Though experts tend to go back and forth over the exact percentages, they do agree a significant portion of human communication is visual. We observe expressions and body language during conversations to gauge the exact meaning of the words we hear.
However, online forums, text messages, email and social media posts have neutralized those clues. This, in turn, has opened the door to online arguments-often very silly ones.
With that said, avoiding flame wars is simply a matter of stopping yourself, taking a deep breath and ask before accusing.
1. Ask Before Accusing
When something you read rubs you the wrong way, before firing off an acidic retort, take a moment to ask the person to expand upon their position to give you an opportunity to understand their true intent.
Often, you’ll find what they meant was different than your perception of what you read. Keep in mind, we bring our own emotions to everything we encounter.
If something strikes you as unfounded, and you’re already irritated about something else, you could misconstrue it. Politely ask for clarification before responding.
2. Never Type Anything You Wouldn’t Say Face-to-Face
With a keyboard in front of you, it’s easy to transmit thoughts you’d never speak aloud.
Now, we are not saying you should muzzle your opinion. What we are saying is that you should find a way to express your opinions civilly – and make sure it’s grounded in quantifiable evidence.
Going off half-cocked is a great way to wind up defending the indefensible. You should ask yourself if you want to be right – or happy. The two can be mutually exclusive. In your zeal to win an argument, you could lose a relationship.
3. Don’t Let the Way You Feel Determine the Way You Act
This dovetails with number one above and goes a bit farther. If you find out you are indeed taking the comment the way it was intended, your best play will be an intellectual one. State your case thoroughly and succinctly – without emotion.
Sometimes, you’ll run into someone who is spoiling for a fight so they automatically employ incendiary rhetoric. Your responses should be cool, calculated, grounded in facts, buttressed with supporting links and free of emotional triggers.
Let’s say you’re selling ebooks and someone in a forum unjustly accuses you of selling plagiarized material.
Your first instinct is going to be to shut them down as quickly as possible. But if you get into a profanity-laced, mud-slinging flame war – and all of your customers witness it – yeah, that isn’t going to be a good look. Defend yourself with your intellect, not your emotions.
4. Make Your Point and Shut Up
If you take your time, do your research and craft a well-regarded response, there shouldn’t be anything else to be said.
Remember, your goal is to sell books, not take down some idiot who knows just enough to be an irritant.
It takes two to fight. If you are very thorough in your reply and your logic is unassailable (which it will be, because you’re the expert), their only play will be emotion. In which case, you’ll just refer them back to your response – once – and leave it alone.
Your customers will see you being the bigger person and respect you for it.
Ultimately, avoiding flame wars is simply a matter of exercising restraint. Don’t respond to the first thing you see, don’t respond out of anger – and don’t respond to anger.
Flame wars can be perpetual motion machines in which misunderstanding gets piled on top of misunderstanding.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
The first person to remember this and exit the argument wins.
Let it be you.