Sunday, March 20, 2011

Please listen

I always find it interesting when the two seemingly completely different parts of my life converge. Wearing my other hat, I'm a figure skating coach, and I blog at Xanboni about being not being insane (unfortunately endemic with skating parents).

Seems like gardeners can be pretty insane, too, and, unlike skating moms, not afraid to call each other names right to your face, or to question, variously, your sanity, knowledge, antecedents, and intelligence based on the proximity of your home to a Big Box store.

I write lots of posts on Xanboni about how to talk to skating coaches, skating directors, skating parents and skaters. And it always starts with Respect. Assume that the tweeter, blogger, or commenter could be you and analyze how you would feel if you were the target of these comments.

Here's the drill:

Don't say anything at all
If you read something you disagree with, look it up through other reliable sources. This was my mistake. I heard something I disagreed with and jumped in with both feet.

Ask to be sure that you heard what you thought you heard (see "Active Listening" steps, below).

Know what you're talking about
Nothing disappears on the web. It's ridiculously easy to find the information you're commenting on. Don't accept just one version of it, and don't assume that the haterz are right. Do the research. Don't make a comment that you wouldn't say to a person's face. (Really, folks, this is Internet 101, and it starts with avoid words like "twitterhead." Seriously.)

Assume the most positive motivation
No one steps into dog poo on purpose.

Use active listening
Active listening is a standard negotiating technique that helps everyone understand exactly what the problem is and why you're concerned. It's a little slower on the web, because you have to give the person you're talking to time to respond, but it still works:
  • Frame every concern as to how it affects you: "If I follow your advice, I'm afraid my plants/meals/family will suffer."
  • Use "I" statements, not "you" statements. Wrong: "You're a twitterhead." "You don't know what you're talking about" Right: "I read your statement on line and I need you to clarify" or "I'm concerned that your advice won't work for me."
  • Repeat the response and then rephrase it as to what you think it means "You think I'm a twitterhead because you feel that I made a statement without thinking about it." (Get the feeling I don't like being called names by total strangers who haven't done their research?)
  • Don't have an outcome in mind, and don't take sides. If you make up your mind about a single acceptable position before you start the conversation, you will not be able to hear the discussion.
  • Don't use threats or namecalling.
Avoid blame
Controversies are no one's fault. They are simply ordinary situations that slipped under the radar and got out of hand. Go back to the origin of the problem, find out how the problem affects you, and have a discussion from the outset that gets you not vindication, but resolution.

Update: Always respond. This is good internet etiquette and good marketing, and it forces the commenters to see the blogger and each other as people.

Here's the Xanboni post that inspired this essay. Just in case you're both a gardener and a crazy skating mom.

UPDATE: I wasn't going to name names, but looks like I need to: This post is an example of someone who tried, a bit, to make amends for bad advice, but the comments quickly devolved into fanboyism, with no one going back to see what she was talking about. Here's one where the blogger stuck his neck out, and then basically went through the steps above, to keep the discussion civil while letting everyone get in their point.

One of them's a blogger. The other one's a journalist.

No recipe today. Just some advice:

Be Excellent to Each Other


  1. Unfortunately, it's so easy to type out one's frustration, forgetting there is a human being on the receiving end. Things are even more complicated by the fact that you can say a lot more in person that the other person knows for sure is sarcasm or a joke, through facial gestures and intonation, but this can be lost online; and before you know it an offhand comment you thought was funny ends up hurting someone when that was furthest from your intention.

    Case in point: I interpret twitterhead as someone who likes to tweet and don't find it personally offensive.

    It's a fine line between never posting anything because one gets too paranoid about accidentally hurting someone's feelings, and trying to be in the moment. I don't have the answer.

  2. Ok,

    Sorry about the incomplete thoughts on Twitter earlier. I agree with your post, but I feel like not following these "rules" makes for better blog posts and internet fights. Plus, it usually brings out the dumb commentariat. You get to know who to ignore in the future because they don't contribute to the discussion anything other than brown-nosing or ridiculously sycophantic comments.

  3. MBT The dumb commentariat will always be with us. But I found your post and comments both easier to read and more informative, *because* of the lack of noise, while still allowing you to snark away ("hard of reading")