What are they really telling you?

In screenwriting, you don’t just write a script, ship it off, and (presto!) your words magically come out of your characters’ lips on TV.

It’s more like… you write a script, it goes through various gatekeepers and then eventually percolates up to the network executives, the execs make a million notes (“Cut this,” “Scrap that,” “That guy needs to die on the spaceship before the first commercial break,” etc.) and then they send your precious script-baby back to you looking like a chopped up, red pen mess. It doesn’t matter if you’re Shonda Rhimes or Aaron Sorkin—this is the drill.

The key is that you don’t automatically have to make every “edit” that they scribble onto your script.

What you need to do is learn the “note behind the note.”

For example: if a network executive says he doesn’t like that two of your characters have sex in a particular episode, that doesn’t mean that those two characters can never, ever have sex. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to remove or rewrite the entire sex scene, either. What it probably means is… you didn’t add enough story material leading up to the sex scene to make it believable and exciting. So the “note behind the note” is: you need to add or tweak the story leading up to the sex scene so that when those two characters finally get it on, it feels right.

Learning how to understand the “note behind the note” is an excellent skill for screenwriters and for business owners, too.

If you launch a product and it flops – low sales, not much enthusiasm – your first instinct might be to think, “My product sucks!” or “Everyone hates me!” or “I am human garbage!” (cry cry sob sob face plant) But, uh, that’s not accurate at all. Try to discover the “note behind the note.”

Could it be, perhaps, that you’ve been trying to launch too many things, too quickly, without any space in-between ferocious launch after launch after launch? The “note behind the note” that your customers are giving you might be: “Hey, we love you, but could you scale things back a bit? You’ve been offering us new products literally every other week and it’s becoming a bit intense. How about a little breathing room? Give us a chance to ‘miss’ you. Just a bit.”

Your customers might not literally be saying those words – out loud or in writing – but that could be the “hidden” note that you need to pick up on.

If you feel like your clients and customers are giving you a subtle, hidden note of some kind, but you’re not sure what it is… guess what? You’re allowed to ask.

Got a client who “hates” the logo you designed, the copy you wrote, the portrait you made, or the coaching work you did together?

Ask your client: “Could you elaborate? Share exactly what you don’t like and why. Also, tell me a bit more about your vision. What would you love to achieve here?”

Got a new program that noooobody is signing up for? Or a workshop with zero ticket sales? Or a product you slaved over that’s collecting dust bunnies on the shelf?

Do some detective work. Send a personal email to someone in your business community – an “ideal customer” whose opinion you value tremendously.

Say to that person, “Hey. I’m wondering if I can get your feedback on a new [product / service / program] that I just rolled out. Totally no pressure. But if you’re willing to peek at something I made recently, answer a few quick q’s, and give me your two cents, I’d love to reward you with [a Starbucks gift card – or insert another juicy reward of your choosing] as a “thank you” for your time and thoughts. Let me know if you’re down.”

Repeat this with a handful of other people, sending a personalized note to each person. Pretty soon, you’ll have tons of valuable insights that you can use to refine your product and make it totally obsession-worthy.

You get the idea. Dig a little deeper. Try to uncover the “message” that unhappy, bored, detached, or unimpressed clients are sending you, even if they can’t always put it into words right away. Because there definitely is a message there, and it’s one that you need to hear whether you like it or not.

Instead of tossing all of your hard work in the trash bin and starting over completely from scratch (which might not be necessary at all) try to learn:

What’s the note behind the note?