Online Negativity and How to Deal With It

It seems that on many of the networks and lists on which I participate, there’s been an issue with “negativity” lately. Many have had members leave because of the negativity that they perceive.

You know, I would never be one to come out “in defense” of negativity. It frustrates me as much as it does anyone here, and those of you who have been around a while know that I’ve dealt with more than my share of it as a moderator (going on four years as a network leader).

On the one hand, I can understand why people wouldn’t voluntarily choose to be in a place where negativity prevails.

On the other hand, I also recognize that these communities are a microcosm of the rest of the business world. Here, you can learn to deal with difficult people in a low-risk environment. In small doses, it’s almost like a training ring for dealing with difficult people face-to-face. And if you can’t deal with them here — ignore them or confront them, as appropriate — how can you expect to be able to deal with them in the real world?

As much as I am “shocked and dismayed” at some of the negativity I’ve seen, I’m equally “shocked and dismayed” at how quickly and easily some people take things personally that aren’t personal, or stop participating because one or two people are being difficult. You don’t have to invest a lot of time to speak your truth — you just have to stand up and be counted. I think there’d be a lot less of all that negativity if a lot more people would let their voice be heard, even once.

I have been told by some that I am tolerant and forgiving to a fault — I’ve put up with difficult people on my networks longer than other moderators might, and longer perhaps than some of the other members might like. But I believe that *I* grow through that process of forgiving and trying to understand and communicate effectively with some of those difficult people.

I’ve certainly seen people cross the limits of acceptable behavior, both in public and many messages I’ve been forwarded in private. When people do clearly cross that line, there have to be consequences, and at some point that includes ejecting them from a network and eventually from Ryze.

What I’ve also seen, though, is people who I believe, based on private conversation, are sincerely trying to get at “the truth” — by sharing what they know and perhaps by learning something new. Their style can seem abrasive at first glance (OK, even at second glance), but if you react to the abrasiveness with more of the same, the conversation devolves into the kind of situations we’re talking about. I also know from first-hand experience that if you agree with them on the common goal — the discovery of truth, and focus on that, the entire tone of the conversation changes.

It takes two (or more) people for a conversation to degrade into a downward spiral. Who is responsible when a conversation does that? The person who bumped up against “the line” several times? The person who finally crossed it? Or each and every person who takes a step down the spiral instead of back up?

It doesn’t relieve the other person of their responsibility for us to look at the situation and ask, “What part did *I* play in that? What can I do differently to change this situation?”

So this is not “in defense” of negativity. Nor am I suggesting that other group leaders should adhere to the standards I have chosen.

But what I DO recommend is to not just merely shy away from or avoid that negativity when you see it. Confront it, challenge it, challenge yourself to speak your truth even in the face of negativity. Challenge yourself to be at your best even when others are at their worst.

Stand up and speak your truth, rather than blaming others when the conversation deteriorates into negativity. Rather than expecting moderators to take care of it — think about what YOU can do about it.

I was watching that great Larry King show yesterday on “Beyond Positive Thinking” with Bob Proctor, Michael Beckwith, John Assaraf, et al., and I was reminded again…

WE decide how we react to what happens around us. Why avoid negativity? It only brings you down IF YOU LET IT!

Look at it another way…

Negativity is also an opportunity for you to be a peacemaker.
Negativity is also an opportunity for you to be compassionate.
Negativity is an opportunity for you to work on your own communication skills.

Running away from negativity is one way to deal with it, but then you just end up leaving other people to deal with it, and eventually a string of abandoned spaces.

The other way to deal with it is to confront it, head-on — NOT with superior firepower, but to disarm it.

Nobody can hurt you with anything they say on a discussion board unless you let them. Why would you give up your peace to ANYONE? Why would you give up a space that works for you to anyone?

I say, stop expecting site owners and forum moderators to just make it all go away and instead take a stand. It’s not that hard to do — just have to start with the decision to do so.

“Opposition is a natural part of life. Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition – such as lifting weights – we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.”
– Stephen R. Covey

“He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. This amicable conflict with difficulty helps us to an intimate acquaintance with our object, and compels us to consider it in all its relations. It will not suffer us to be superficial.”
– Edmund Burke

“There is no education like adversity.”
– Benjamin Disraeli

“Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheeplike passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving.”
– John Dewey