Dealing With Negativity In Your Community

This post is a continuation in our community manager series, focusing on bringing awareness to the role of people who manage their companies’ internal communities and establishing best practices around internal community management. In a previous post, we explored common success characteristics for internal community managers and best practices in building nascent and mature communities alike.  Regardless of the maturity level of your community, you will always have some negativity, and you should expect it. The better prepared you are for dealing with negativity, the more effective you will be.

To deal with negativity, you need to first understand its main causes:

Passion: A shared passion inspires engagement, action, discourse… and conflict. Yes, passion is essential to the growth and engagement of a community, but it can often derail action through conflict. I’ve seen it happen many times and had it happen to me, and if I do things right, it will keep happening. After all, who wants a community without passion? I know I don’t!

Trolls: Of course, some people are in it for notoriety and crave unproductive conflict. They post, tweet, comment with the sole purpose of riling up others and getting the best of them. Or they may just be spamming and incessantly promoting their own agenda without much concern for being part of a team and actually connecting with others.

Disgruntled employee: In a work setting, a disgruntled employee can turn into a troll. Most disgruntled employees will just keep their feelings to themselves or complain anonymously. They will eventually quit or be let go. Some disgruntled employees will take to public spaces and make their dissatisfaction known. While many think of this as a threat, it’s actually a great opportunity to understand why this person is dissatisfied and take steps to remedy that.

Personal vendettas and politics: Group dynamics (and even egos at times) may drive a lot of the communication structure. Hopefully, you are eradicating this by flattening your organization with Yammer. For whatever reason, people may get involved in office politics and just “have it out” for another colleague. This type of person may greet everything this colleague says with criticism, whether or not it’s deserved. Often, there may be conflict that goes far back, and people “stick to their guns” even though the conflict may have played out. When this happens, HR is your next stop.

Misalignment: Sometimes people may join a conversation because they actually have a different, or even conflicting objective. This is why alignment around common objectives and unifying vision is so important, and Yammer can be a key catalyst to that. There also may be a process misalignment, where someone may propose a way of dealing with an issue that’s fundamentally different from what others are suggesting, even though the vision is the same.

Now that you know what may be causing negativity, here are some things that you can do to keep negativity and conflict at bay:

Examine possible sources of conflict: If you understand what’s causing conflict, this will be a relatively easy thing to pinpoint. Figure out who’s causing negativity, whom it’s aimed at and why, as well as establish cause and potential emotional motivations behind it. Is this person a chronic complainer or do they have a legitimate gripe?

Reach out privately: Once you figure out the who, what, and why, you need to try to neutralize. Just like in an offline situation, the best medicine is to reach out and try to talk to someone like a human being. If it’s someone just being an unsavory character attacking people for no reason, you are well justified to ask him to stop. If necessary, be prepared to escalate through official channels outlined ahead of time in your usage policy.

Turn it into productive discourse: Whether you are attacked or mediating between other people, and you’ve identified noble (if misguided) motivations, do try to steer it towards a productive discussion. Remember, productive is the one that offers solutions. Unproductive is the one that degenerates the conversation to finger-pointing.

Don’t make it personal: Whatever the source of conflict is, and however the conflict plays out, make sure you never make it about the person — it’s always about the issue. Never act on emotion, and don’t feel like you have to respond right away. It’s perfectly normal to walk away and reengage later.

Increase positivity: Probably the best way to guard against negativity is to focus on positivity. No one wants to act mean in a place where everyone is positive and focused on the greater well-being. If it’s a place that attracts trolls, then people feel justified to do the same. You know, when in Rome, do like the Romans do. In the words of Annalie Killian, Director of Innovation and Social Business at AMP (interviewed by Bryony Cole), don’t pee in the pool:


Photo credit: Meredith_Farmer