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The Comment and The Damage Done

Neil Youn, Heart Of Gold - The Stigliano Chronicles

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.

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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.

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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

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Written By

Matt is a former PA-based rockstar turned real estate agent with RE/MAX Access in San Antonio, TX. He was asked to join AgentGenius to provide a look at the successes and trials of being a newer agent. His consumer-based outlook on the real estate business has helped him see things from both sides. He is married to a wonderful woman from England who makes him use the word "rubbish."

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. clint miller

    September 2, 2009 at 11:40 am

    AMEN!!

    Being able to debate a topic with dignity and knowledge versus “school yard insults” is a life skill that only some possess, I have found. One thing some people do not have is the ability to differentiate rational, logical debate from the emotional side and they start taking things personally. Once you start to take what is being said personally in a debate, you will lose.

    Not that it is about winning or losing…but you lose the ability to see things from their perspective. You lose the ability to accept that someone else can also be right depending on their circumstances. You lose the ability to accept that you might actually be wrong. 😉 And, you lose the ability to be civilized.

  2. Matt Stigliano

    September 2, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Clint – Emotion is always a powerful thing. It wraps us up in situations we usually have no reason to be involved in. It makes us throw out all of our gut instincts and logical processes. Controlling emotion probably should have been one of my points.

    Controlling emotion – Nothing derails your focus more than emotion. Blind rage, frustration, depression, or just plain old lovey-dovey – no matter what your emotion is it can throw you off the Logic Train quicker than you can click “comment.” Learning to control your emotion and keep things rational and logical will benefit your discussion as well as keep you from gaining a bleeding ulcer.

    How’s that?

  3. Atlanta Real Estate

    September 2, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Matt:

    All VERY good advice. I’m sure we have all been one both sides of all those fences at one poit or another in the last 10 years.

    After a few years, you either gravitate towards a more info exchange and light debate style, or you flame out and the leave blogs and forums.

    Nothing like having a blog debate ruin a perfectly good evening with your family!

    Anyway, nice post,

    RM

  4. Jay Thompson

    September 2, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Matt – a post full of very sage advice. Do this blogging thing long enough, and all sorts of people will come out.

    A couple of years ago, I “engaged” with a “bubble blogger” who had a rep of getting very nasty with agents. What I found after a few somewhat heated exchanges (heated, but very civil) was that the guy was actually pretty dang smart, and had some reasonable arguments. I think he felt the same about me.

    We didn’t attack each other, we attacked the points we each were making. I remember people telling me all the “bubbleheads” would descend on TPREG and rip me to shreds.

    That never happened. We debated openly and honestly, and we learned from each other. Pretty cool stuff!

  5. Matt Stigliano

    September 2, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    RM – I definitely agree I’ve been on both sides of the fence before. I used to be a little more brash and confrontational about things I believed in until I started traveling. There I learned that there are a lot of different opinions out there. Once I knew that, I was able to accept it and learn from them.

    Jay – I should just erase my post and replace it with your story. That’s an excellent example of what I’m talking about. Sure, you both will probably never think exactly the same, but you can relate and agree on different levels. I bet a lot of people that wanted to join the conversation with pitchforks and spite thought twice about joining the fray when they knew you had some good points. I’ve actually had some people stop by my blog for some stories I did about KB Homes. There is a group in San Antonio that are very much anti-KB and they wanted to get their message across. I simply explained what I knew, thought and had heard and before long I wound up speaking to a few of them on the topic. They were all very educated, ready to state their case, but never confrontational. I enjoyed it and learned a few things. We didn’t disagree on the total issue, but we had a great conversation.

  6. Atlanta Real Estate

    September 2, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Matt:

    TONS of other views, slants, angles and biases. And lots of frontal personalities.

    Easy to go frontal when you’re sitting in your keeping room typing on a laptop!

    Too easy for some.

    Rob

  7. Joe Loomer

    September 3, 2009 at 5:33 am

    In the words of Honest Abe – “Better to remain silent and be thought the fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt….”

    You guys have pretty much covered it all – both with Matt’s excellent post and the relevant comments…

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  8. Matt Stigliano

    September 3, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Rob – Having run the message boards for my band I learned the power of the internet to turn normal people into raving lunatics at time. I learned a lot of psychology in those years.

    Joe – I’m not one for quotes, but I must admit I like the Abraham Lincoln quote. I may just have to remember that one.

  9. Atlanta Real Estate

    September 3, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Matt:

    I know, it’s amazing. In real life these maniacs are probably too scared to flag down a waitress in a restaurant to ask for more water. But look out on the message boards!

    🙂

    RM

  10. Ken Brand

    September 5, 2009 at 9:28 am

    It’s good to review and remind ourselves how to behave and to treat other with respect. Nice post.

    Cheers

  11. Chris

    September 6, 2009 at 8:52 am

    I’ve moderate my comments on my blog for this very reason. People attack the person, not the subject matter or the points of the story. It’s a say commentary on our society and the cowards that hide behind their monitors saying things they wouldn’t have the guts to say face to face.

  12. Atlanta Real Estate

    September 6, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Sell stated Chris.

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