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What Do You Do When A Commenter Just Isn't Hearing You?

one2one-sm.gifDid 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?

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Comments

  1. Hi Dawud,

    I love what you wrote, especially since you and I sometimes cross wires in writing here.

    When that happens it’s always slightly jarring for me, since we’ve known each other for the better part of a decade, and have been friends for much of that- and I trust you implicitly.

    And, that’s a good lesson, too- that disagreement doesn’t mean the end of a relationship- it can actually add some depth and connection if handled well.

    Love to you and to your family, and thanks for keeping the love alive.

    Mark

  2. “This can lead to heated debate – which I find find”

    Huh?

  3. Wow, Dawud! What a wise and wonderful response. It’s thoughtful and deliberate, yet so firmly set in relationship. Thank you for this example. It’s going in my file. :)

  4. Now I know that’s right. It’s like they don’t even read the post or your answers to comments.

  5. H. L. Mencken had a lot of problem with that, of course. He finally decided the easiest answer was simply, “You could be right.”

  6. Mark,
    I definitely know that we (you, me and everyone else) can disagree on a topic and still be friends. Gosh, how boring would the world be if we all agreed all the time?

    And personally, I’d much rather have a real conversation where people can freely express their opinions than have everyone agree with me. No better way to learn, in my opinion, than have your thoughts challenged.

    Liz,
    Sure, you know where my heart is…the relationship.

    TDavid,
    Thanks for helping with the editing. Fixed it.

    digitalnomad,
    I’ve had a number like that too.

  7. What a great article. I’m new to the blog world and am fascinated by how much there is to learn. I especially like the “conversation” and “dialogue” between your readers that you speak about. As a pediatrician I find that am always having to remember what my goal is, which is to relate to people, to help relieve their suffering and to bring joy. Unfortunately sometimes our intent is misconstrued. Many an evening I am thinking of an angry or hurt parent. Sometimes it’s just a look I saw on their face. I wonder how many people don’t bother to leave the comment yet give a look and “walk” away. I keep coming back to your blog because of the essence of who you are rings through your work. I think that’s one of the best ways to interact with people. When we stay grounded and committed to the “dialogue” they begin to trust we mean what we say. They’ll come back because they realize we all have different opinions. We all want to be right. But since there is rarely anything that is absolute saying (like Jean said) “you could be right” is perfect and just as authentic!

    You’ve outlined practical ways to deal with the inherent complicated interactions we will all face – not just in our blog, But in our life. Thank you – Have a good day.

    Sheila

  8. Well, all I’ll say is if at least one of those excellent suggestions doesn’t work, there is simply no hope for the other party at all.

    Okay, I have to add one. If someone is being a turd or says something particularly nasty, sometimes I will politely email them and tell them I’m pulling the comment, and why (which is b/c I like lively debate, not the angry-making kind) and welcome them to repost with that in mind.

    I suppose there’s a difference b/w spicy conversation and meanness. It’s a tricky line, sometimes, though.

  9. I don’t know who you are or how I happened on your comments. I’m not a blogger, but whole heartedly agree with your view and approach. The reason is because I deal with many people daily in many accounts and subscribe to your approach and have utilized it on a daily basis for the last 28 years in my career. It works. And the reason it works is that you treat a person as an equal if not allow them to believe that they are superior (crow) whether they are or not. It’s the old saying that you can catch more bees with honey than vinegar…or something like. I end up learning more and a possible enemy that I could have created ends up as an ally, if not a friend and many times I’ve seen them understand a different point of view and acting on it as well as me seeing and acting differently because I’ve allowed myself to see their point of view. It will only make you a more rounded person…..

  10. boy is this self-serving and such nice insight on manipulation of a reader: make a “benign” comment to calm them down and then “allow the commenter to think they’re right.” you start from the premise that the reader “just isn’t getting you.” maybe you should start from the premise that the blogger is wrong. too many blog entries i’ve read are misinformed about basic facts, have serious flaws in the logical arguments they’re making, otherwise inaccurate, biased, etc. it seems to me that blogging, like journalism, attempts to raise the conversation on a given topic. but unlike journalists, bloggers face few serious ramifications (like loss of their jobs) if they screw that up (many cop-out by saying something like, ‘expressing an opinion cannot be wrong’ even if based on inaccuracies. until bloggers establish some sort of ethical code and clarify how they are trying to write, they should start from the premise that they could be wrong rather from the premise that the reader isn’t “getting it.” (just a note: please point me to any such code if it has been written up; i’m sure it has & i missed it).

  11. What you talking about, I don’t get it!

    No, seriously, I do and it’s a problem I often come across on my own blogs. I tend to be blunt and abrasive (something I’m trying to change) and I have a post-it note just below my keyboard saying “Reply to ignorant blog comments and e-mails after 24 hours”.

    Not the perfect solution but it helps.

  12. Sheila,
    Thanks so much. I love what I do – which is help people who own businesses understand how to use the web to build relationships that will help grow their businesses. I know my love and passion sometimes come across in my writing. So thank you for the acknowledgment.

    BTW, what keeps you going with your blog?

    Communicatrix,
    Right on! One thing about being the blog owner – you set the parameters and decide your thresholds for conversation. Then you can interact with people at the levels your most comfortable. Though I do suggest that people ease out of their comfort zone from time to time.

    Glenn,
    First off, welcome to the blogosphere (which is really another way of saying people on the internet interacting with each other through their websites). I’m very happy you joined the conversation.

    It just doesn’t make sense, in my mind, to battle people. So much more can be gained through compassion and patience – really two major keys to communication. I’ve always loved the honey analogy. Thanks for adding it.

    Joe,
    If you’re talking about facts – sure people can be wrong. I’ll be the first (well, the second after I’m corrected) the say I’m wrong on facts if/when I am.

    But if you’re talking about opinions or experience, then no one is really ever wrong. People base what they know on what they’ve experienced. And it’s likely that two people have much different life experiences – which means different views, opinions, knowledge and approaches to life.

    And really, I don’t start with the premise that readers aren’t getting it. There’s no predetermined construct I read comments with. What I do find from time to time is that commenters will either bring up for debate points I didn’t make or they come to grind their axes on things I’m not really saying. That means we have a communication gap. And as I’ve said, the main goal is to bridge that gap as much as possible first before anything else.

    The beauty in communication is learning anyhow. Learning about people and how they see the world. That’s what relationships are all about, in my opinion. Blogging is just another extension of that.

  13. Clive,
    You’ve got me chuckling. I think it’s a great solution.

  14. Hi Dawud.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  15. Pick up the phone. Now there’s one I would not have thought of. Great advice.

  16. OK, so can I throw a question into the mix?

    What if not only does the commenter simply not understand you at all, but they also start jumping to erroneous conclusions and posting it on their own blog?

    I’m all for conversation, even disagreeable and heated conversation as long as it is conversation and not abusive or facts (grossly) misrepresnted. But when people start posting lies, or suggesting that I am lying (which you know me well enough to know that I wouldn’t do that), what next steps would you take?!

    :)

  17. Amrit,
    You’re welcome.

    Website Design,
    Sure. And it works…

    Wendy,
    I, too, enjoy open, heated debate. But if someone just wants to argue and not find common ground, I don’t see how they benefit the conversation or my readers.

    So at first I’d make a few attempts to bring to find common ground with the commenter. Initially I’d assume that we were just missing each other. But if after a few attempts we weren’t getting anywhere, I’d likely shut down their comments.

    Heated debate and conversation are one thing. But arguing is another. And I just don’t want to spend time arguing with someone on my blog. And since I’m the owner, why would I waste my time with someone who doesn’t want to at least agree to disagree?

  18. Dawud – Great article.
    I have seldom found myself being badgered by a commenter, however, as a commenter I have run into a few instances wherein the author misunderstood my words.
    Usually this was because the author was from a different country and did not quite understand my usage of words – after reexplaining myself, we found ourselves on the same page and all was well.
    When stumbling across an article which contains egregious errors, (I never point out their typos, misspelling or improper usage of a word) I inform the author of his mistake and cite references that back up my statement, all the while trying to be as innocuous as possible.
    Should there come a time when someone starts taking uncalled for pot-shots, on their site, at my family of fellow bloggers or at me, well, I suppose I should use the 5 points listed in your piece, but there just might be bloodshed.
    Better call 911.

  19. Hi Dawud,

    Your question is a great excuse for a little self-inquiry!

    If someone flames me, and it hurts, they’re right…but only according to me. What stressful belief does their criticism bring up for me that I would be reactive to it? So it can be seen as a gift. Not that I encourage flaming! While people are certainly entitled to their opinions, engaging in back-and-forth with flamers doesn’t enhance my life and work, so I don’t bother. That’s why I ask commenters to register in order to comment. It cuts down on the hit-and-run as well as the spam.

    In honest and mature discourse (which I’m sure everyone here aims for), if I feel misunderstood, and I’ve done my best to communicate more clearly, I can ask myself why this is so important. I have noticed, sometimes, that my “need” to be understood can be a disguise for the much more insidious, “I’m right and you’re wrong.”

    In the case of colleagues, clients, friends, family, I love your idea of picking up the phone. There are nuances of speech that occasionally don’t translate well in emails or comment columns.

    Great content here, Dawud, always. In your posts and in the comments too.

  20. MorganLighter,
    I think it’s all in how you handle things. The best way, I’ve found, is don’t add fuel to the fire. Try to help put the fire out, rather. There doesn’t have to be a fight…

    Carol,
    Yeah, so much can get lost in an email.

    I blog a lot and I comment a lot. Yet I don’t really deal with being flamed. It’s not a concern of mine, really. I just share what I love, what I know and what I feel can help people and then engage you in a conversation around it. If someone wants a debate, I’ll debate. I just don’t want things to turn personal or be destructive.

    And I think all of us could do in following Liz Strauss’ one rule: Be Nice!

  21. I agree with your ideas. Hearing your readers first and then responding is always a nice and professional way to approach comments. Thanks for the read!!

  22. Krista,
    You’re welcome. I find it the only effective and compassionate way to communicate…listen first, then respond. The question is how to cross the communication gap when what I say may not be what others hear… Thoughts?

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Trackbacks

  1. How To Handle Difficult Commenters On Your Blog says:

    […] While blogging mostly consists of generating unique content for your blog regularly, it also involves regular interaction with your readers through your comments section. Sometimes a conflict of sorts takes place when your commenter doesn’t understand what you are trying to communicate and you both get into a seemingly interminable argument. This is not healthy for your blog and it needlessly wastes your time and emotional energy. Dawud on his blog tells you what you should do when a commenter just isn’t hearing you. […]

  2. […] you as they cannot see your body language or they cannot tell from words. This post “What Do You Do When A Commenter Just Isn’t Hearing You?” explains quite it comprehensively. Therefore, podcasts solve quite a bit of that problem. […]

  3. […] you catch Dawud’s Monday installment in our ongoing conversation? He deftly answered What Do You Do When A Commenter Just Isn’t Hearing You? Dawud described a gracious way to respond and reminded us that we’re always talking to […]

  4. […] What Do You Do When A Commenter Just Isn’t Hearing You? You’ve done it before. You quickly scan an article and in less than a few seconds you already know how you’re going to tell the author how she hasn’t the slightest clue what she’s talking about. This is how you deal with evil commenters like that, besides Douche Baggiing them of course. […]

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