‘Blogging would be great if it wasn’t for the people.’
This is the comment of one blogger that I spoke with recently after they’d had a particularly hard week of blogging. He had come under quite intense criticism from a number of other bloggers in his niche who had attacked him after he’d rather unwisely picked a fight with one of them. Some of the attack he received was fair enough (he deserved it in part) but other parts got personal and spiteful and left a sour taste in the mouth of all concerned. To say there was a ‘blog fight’ would be an understatement.
There comes a time in most blogger’s experience when blogging just sucks. When you communicate in a public forum you are automatically put under scrutiny – when you communicate online there seems to be an added pressure as there is an anonymity on the web that seems to cause some people to loose all sense of reasonableness, curtsey and inhibitions (a dangerous combination).
So what should you do when it all gets too much and blogging begins to suck because of the actions of others? Here are a few thoughts that come from my own experience of sucky blogging days over the past few years.
1. Thicken Your Skin – For starters, and even before you start a blog, you need to prepare yourself for the day that ‘one of those days’ comes along in your blogging. As I say, it will happen if you blog for long enough so you might as well start preparing yourself for it sooner than later. In fact while some people don’t like criticism and sometimes it’s not much fun to see the weaknesses in your work pointed out – it’s actually one of the strengths of blogging and a certain level of critique should be expected and will help to make you a better blogger. Having said this you might like to also prepare for how you might deal with it before it happens rather than reacting in the heat of the moment in a way that might do more damage than good.
2. Establish Boundaries – This is another thing you should do before a conflict to help preempt them. I’ve talked about setting boundaries on many occasions on this blog in terms of deciding what you will and won’t blog about - but another type of boundary to consider is the type of things that you’ll allow in the interactive areas of your blog. For instance, what level of language will you allow? Will you delete comments that engage in flaming? What tolerance will you have for trolls? What will you do if someone leaves a comment that could be defamatory towards someone else? What types of comments will and won’t you respond to? Once again, thinking about these things before a conflict is helpful once it actually happens. While I know that some people have problems with editing the comments of others on their blog, I do not. If someone leaves a comment that I think goes beyond what I’m comfortable with take approapriate action. While this has happened to me on only a handful of occassions in three years – it does occassionally happen (usually when I feel someone’s comments are defamatory, racist and/or very offensive).
3. Remember the Humanness of the Other - There have been many times where I’ve seen interactions between people online that make me wonder if those participating in the conversation fight have any lost sight of the fact that they are talking to and about another human being. Online interactions are quite unique in the anonymity that a person can have. This causes people to say and do things that they’d never say or do in person. It is easy to get drawn into this mindset (I’ve done it myself) and it’s worth reminding yourself before, during and after the conflict that as much as you might be angered or frustrated by the other person that they are a real person and deserve to be treated as such. This doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for yourself, but it helps you to remember to do it with a little more respect and dignity.
4. Step Away from the Computer – One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to not respond in the heat of the moment in anger. Online disagreements have the ability to escalate incredibly quickly to a point where they go beyond what is reasonable. This is partly because people respond out of the anger and pain that they feel in the moment rather than taking a deep breath and responding with some thought and perspective. Take a break away from the computer for a few minutes, hours or even over night and then come back to the dispute. It will still be there when you come back. If you do need to respond quickly it might be wise to write a short response that you’re feeling angry and will respond more fully in an hour or so because you don’t want to do so out of anger.
5.Listen – This might be the last thing you want to do when under attack (it’s far easier just to think you know what the other person is saying and to just respond to that) – but learning to listen to the arguments of others is vital for a number of reasons.
- ‘They’ Could be Right – ouch, this hurts when it’s true and is hard to admit to, but sometimes you will get it wrong and someone else will be speaking truth (or at least partial truth). The quicker you identify the truth in the other person’s arguments the better – this only comes by listening as impartially as you can.
- Debate Skills 101 – I never did very well in debating at school but I did learn one skill reasonably well. If you want to win a debate your arguments should always take into consideration and be built upon the what the other person says. If the other person is wrong – you need to be able to point out why or how. To do this you need to actually hear what they are saying.
- Finding Common Ground – The funny thing about some online fights is that the people that are arguing fiercely can often be not too far away from each other’s positions. Listening carefully helps establish the common ground and areas of agreement which is a conflict resolution tactic that can take some of fire out of the interaction and allow a more productive and peaceful result.
6. Accept responsibility - If your attacker is right (or at least partially so) it’s important to admit this up front. It takes swallowing your pride and perhaps loosing some face – but in the long run it’s better to do this up front than at the end of a long arduous battle. I find that when you do this it can also take the heat out of the situation and that the other person might be also willing to admit their own wrongs in the situation.
7. Don’t get Personal – This taps into the ‘remember they are human’ point above but is worth reemphasizing. Getting personal achieves nothing but escalating a conflict and perhaps even creating a lifelong enemy. It takes the focus away from the actual disagreement and further away from any productive resolution. Personal attacks are easy to get into but resisting the temptation (especially when others don’t) can be a powerful thing and win you a lot of admirers.
8. Take it private – There are some discussions that are useful to have in a public forum because they are done in a way where people come away from them having learnt something. On the flip side there are some discussions all in online brawls that achieve little except to enrage a two different camps of people. I find that if someone leaves an inflammatory comment on my blog that if I email them quickly asking if I can do anything to sort out the situation that more often than not a potential ongoing rift can be sorted out in just a few emails. I remember one case in the past 6 months where a reader on one of my blogs left a series of very angry comments within a couple of hours and when I emailed to ask if I could do anything to rectify it he promptly apologized and explained the hurt in his life that had caused the comments and asked me to delete them. If I’d responded in anger to his comments it could have gotten ugly very quickly – but because I politely attempted resolution in a non threatening private way it was quickly sorted.
9. Keep Perspective – ‘It’s just a blog’. Late last year I found myself saying this to myself quite a few times. While in the heat of battle the fight can see so important and worth having – with a little distance it can look more like a couple of kids having a schoolyard fight over nothing at all.
10. Look for Opportunities – This is difficult to do when you’re hurting – but one thing to keep in mind is that every threat is an opportunity waiting to happen. One of the lessons I remember about my business studies was a tip that a lecturer on customer service. He said that every customer complaint is an opportunity for a loyal customer. If you can turn around an angry and dissatisfied client to a point where they are satisfied you could just end up with a client for life. This is true in blogging. I know that a number of the most loyal and active promoters of this blog once were it’s biggest critics. Not only are their opportunities in the one on one sense, but because so many blogging conflicts are public ones in comments and blog posts, you also have the opportunity to respond in a way that could attract new readers to your blog. Once again I think of the times when I’ve come under attack the most in the past year and I can see that they were times when I had an influx of readers and that these were times when some marginal/occassional readers became daily loyal readers.
11. Anger = Threat – This time I’ll reminisce about a lesson I learned when I studied counseling (another of my ‘lives’ that I don’t talk much about). One of my counseling lecturers one day made the observation that behind almost every instance of anger than he’d seen was some sense of threat to the person experiencing the anger. This is good to keep in mind both as you deal with angry people but also as you consider your own anger. Talk about and deal with the threat (the source of the anger) that you are both feeling and you might find resolution is not that far away.
12. Dialogue – While I don’t mind a good old debate from time to time another approach when being attacked is to respond in a dialogical way. This incorporates a number of the above points (listen, accept responsibility, don’t get personal etc). Dialogue is when both parties agree to allow the other person to share their perspective and where they make a genuine effort to understand where they are coming from. It’s not about proving one side of things right or wrong but about understanding and learning. The beauty of dialogue is that you might end up agreeing to disagree – but in the process you will hopefully learn something about the other person and their perspective.
13. Consider a Mediator - I’ve seen a couple of instances over the past month where a third party has come to a conflict as an independent person to help two parties work through their differences. A mediator doesn’t take sides but helps each party to say their piece and to find peace with the other. I find a third party can also be useful to tell me to pull my head in occasionally. On more than one occasion of late I’ve gone to other bloggers that I respect to ask if I’m in the wrong in situations – quite often they are honest enough to tell me that I am.
14. Control the Rhythm and Tone of your Blog – One of the traps that I see some bloggers fall into when they come under fire is that they allow the conflict to dominate their blog. Rather than continuing to write posts at a normal rate and on a normal topic they get sucked into what ever they are angry about and can become quite obsessed by it. While you may need to write some posts on the controversy to convey a message to your readers – you should keep in mind that most of your reader are not as fired up as you and could become quickly disillusioned with you for allowing your blog to loose focus. When I write a post that buys into conflict here at ProBlogger (and I try to avoid doing so most of the time these days) I always attempt to follow it quickly with a ‘normal’ type post so that regular readers who are not interested in the conflict have something to get on with reading. If you don’t keep some sense of normalcy to your blog you might find the negativity of it all has led to you losing some of your regular readers.
15. Move on – Sometimes after using all of the above strategies the battle rages on and both you and the other party are angrier than ever. Unfortunately in these situations you can end up being quite consumed by the negativity of the dispute (it can become quite addictive proving you’re right and proving that another person is an idiot). In such cases there comes a time when it comes necessary to disengage from the interaction in one way or the other. This might mean closing a comments section, black-banning yourself from visiting someone’s blog (I’ve done this a few times) or just agreeing to disagree with the other person. Keep in mind that if your fight is a public one that your readers can easily become disillusioned by your negativity and obsession with pointing out the faults in another person so for their sake it might be worth moving on sooner than later.
Of course the above tips are just my perspective and what I attempt to do. Of course we all have our bad days from time to time and I can get sucked into breaking all of the above ‘rules’ as much as anyone else in the heat of it all. Hopefully the above will be of at least some help next time it happens.