Did you all catch Liz’s last installment of our one2one conversation? It was great. I asked her , “What have you thought would work on your blog that bombed with your readers? And what did you learn from it?” Her answer was a lovely example of how the blogosphere works.
If you need a reminder, Liz Strauss and I are having a one2one conversation across our blogs. First, Liz posts a question to me that I answer on my blog which I, in turn, end with a question for her which she answers on her blog. It’s that simple, really. Of course we’re not selfish…you’re invited into the conversation as well. Think about it as all of us meeting up at the local coffee shop for a discussion – every Monday and Thursday.
And boy did she ask me a great one this week:
What do you do when a commenter seems to misinterpret what you're saying no matter how hard you try to explain what you mean?
I’ve certainly had this happen to me. I can think of a few occasions where what I’ve tried to say in my post gets taken out of context or simply misunderstood.
I’m actually surprised this doesn’t happen more often. It’s easy enough to misunderstand someone when they’re talking to you in person and can hear your inflections and see your body language. Just think about how often we misunderstand what our spouses are saying.
Writing leaves even more to interpretation because we’re not directly with our readers. They can’t see our bodies or hear our voices to know where we’re putting emphasis. So it can be so easy to misinterpret something written – especially around around hot and touchy topics where a commenter might feel charged.
How have I handled this?
For me, it’s part of the conversation. So I consider it with every other comment. First, I try to restate my perspective, writing directly to the commenter who I feel misinterpreted what I wrote. Then I wait for their reply. Sometimes I’ll even email them to let them know I’ve replied and wait for theirs. If we’re still missing each other, there’s a few things I might do, each depending on the circumstances:
- Remember, it’s you too. Communication goes two ways. If a commenter just isn’t getting you, sure it’s about them. But not fully. You share some responsibility in them not getting you as well. Not only is it your blog, your writing and your comment box, it’s also your ways of expressing yourself – which aren’t always clear to other people. So just keep that in mind as you proceed.
- Keep trying. I find it’s best, whenever possible, to keep the conversation happening in the comment box. I want readers to feel that they have the freedom to express themselves here – even if they have the opposing views. I certainly don’t know everything. And my readers have definitely taught me a few things (thanks, btw).
- Put out the fire. Sometimes when you’re not getting each other, the conversation turns spicy. Rather than either of you bridging the gap – it just gets wider. This can lead to heated debate – which can often be very interesting. But if it turns negative, I suggest putting out the fire. Most often you can do this with a benign comment or an email.
- Politely ignore them. Even when you put out the fire some commenters will continue. I usually just give them the space to vent their feelings and know that they’ll calm at some point. A great way to give them space is to politely ignore their comments. Acknowledge them, but don’t write anything that would encourage a response.
- Eat crow. Sometimes you just need to take the punch. Don’t reply in any way that would confrontational. Allow the commenter to believe they’re right. Thank them and let them know that they’ve opened your eyes to something you need to think about. Doesn’t mean you have to agree, but at least it doesn’t need to become an argument.
- Pick up the phone. This is all about conversation leading to relationships, right? So why not take the next step and phone the person. Most of the time, you won’t be locked into a battle, you’ll just be missing each other. So give them a call. Spending a few minutes on the phone can clear things right up. Seldom have I found this not to work. And even if you end up agreeing to disagree, you’ve made one heck of an impression. The fact that you care enough about your readers to phone them about their comments…think about the message that sends.
I always try to remember that it’s a person on the other end of the comment box. They have experience, thoughts and feeling that are just as valuable to them as mine are to me. Just because we’re not communicating well, doesn’t make one of us less than the other. Rather it makes for an interesting adventure as we get to know each other. And knowing each other is the point.
One thing I don’t recommend, really under and circumstances, is flaming someone on your blog. I just can’t see a need or reason to trash someone who you probably don’t know all too well. If you’ve written something on your blog that just doesn’t jive with people, then it doesn’t jive. Be honest about it and move on. If someone attacks you for it, is really worth going to war with them just to prove your point?
Just look at what happened to Liz. Was there any reason for her to be treated like that? I don’t think so. Better that she learn through politeness and compassion than through fire, I think. What do you think?
Oh, and while we’re talking about Liz, I’ve got a question for both of you:
How has your blog changed the way you think of relationships?