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How to Disagree Nicely

Written by Molly Talbert | on February 10, 2016 at 10:00 AM

How to disagree nicely in your online community

What happens when you're triggered? Knowing how to respond to a comment -- either general or directed at you -- can be tough,especially on the internet where tone and sarcasm are easily lost without body language. But knowing how to manage your anger and calm the situation are important skills if you value virtual communities. It’s impossible to avoid conflict, so it’s important to be prepared to keep it from spiraling out of control.

Even though it can be hard to cool down in the heat of the moment, here are a few tips to keep in mind when you disagree online:

1. Don't take it personally.

This one is really tough for two reasons. First, if you’re angry, chances are you’ve taken personal offence at the comment. It feels like they’re saying something bad about you. It’s understandable you’d take their comment personally, but that’s not helpful to you (or the community). Remember, you don’t know what sort of mood they’re in or what the context is (on their side). You also can’t control what other people think. It’s best to have empathy and move on (which is definitely easier said than done).

Second, you may know a little about them and want to take a jab or low blow at them -- lay out some dirt you have. Don’t do this. This will not help the situation. Remember: if you’re going to criticize, then criticize the work, not the person. As soon as you start making it about the people, things will really spiral down hill -- don’t risk violating your community’s guidelines.

2. Do your research.

If you disagree with a fact or statement, you can definitely refute it -- just be sure you’re correct. It’s pretty embarrassing when you tell someone they’re wrong and it turns out you were at fault. Plus, it could undermine your future credibility -- why would people believe you if you spout off false facts? -- and fuel the flames for argument. Before you respond to a comment, first research their comment and construct your reply, so you know you’re on the right track. Maybe there’s a piece of truth in their comment and the situation is more nuanced than you realize. Or maybe not. They could be totally wrong, and you’re right -- it’s still better to double check so you don’t end up with your foot in your mouth.

3. Be aware of language.

In an argument, how does it feel when someone points their finger at you and says, “You did ____!” It probably raises your hackles pretty quickly. That’s why language is very important online, especially when you only have words, not tone or body language, to convey your thoughts.

First, be very careful of absolute statements like “yes,” “no,” “never,” or “always.” True, sometimes you need to make a strong statement, but beware of putting someone on the defense too quickly.

Second, don’t say “you” or “we” if you can help it. Stick with “I” sentences since they’re less attacking. For example, “I think ____” or “I feel ___.” Keeping it in the first person will also help prevent people from taking the disagreement personally since you won’t sound accusatory (“You said ___”).

Third, if you want clarification or discussion, ask questions. It will show that you’re trying to understand or keep an open mind and could help move the conversation in a more positive, productive direction.

Fourth (hang in there), consider using an emoticon or emoji. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what someone’s intent is online, since you can’t hear or see them. If you reply or comment and worry it may be misconstrued, consider adding one -- just one! -- smiling emoticon at the end.

One other note on language: in general, try to be as accurate as you can with spelling, grammar and syntax. You may be writing replies quickly, on the go, and fumble your words. This will only dig you in deeper or create more misunderstanding. Make sure your writing remains authentic, but is still clear and easy for everyone to understand.

4. Wait to respond.

One of the benefits of having a disagreement online rather than in person is you can take more time to respond. Rather than writing something you’ll regret while you still have steam coming out your ears, take a break. Walk around the block. Eat lunch. Even show the comment to a friend or coworker, get their opinion and talk through potential responses. Once you’ve calmed down and can trust yourself, post your reply.

5. Take it off-line.

Depending on the nature of the disagreement or the person you’re disagreeing with, consider picking up the phone and calling. Messages and intent can get lost in digital translation, so if you want to salvage the relationship and stay on working terms, it could be worth clearing everything up over the phone or a cup of coffee.

Whenever you stray into uncomfortable territory or find yourself in a disagreement, don’t forget to go over your community’s guidelines. If the guidelines are well written, they may have tips for how to engage fellow members when you disagree. It’s also important for you to know what expected and unacceptable behavior are. This is important, not just so you can flag an inappropriate comment, but also to make sure you don’t get carried away and break the social guidelines.

What are your tips for smoothing out a disagreement on your community?


Topics: Online Community Management, Engagement, Online Community

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