Sticks and stones.
I’ve been seeing a lot of negative comments on websites lately. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing a bit more research and reading than I had this summer. They range from constructive negative disagreement to wildly overplayed personal attacks. I am not against negative things in life. I actually find them quite useful. I do not find that personal attacks are a good thing, but I have seen them used with the end result being positive. It’s rare, but I’ve seen it.
Last week, I spoke about “inviting the debate” on The Stigliano Chronicles and after reading Kelley Koehler’s “Anger, Revenge, and Social Media” I had to wonder if I wasn’t setting up many people for trouble. Trouble? Strong opinions bring strong disagreements. Strong disagreements can quickly turn against you. Are you prepared?
Prepare for battle
I don’t think it’s necessary to build fortress walls around your blog, complete with moat, but I do think that a little preparation will make your life easier when it comes time to debate an issue and not let it get out of hand.
State your case – Be sure of what you believe, but don’t be so headstrong to think that you’re all that matters. You know what they say about opinions. State your case with conviction, but remain open to suggestion. Perhaps there’s an angle that you haven’t seen the issue from yet. I see debate/argument as an opportunity to learn. Sometimes I walk away more sure of my side than I was before. Sometimes I walk away with thoughts swirling through my head and a potentially new opinion. Stating your case clearly will only help others understand where you’re coming from. Having to go back and say “what I meant was…” can be a sign that you weren’t really sure what you were saying in the first place.
Listen – Easy enough. You invited the conversation, so stand by your invitation and welcome people with differing opinions, thoughts, and ideas. Shutting everyone out will only make you seem like you’re only debating to hear yourself talk.
Step back – Some people’s opinions will offend you, shock you, or feel like a confrontation. Maybe they are. Letting the conversation get away from you won’t help. Staying calm and level headed is a sign of intelligence, openness, and ability to have a conversation. Coming back immediately with an attack will only destroy your position. Much like writing that angry email to your boss, once in awhile you need to save it as a draft to come back to it later. Don’t say something you’ll regret later.
Know your stuff – Since the days of AOL chat rooms and Compuserve, the internet has attracted debate. Whether it’s the anonymous nature of the internet, the ability to pull facts and figures in an instant, or just some new psychological thought pattern that we have yet to really understand; the internet is the world’s kitchen table. Post an opinion online and you’re bound to get a rebuttal. Back when “flame wars” were all the rage, I saw many an internet user reduced to school-yard insults in order to save face in a debate. Knowing your facts is always the best way to go. If someone brings up a fact you didn’t know – confirm it, read up on it, and use it to continue the discussion. Don’t dismiss it unless it’s complete hogwash.
“Agree to disagree” – I’m not a huge fan of this phrase. I have used it, but I prefer not to. To agree to disagree is just a way of saying, let’s stop talking about this, I’m bored. I don’t always disagree with someone, but I would rather turn an opinion back on the opposing view and ask questions until I at least understand where they’re coming from. I can continue to disagree, but at least I can see where they got that opinion.
Feeding frenzy – Often when a conversation goes south online, the pack joins in. Sharks, wolves, killer bees – however you want to view it, the pack mentality exists and thrives on the internet. If you’re involved in a heated debate, more people are likely to join and take sides. It’s easy to take offense as people join the opposing opinion’s side. Don’t let it get under your skin. Anytime you start behaving like a teenage kid in a flame war, your opinions become much easier to dismiss.
Try it, you might just like it
Hopefully, this will encourage you to take a stand, state an opinion, or disagree with someone on a blog. Don’t do it for argument’s sake, but when used to start a discussion, you’ll find that those people often come back to see what you’re up to and learn, discuss, and debate with you. I’d love to see us as an industry open up to debate a little more (not to say it doesn’t exist, but I see many bloggers who play it safe). I feel that some agents shy away from discussions when they feel it may get heated or might come off in the wrong way. “Safe” blogging isn’t for me, it might be for you, but I’m willing to bet you might like a good heated discussion when you really believe in what you’re writing.
photo courtesy of Stoned59