better person.

No, it’s not easy.

It’s not laid out in 5, or 17, or 49 “simple” steps. Those specific steps might have worked for them. They might have worked, somewhat, for others around the world. But I’m 99.9% confident they won’t work for you.

It’s not that simple.

Because it can’t be.

My 5 steps don’t apply to you. They can’t. It’s impossible.

I don’t know what you want, where you’re starting from, and what you’re willing to put in to get there.

Only you know that.

Only you know what’s going to impact you.

Only you know what’s going to work.

And only you can do the work.

So –

Stop looking for answers in a book, or on a website, or in a seminar.

Stop searching for tips on how to be better, and just … start … being better.

Right now.

Don’t wait.

Nobody else is going to do it for you.


Stephan is a writer, editor, speaker, and publisher living in St. Louis, Missouri. His fiction (and fiction-ish) can be found at and at


better language, business development

Salary “Negotiation”? More Like “Battle”

There’s a problem with the phrase “Salary Negotiation”. And no, I’m not talking about how the public school system has left millions woefully unable to spell “negotiation”.

I’m talking about the fact that this phrase even exists. In today’s modern age of taking all kinds of feelings into account, shouldn’t we have advanced past this simplistic, unenlightened mentality?

The Problem Of “Negotiation”

The problem lies in the word negotiation. Inherent in this is the perception of adversarial conflict. Two sides, each on their end of the battleground, coming together to “negotiate” a resolution to their disagreement.

courtesy of Wikipedia

The implication is that each side is going to have to give up something, in order to get something else. It’s a zero-sum game. Everyone loses something, and nobody goes away happy.

Because if you could have achieved everything you wanted without the negotiation, then there wouldn’t have been one in the first place!

But why should you care about this when discussing salaries? Doesn’t everyone have the same goal during salary negotiation, whether for new employees or at performance review time?


Not even close.

For the employee (or potential employee), their perspective is to get as much compensation for as little as possible. And for the employer, their desire is to pay as little as possible for that same employee.

Thus, conflict.

Why Normal Doesn’t Work

The standard salary negotiation doesn’t work, because, as in any negotiation, one side must make the first move. Generally, this puts the first mover at a disadvantage.

Poker players know this, which is why they want to be able to make their moves after the other player. (This is called being “in position”.) The advantage comes from the chance to gain more information about the other player, or the other negotiator, by their first action.

And now we get into game theory! Those who have to act first know that their adversary will get more information from their actions, so they try to bluff by making their position seem stronger (or, sometimes weaker) than it actually is, to induce a targeted action by the other.

In our salary discussion, this shows up in a couple of ways. Neither side wants to go first – employers don’t want to commit to too high a value, and potential employees don’t want to feel like they’re not getting what they’re actually worth.

I’ve noticed that employers have stopped putting salary ranges on job descriptions. That’s fine, because it eliminates one of the disadvantages they had before.

When they listed a salary range, they’re often automatically excluding qualified candidates who would have worked for slightly more than that range, but feel constrained because there might not be any flexibility.

And second, they’re attracting unqualified candidates who think they’re worthy of the salary, which leads to excess HR waste and time spent dealing with it.

From the candidate’s perspective, though, this is removing the advantages they had of knowing what the minimum and maximum are. It gives them some opportunity for additional conversation, though, and that’s really what I want people to start doing more.

Let’s Get It All In, Shall We?

The other problem with listing “salary ranges” is that it doesn’t accurately reflect the total compensation of the position. Two companies might each promise to pay a coder $75,000 for full-time employment. Seems fair. But one has benefits (health insurance, retirement, flexible time off, taxes paid, etc.) that are worth about 20% of that salary ($15,000), while the other has benefits worth 40% ($22,500). If you’re just “negotiating” on salary alone, without taking into consideration all the other elements, you’re missing out.

So, what to do about this? I think there are two changes that need to be made when discussing compensation, and one easy process to help make that happen.

First, Let’s Call It A “Compensation Conversation”

Because, frankly, there is much more to compensation than just “salary”. It’s the whole package that must be considered, and, unfortunately, since most of the additional benefits aren’t ever actually quantified, it has been a hidden factor for far too long.

Thus I think we should start including the financial value of benefits as part of the job offer or raise discussion, rather than simply talking the dollars on the paycheck. This will force into the open many elements that previously have been hidden, allowing for full disclosure and consideration by both sides.

An image from the promotional poster for the movie "Disclosure"
courtesy of Google, just like everything else

Next, Let’s Make Sure Neither Side Has To Overcompensate By Going First

Remember, the problem of going first leads to overinflating your position, because you know your opponent is going to try to negotiate you off your power, and since you know they’re going to do that you’ve expressly inflated your position, and they’ve expressly inflated their own, leading to a growing divide between the two parties. Rather than helping mitigate the conflict, I contend that having a “negotiation” widens the disagreement and further entrenches each side in their own position, lowering the chance of success.

Let me give an example. Suppose the software company wants to hire the coder for $90,000 ($75,000 salary + $15,000 benefits). But they know that coders will try to get every extra dollar possible out of them, and there will be a negotiation, so they purposely start out low ($70,000 salary listed), expecting the coder to ask for $78,000, and then they go back and forth.

The coder, too, has to play this game. Suppose he would have been happy with $80,000 total compensation ($66,667 salary + $13,333 benefits). But he knows the game, he knows that the posted salary from the company is “lower” than what they finally expect to pay, so he counter-offers the $70,000 with $80,000, expecting them to go back and forth from there.

Now, it may seem like everyone’s happy here. But are they, really? Sure, they got to a final agreement, but it took a lot of time, and wasted the chance for a lot of goodwill that could have been created through a better process.

But if I’m suggesting neither side go first, how do I plan to fix the process?

Instead Of One Side “Going First”, Have Both Sides “Go Together”

The difference in this situation is that both sides will, at the point of being willing to extend (and receive) an offer, agree to a Mutual Declaration. In this instance, instead of either the employer or the (potential) employee going first, both will reveal their position at the same time.

How this works would be that each side determines a range of total compensation over which they would feel is fair for the position, the expectations, travel, etc. Once each side has their range determined, both sides then exchange with the other, or an impartial third party.

If their ranges overlap, then the middle is automatically selected. If they don’t, then you actually get to have a conversation about what each side believes is fair. And that conversation can, and should, include much more than simply salary.

How It Might Work

Let’s go back to our coder. The company obviously has an upper limit somewhere around $90,000 for their position. They create a range that says [$80,000 – $92,000].

The coder, for his part, looks at the requirements of the job, the people, the benefits offered, and decides that he thinks it’s worth [$78,000 – $86,000] to him. Others might have a different perspective, but for him, anywhere in that range is fair.

Once they’re both done, they reveal their ranges. Since there’s an overlap from between $80,000 to $86,000, they pick the middle ($83,000), solve for a salary ($69,167) and benefits ($13,833) that each is perfectly happy with.

The main advantage is that both sides feel the process is fair, it’s taken a lot less time, and you’ve eliminated the confusion about total compensation, since you’ve added in the value of the benefits up front.

And what happens if the ranges don’t overlap? Suppose the coder feels that in order for him to accept this job he would need somewhere between [$95,000 – $105,000]. Well, now the differential is between $90,000 and $95,000. If there is flexibility on either side (work from home, more retirement benefit, more vacation, less vacation, higher salary offered from the company, lower salary accepted by the candidate), then all of those elements can be quantified and the conversation (not negotiation!) can continue.

In the end, they’ll either reach an agreement or not. But at least they’ll do it with the full faith and confidence that all of their positions have been taken into consideration.

An Obvious Limitation

I do suggest that there be some limits on the ranges. For example, you shouldn’t just list [$0 – $1,000,000], in the hopes of forcing the other side to accept the middle of their range automatically. That’s just ridiculous. At the same time, nobody should have a range that’s too narrow [$60,000 – $60,500] to, again, not really give anything away about their interpretation of the process.

So I recommend a range where the upper limit is no less than 10%, and no more than 30%, above than the lower limit. This creates a reasonableness check on the two sides and ensures nobody’s manipulating the other and the process. So if the software company above really wanted to pay around $90,000, they should have that as the middle of their range, something like [$85,000 – $95,000], and should be comfortable if they have to pay a couple of thousand dollars more than their “target”.

A New Term – Hopefully Used Often

I know this is a bit of a departure from my typical blog posts, but it’s an issue that’s been on my mind lately. It’s especially important because lately I’ve been doing so much thinking about terminology (“retention”, teaching, and inappropriate “Thank You” spring to mind). This is another area where a shift in perception will only happen with intentional shift in language.

I hope this perspective catches on. I truly believe it could add much value to the process.


Do you like this article? Or don’t? Send me a note and let me know what you think.

business development, craft, user experience, Writing improvement

Beware the Bot!

Chatbots seem to be all the rage these days in marketing. Some are good, some are, well… not so good.

They’re supposed to be a quick and easy tool to help increase visitor presence on your website.

They promise everything from increased time on page to simplified processes, eliminating humanity at the installation of a program and skyrocketing profits in the process.

And they’re becoming more ubiquitous by the moment. Google says there are ~33,000,000 website hits for “chatbots”. Now, those aren’t all bots themselves, but articles about them and self-promotions, too. But you know what I mean.

For your business, you can buy one, rent one, develop one, probably even lease one.

You’ve run into hundreds of them, perhaps thousands.


Most of the time…

They’re totally worthless.

Well, maybe not totally worthless.

The companies who make and distribute them still get paid. So I guess they got that going for them.

But for the rest of us? Those who are thinking of using them in our business? Or who have to interact with them as an end-user? “The juice isn’t worth the squeeze,” as they say.

I’ve got two up on my computer right now. And they’re pretty bad examples of chatbotting. Let me explain, and hopefully help you to avoid these same user experience (UX) mistakes in the future.


The first bad example is for a software company. I went to their website, and the thing popping up says:

“Hi 🖐️, can I set you up with an exclusive 14 day free trial?”

Basically asking if I want their product right away.

Before they know anything about me. Before they know anything about my needs, my budget, my clientele, anything!

I might be interested in a free trial. But I don’t know that when I first get to your website!

Offering that free trial is all well and good, in due time.

“In due time” means at the appropriate point in the sales sequence.

Maybe after you’ve already had some conversation with me, to investigate whether or not this software would actually be right for me.

You know, the old “Hi, how are you today? Do you come here often? Could I buy you a drink?” Not, Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but, wanna go out to my car and fool around?

Seriously, this is too much, too soon, and it’s going to turn people off.

You want to know what’s even worse?

This is a company I already do business with.

Yep, that’s right. I’m a customer.

They don’t really know me, do they? If they’re offering a trial of a service I already pay for, that tells me they don’t do a very good job of tracking who their customer are, now does it?

[Shaking my damn head over here.]

Don’t do this. Don’t pretend you know what your audience wants (free trial) without asking (support for an existing customer, learn more about the product, find information about careers, etc.).

And don’t be so stand-offish that you don’t even track who your current customers are! And here I thought I was dealing with a software company. I guess that’s just a myth.

But enough about that. Let’s get to the second example of bad chatbotting.


You know how it goes.

The chatbot, all dressed up in a fancy avatar with a pretend person’s face on it (because, let’s be honest, we all know at this point that there’s no real person on the other end, we could save all of us the trouble and just put up a picture of a motherboard rather than an actress), asks us what we’d like to accomplish. We type it in, sometimes the chatbot works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

In this case, it looks like this. Please note, this is a different company from the prior example. As it should be:

Hi! I’m Olivia, your virtual job assistant at *******! You can ask me anything about our business, culture, team and more.

Not so bad. I’m confident it’s a bot, but I expect that my question will get redirected to the appropriate party once I ask. So, I reply as such:

Hi, consultants generally have a reputation for a lot of travel. Would this be true for a “******** Consultant” role as well?

See, I’m using real-people speak and a question that I truly want answered. What’s the response? Well, instead of recognizing that this question is probably out of its standard programming, and telling me she’ll direct me to the appropriate party immediately, the chatbot honed in on a keyword (“consultant”) and provided a stock answer.

On our career site, you can search jobs by keyword or location. You may also enter a requisition number as a keyword. If a position has been closed or placed on hold, it may not appear in the search results. We would also highly recommend you join our talent community to stay informed about news, events and opportunities at ******** by clicking here: *******


Did that answer my question?


Did it recognize that it wasn’t answering my question, and direct me to a better way to get what I wanted?

Nope again.

Did it at least consider that it might not have answered my question, and confirm whether or not it did?

All together now: No way, Jose!!!

How do I know such truths about the inner workings of a chatbot? Because I tried to continue the conversation. Here’s my reply:

thanks. what’s five minus eighteen?

Pretty simple question, right? If you’ve got a real person. Or if you’ve got a well-programmed chatbot. In this case, you’ve got neither. You’ve got this:

My pleasure! 🙂

Multiple problems here.

First, the chatbot is masquerading as a real person, which is deceptive. We as consumers tire of this charade quickly. If you had a real person in there, she (“Olivia”), would see the question, answer “negative thirteen”, and then ask whether or not she’s been able to help you. Since she didn’t, I immediately conclude that it’s a bot, that I’m not worthy of a real person to this company, they don’t care about my problems or my questions, and I can write them off as unhelpful.

And secondly, if you had a well-programmed bot, you would be able to recognize when your standard script is insufficient, and you’d be able to code up a quick redirect to get them on the path. You’d keep the visitor happy, you’d actually solve their problem, and you’d be more likely to get a future client, applicant, or business partner.

All because you actually thought through an appropriate UX design.

Pretty simple functionality that’s been lost amid the desire for automation. And that’s a shame.

I mean, I’m not a UX designer, or a broadcast marketer, but heck, even I can see this isn’t working as it’s intended.

Sure, you cut out some people (and their requisite salaries and benefits), but at what cost? Reputation, ease of use, applicability, and humanity, for starters.


Don’t set up your chatbots like this.



It’s like, “Do you even know me, bro?” No, no you don’t. [Even more shaking of my damn head. I’m getting dizzy.]

It would have been better with absolutely nothing, rather than creating either one of these negative value experiences.

So in the future, don’t expect your chatbot to be the savior of your business.

Make it better. Actually put some thought into it. Don’t just expect to get the make-out session without the get-to-know-you session first.

Think through how people use it. And, when they do, review what they did, and whether or not they got what they needed.

And when you do, you’ll get better results.

I guarantee it.*

*better better looks, unfortunately, not guaranteed. 


P.S. If you’d like help creating automated messages for your chatbot, why not talk to a communications expert? A copywriter, perhaps? Send me an e-mail to and let’s figure out how to make your chatbot, your website, your book, or your autoresponders sound human again.