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Online Community Management: Respectful Disagreement or Personal Attack?

A common mistake made by online community managers, especially bloggers, and people who are commenting in a community, is to take comments that aren’t in agreement as a personal affront.

Not all content has to be rainbows and puppy dogs, and it’s not a sign of discourse if everyone in attendance isn’t in agreement. The healthiest communities are those that allow all members to present their points of view in a civilized and respectful manner.

Respectful disagreement is when a community member doesn’t agree with a comment or post and states his case without belittling, name-calling, or finger-pointing. Respectful disagreement adds to the value of the conversation and allows an accurate portrayal as members are given all sides of a discussion to consider.

Even discussions turning to debates are fine as long as each member respects other opinions. Without disagreement, you’re fostering a one-sided, always-in-agreement, cliquey type of community that makes folks with differing opinions feel as if they don’t belong — not to mention it’s boring.

Now, trolls and people who aren’t skilled in the fine art of debate may choose to disagree without having a valid point. Instead of adding to the discussion, they stir up a hornet’s nest and create drama and arguments.

If this type of behavior is allowed to happen every time a discussion occurs, you’ll lose your community. If you’re able to guide members back on track to a productive positive conversation, your members will feel comfortable about providing a wide range of opinions, even if they don’t all agree.

Responding to a discussion by questioning someone’s intelligence is not a proper response or rebuttal, and the commenter should receive a warning. Ditto name-calling, cursing, and any remark meant to be a personal attack. You might also give the commenter the opportunity to remove or rephrase his comment before you delete it for good.

It’s up to you to decide whether or not to have your conversation publically or in private, but your members will appreciate having a spirited discussion without fear of attack.

Some members also take it personally when others disagree, even if there’s no instance of attack. Their comments get more heated and defensive and sometimes border on attack on their own. You may also be needed to diffuse this type of situation as well.

The bottom line is that a community allows all voices to be heard. Mud-slinging, character attacks, and rude behavior just lead to everyone being afraid to speak their mind or speak truthfully. Knowing the difference between discussion and attack can help you keep the conversation flowing in a peaceful and positive manner.

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