It’s Time For Your Civil Discourse Recertification

It’s that time of year again, where labor disputes begin charging up emotions and on more than a few occasions, those emotions come spilling out in blog comments and social media. At best, emotionally driven comments designed to lash out only serve to detract attention from any meaningful thoughts or observations contained in the comment and at worst, can tarnish the reputation of colleagues or fellow stakeholders.

awardThat said, there’s nothing wrong with challenging ideas, crying foul, and standing up for what you believe in. But in order to be as effective as possible, it helps to keep some guidelines in mind.

Character assassination for the sake of character assassination is counterproductive.

Yes, you might be ticked off at a CEO, board member, or musician spokesperson for something s/he reportedly said or wrote but don’t post a comment which focuses solely on attacking character. Questioning professional competency is all fine and good but even that’s a fine line. In most cases, the only thing accomplished with a personal attack is the comment author comes across looking like a raving lunatic bent on some sort of White Whale hunt.

Cite your sources.

I can’t stress this one enough but if you are going to excerpt something attributed to an individual or group associated with a labor dispute then be sure to cite your source; newspaper, press statement, website, foundation study etc. At the bare minimum, this includes a link to the original material and at best you’ll include the source title, author, publication date, and link. For example: the 9/14/2011 edition of Adaptistration.com by Drew McManus; http://adaptistration.com/?p=9823.

Be firm, but civil.

Don’t disrespect another comment author for no other reason than you disagree with his/her opinions. Feel free to point out perceived errors in judgment, facts, thought process, etc. but avoid the temptation to attack an individual’s character for no other reason than disagreeing with their sentiment.

Don’t abuse the privilege of anonymity.

I maintain strong positions on the issue of anonymous comments; in short, I’m pro anon. At the same time, that doesn’t excuse anyone from abusing what still boils down to a privilege, not a right. Be sure to read the section below on how to properly leave an anonymous comment. Otherwise, if you’re sending something in just so I can read it, save yourself a step and visit the contact page.

Avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Culture Blog Commenting.

The Seven Deadly Sins Of Culture Blog Commenting
  1. Impatience. If you aren’t reading your comment aloud before hitting the “submit comment” button, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Moreover, when reading aloud, try to use some inflection that mirrors your intent. You might be amazed at how something might sound and if you find that you need the inflection to deliver your point, that’s a good indication that you should add more detail.
  2. Sarcasm. Comment threads are akin to having a conversation with a four year old that hasn’t quite figured out what sarcasm is all about. In short, they don’t get it and although we’re all adults, the print medium isn’t the best method for conveying sarcasm. So when in doubt, don’t use it.
  3. Self Promotion. There’s nothing wrong with including a link to one of your own posts or websites in your comment but make sure you’re adding value to the discussion and not using my blog for your benefit.
  4. Anger. Same basis as the original deadly sins but in blog format. When in doubt, save the comment, sleep on it, then make a decision.
  5. Trolling. In short, don’t be a putz on the internet just because you can. If you wouldn’t say what you’ve written to someone’s face, then it isn’t fit for publication. As a side note, I don’t mind strong language (we’re all adults) but not in the guise of trolling.
  6. All Caps. This is the equivalent of screaming at the top of your lungs and frankly, I can’t think of a single topic related to this business that requires such an extreme measure. Likewise, take it easy on the exclamation points.
  7. Being “That Guy.” Within the context of blog comments, “that guy” is the person who (inadvertently or not) simply won’t shut up and uses a steady stream of circular logic to single-handedly grind a good discussion into the ground and draw attention away from the main topic. You can also become “that guy” by engaging in multiple sins within a single comment.

In the end, I want to continue encouraging every reader to engage in comment discussions related to labor disputes but following the above guidelines will help ensure you make as much positive impact as possible and stand the best change of actually influencing the respective dispute’s outcome!

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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3 thoughts on “It’s Time For Your Civil Discourse Recertification”

  1. I appreciate this, but I find this just as bad as the offenses you refer to.

    First of all, you’re preaching to the choir already, and you seem to be aware of it. I describe why below. People who don’t follow any of these guidelines probably won’t even read this article, and frankly, I think with good reason (although they probably won’t have any)… Unless this sort of advice is for academic purposes or comes from a close, authoritative figure such as a mother, priest, or teacher, nobody likes being told what to do or how to behave in the real world.

    Second of all, you yourself commit the crimes of which you refer to, for example, your guideline under “Character assassination,” where you basically say to not put down anyone’s character – under “Trolling” you say, “Don’t be a putz.” Putz. Define that for me please, because I thought that word is usually used as a put-down. You also mention “sarcasm” and then add another point called “Don’t be ‘that guy’.” I know what you mean by it, but It reads like a sarcastic tone to me because of instead of defining “that guy” in a neutral, detailed description, you mention that the person is someone who “simply won’t shut up.” You commit the actual sins you pointed out yourself by using sarcasm and trolling-type language (I don’t believe you would tell someone to their face “don’t be a putz,” or that they “simply won’t shut up”… oh, but these are guidelines for people who do that, right? They’ll really follow that advice through self-criticism!) And going by this, it seems you are aware that you are only speaking to a specific audience that agrees with you already.

    Also, “all caps”? Seriously? Because it is useful in sites like Facebook which do not allow you to italicize, therefore it is the only way to emphasize points and certain words. This also helps attract your comment among a sea of other comments, and isn’t that the point of it? I believe judging on a way of writing is quite petty, causing one to miss the point of the author and therefore read in a narrow-minded way. It is a beautiful thing that the world wide web isn’t run by spelling and grammar authorities.

    Lastly, this article would have been better if you had included a guideline that most people don’t think to do, and that I believe is much more “civil.” This is the choice of reading and simply not commenting. It’s just as strong of a statement, if not stronger. We, as humans, have many burdens and one of the countless is that we have to live and share space with those we don’t agree with and inspire anger in us. Another burden is the free will in our psyche plus the forums available to which we all speak our minds and/or hearts when the humors inspire us. Usually that humor is the angry one. Is that wrong? Not at all. Putting perfect strangers down with that inspiration? Perhaps, no good. But the trolls will never go away, the anger will never die in us, there will always be bullies, and we will SPEAK LOUDLY when inspired to defend. Sometimes we MAY even think, “maybe I shouldn’t have written that.” How about letting go of pride and DELETING, or even worse, if the delete option isn’t available, apologizing! Oh, but who would ever do that???!!! Seriously?!

    Oops, that was sinville, wasn’t it? No matter – I hope my “comment fail” may still inspire those to think critically, as you suggest fabulously, as well as help those to follow the path where both mind AND heart meet.

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