Preventing Flame Wars: Two Basic Principles of Netiquette

There seems to have been a surge of highly emotional debates on several of the networks I’m on lately, including my own Virtual Handshake Network on Ryze. I expect this on, say, Slashdot or other topical networks where people are anonymous, but it really surprises me that people engage in this in a business networking context. No one looks their best when they’re bickering.

There are two simple principles of netiquette that you can use to help prevent escalation of these conversations into flame wars:

1. Presume good intent. What is the best possible way the other person could mean by what they said? If your initial reaction to what somebody says is negative, pause. Take a deep breath. Try to detach from your own personal context and put yourself in their context. What might they have meant by that? Maybe you’re misinterpreting what they’re saying.

So pick the best possible meaning, and respond to that. What’s the worst that can happen? They correct you and say, “No, I really meant…”? On the other hand, if you respond to your negative reaction, the worst possible thing is that an escalation begins — a vicious circle. Sound familiar?

You’re never backed into a corner online. Take the time to cool off and re-think it before you reply.

2. Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person. Would you say it to their face at a networking event? If not, then why would you say it here? Don’t think that the relationships here are any less important, the feelings any less real, etc. And don’t think it won’t have any impact on your business.

No one looks good when they get emotional in an argument, even when they’re right. Does it reflect better on you to be right? Or to be someone who’s easy to get along with?

I’m not saying people shouldn’t voice their opinions, or debate their differences of opinion, but not at the expense of their relationships and even their reputation.

Think about it… would you want to do business with someone who was always right but always arguing about it to show how right they are? (unless they’re a trial lawyer, of course, in which case that’s a very desirable trait)