How Well Do You Handle Escalating Tensions within Online Discussions?

Does it ever really help to continue replying to one-up the other person? Simple answer . . . No.

Photo by Uriel Soberanes on Unsplash

I was recently involved in an increasingly challenging online conflict with another person and had to do everything I could not to type out what I was really thinking. I would have been banned, even for a short period of cooling off time and . . . guess what?

The person on the other hand would have outlasted me . . . and . . . thus . . . won.

That sense of future, distant gloating infuriated me even more, and I just could not let that happen.

So, I just shut my laptop.

I walked the dogs.

Had some wine.

Cleaned the bathroom.

Did laundry.

In effect, I did about anything productive to get me away from my computer and save me from letting some unpleasantries really rip.

Man, did I want to, but I resourced myself to wait, just a bit!

What Does Being Nasty Online Accomplish?

Let’s say I let my anger loose in that online discussion space . . . really let my hair down and just let it rip online. Nothing like saying what I was thinking and feeling!

However, would I have felt better?

Perhaps for about 5 seconds, and after that my real and lasting problems would have begun. Remember, there is no such thing as an online delete button, and once it is out there, it is out for good.

Or bad, in this case.

When I felt my anger rising, that was the trigger to disengage. Cool off. Ground and settle myself.

The interesting thing is that the next morning, when I did go to reply, though I was still frustrated, in the meantime I had a new idea for extending the conversation, one that refashioned my gradually cooling anger into a new direction that could actually be open to something positive.

How Did It Resolve?

Well, almost a week later, it is still not fully resolved.

It has moved forward, but the benefit is that I do not have to hang my head in shame for having said something ridiculous that could have later been taken out of context and haunted me at some point in the future.

What I did was I took a more measured, and less emotional, reply. It actually felt more sophisticated, and isn’t that a better way of moving things forward than flying off the handle?

How Did I Resource Myself?

What, may you wonder, did I use to resource myself for this? As an active editor on Wikipedia, I used the fundamental editing principles there for encouraging civility among editors.

Specifically, the Wikipedia editing maxim of Assume Good Faith was most helpful.

Assume Good Faith means that when interacting with others who have conflicting or alternate perspectives, we are better off assuming they have good intentions, even if that is not how they come across to us. If the goal is to work toward consensus, or a good result both parties can live with, then that seems like a healthy maxim for life, too.

This does not mean we should do this with people who intentionally cause harm or disruption for their own gain, but rather to assume good faith until that plays out and we are certain that good faith is not warranted.

Err on the side of assuming good faith first as a rule for interpersonal communication. Good rule of thumb, I have found.

Unless proven otherwise, when dealing with (online) conflict, act as if it is a communication or cultural challenge, and that there is some good intention underneath.

Why manifest a problem if the only one is how I am reading the text of another, reading a voice that may or may not really be there at all?

So, for me, assuming good faith helped me to cool off enough to shut my computer and come back the next day. What a simple concept that can be so powerfully lived in our lives and interactions, ehh?

The next time you face online conflict, of somebody just pushes your buttons, so to speak, assume good faith and pause. I little extra time before replying will not hurt you, and if anything, it may be exactly what you need to center yourself and reply in a more measured manner..

How does this seem to you? Want to try it and let me know how it worked out? Do let me know how it goes!!

Jeffrey Keefer, Ph.D. is an educational consultant and coach who helps people take informed action for success through intentional learning strategies. When not writing on Medium, he teaches, works with institutional and qualitative research, edits Wikipedia, writes poetry, and plays with his pugs. If you like his writings and perspective, please keep in touch.

Educator. Writer. Open Knowledge Advocate. Institutional Researcher. I help people navigate their learning needs and take informed action.

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