In a previous post, I touched upon a couple of tips on how to address conflict in your community as a community manager (a well as offer a process to follow).
As the community’s judge and the person who has the final say, it’s important you remain impartial. This is especially vital when addressing conflict between members of your community. To make sure you don’t raise the temperature and lose your cool when doing wading into an argument, here are some more tips on dealing with problems with sensitivity, respect and fairness.
Avoid making warring parties feel victimised
Always communicate with users by using “I” rather than “You”. If I say “I feel this discussion is descending into a disgraceful free-for-all”, I am a lot less likely to incite feelings of defensiveness on the part of participants in the community. Encourage others to do the same rather than load responsibility for the argument on others by making statements starting with “You”.
Don’t react impulsively
Rising to the bait can be the death knell of the Community Manager. And once you allow it to happen publicly, you’ll be inviting bear-baiting, so breathe deep and take some time to step back to read the situation properly and calmly. Consider the likely tone it was written in, the context, and the participants’ history. If possible, a 24 hour delay will help you understand the situation better. (otherwise known as sleeping on it) I cover a situation when the Community Manager would have been better off taking some time off rather than responding in an earlier post.
Turn to a fellow Community Manager for advice
There’s no shame in asking for help if you feel out of your depth or simply need a second opinion. Reach out to a trusted experienced Community Manager, your line manager, or one of the burgeoning Community Management support groups that are around such as eMint, the Community RoundTable, the Community BackChannel, or Community Admins, all of which are a fantastic treasure trove of knowledge and advice. Have them sense check your situation, the action you plan on following and you’ll benefit from their neutral perspective.
Choose when to respond judiciously
Responding willy-nilly to every single occurrence of a bust-up within your membership is absolutely not necessary. You can and should choose when to step in, and when to stand back and allow for a natural resolution. If something is overly aggressive or inflammatory, don’t be afraid to fall back onto your moderation policy and acting accordingly but make sure to remain consistent.
Visualise a resolution and aim for it
Want are you trying to achieve by intervening? Are you trying to bring people closer together, reach a neutral position of separate warring factions? Think about the sort of resolution you want to aim for, and draw up a plan for execution to try and achieve it. A bit of roleplay within your team can help here – what might happen when you try to progress through your plan?
Consider the wording of your interventions
Always keep in mind that your message may get twisted or misinterpreted online. It’ll be harder to clarify what you meant later, and they won’t be able to see your facial expression or hear your tone of voice when you express your thoughts. Choose your words carefully and run them by a neutral party if necessary.
Use emoticons, but carefully
If you are in anyway unsure as to how your contribution will be interpreted, you can try and play it safe(r!) by putting emoticons to good use. Since communication online doesn’t allow for visual and auditory cues (apart from in video chat), you have to make do with what is at your disposal to convey your tone as well as possible.
Stay positive at all times
How people receive your attempt to calm things down depends on the tone of your messages. Start off positively by specifying how you understand the feelings of participants and try to refer to any other positive aspects of the argument. Then you can get into the meat of addressing the points of conflict, before ending on a positive note again.
Staying calm and composed during a stressful situation isn’t easy, but it’s important to display these positive traits to your community when dealing with conflict. I’d love to hear any other tips you use yourself to keep your cool!
[photo by Adrian Eden]