Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When Not Saying Anything is the Best Response

In a world of unlimited contact and communication, normal boundaries often get set aside. You probably would not pursue people out of the room and around the corner to make a point in a face-to-face conversation, but we often allow ourselves to do so on various networking platforms. The same conversation/discussion/argument can ignite fires in multiple spaces as we feel compelled to add "just on more thing."

Despite common knowledge that wisdom often keeps its mouth shut when others are screaming, it seems even more common for most people to weigh in with their two cents when words and emotions run high.

Because almost everything you say on Social Media is sharable, public, searchable and you can and will be held accountable, it's smart to recognize those situations in which the best possible answer is none at all.

You Don't Understand The Context

You know that sensation when you and friends are joking around and someone hears you and either misinterprets or misses the in-joke entirely? It's awkward and embarrassing...and you have to wonder, "If they didn't get it why did they say anything?"

In a professional setting, you might not understand the programming language, the tool, the jargon or one of the pieces of information being discussed. There is nothing wrong with asking for clarification. "Hey, I've never heard of that tool, is it a good one?" is a perfectly acceptable question and shows that you're interested in learning more and being well-informed. But pretending you do know a thing and trying to fake it will only make you look...well, kinda lame.

It's pretty hard to set our egos aside, but when we're in the public eye, honesty about our limitations and lack of delusion about how cool we are goes a long way to avoiding awkward situations.

You don't know the facts

You come onto your Facebook page and find an angry message from a client or customer. Their tone of "voice" is insulting and their complaints seem completely unfounded. It's totally human to tell them they have no idea what they are talking about, but...in reality, *you* don't know what you're talking about.

Take a deep breath before you post a response. Walk away. Talk it out with someone. The most important thing is to not do more damage when a relationship is already cracked. Not posting right away is the most important thing you can do right now.

When you've stopped seeing red, remember that you don't have enough information to make a good decision or response. If you must say something, apologize, tell the customer you'll find out what happened, then will contact them. Don't forget to follow through with this promise. Part of the problem with "I'll look into it," is that the words have lost any impact from years of companies saying that, then simply dropping the matter and hoping you'll go away. Put some action behind those words and you may well be able to repair a potentially negative situation. And you can take comfort in the fact that you didn't make it worse with a hasty response.

The post is reallllly rude

This one is one of the very hardest times to remain silent. You get a comment or email that calls into question your family, your intelligence or your scruples. When we get angry, we stop breathing for a moment. The blood pulses hard in our bodies and uses up even more oxygen. Which leaves us reacting on adrenaline.

This is not the time to shoot off a response. The best thing to do is to simply walk away. If you cannot stop yourself from typing out a response - type it in Notepad or Word or somewhere offline. Read it out loud. Breathe. Think about how you might react if you received this response. Wipe out that first response, because it's just as petty and mean as the email your received. Retype your response. Delete that too. Keep breathing. Retype your reply until it's as mild as a kitten. Then delete it and move on.

The absolute best response to a truly outrageous, insulting, petty comment is to let it, and it's writer, speak for themselves.

The poster is a serial troll

You can't be expected to know every troll on the Internet, but it's wise to be familiar with the spaces in which you and your business are spoken about - at the very minimum. You don't have to be a commenter on every forum in your field, but if there's someone crossing spaces, making a name as a "gadfly" (the rest of us consider them obnoxious trolls, but they see themselves as provocative,) it will do you a world of good to know that the hateful comment you just received was by someone who has nothing else to do but post hateful comments on related spaces and see what firestorms they can ignite. The best defense is simply to wait it out (and encourage friends and supporters to avoid responding.) When they get no reaction, they'll move on to the next victim.

In these days of instant contact and communication, the wise business knows when to speak - and when to stay silent.
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