When to Keep Your Mouth Shut

I know, we live in a free-for-all, let it all hang out, be transparent social media world where anonymous commenters hurl flaming arrows of ugliness across the web. It’s very easy to respond to one of these comments with your own sarcastic response to prove your prowess in this realm. Face it, we like to score points, to put people in their place.

But, as an author, your reputation is your most valuable asset. You have worked so hard to build your author platform and establish yourself at the expert in your field. You’ve built an audience on your facebook page. Your twitter followers always retweet your pearls of wisdom. Your schedule is booked for the foreseeable future with book signings, keynote addresses, and other benefits of having published your book.

Use Your Pause Button

And you can ruin it all in an unthinking response in a flash of anger. Trust me, it will not help your reputation at all if you begin to be seen as angry and vindictive. I know, sometimes it’s really hard to hit the pause button and take a moment to think before we push that reply button.

I did this myself just this week. I was working on something that should have been very easy, yet I had worked through the night struggling with software that just wasn’t doing what I thought it was supposed to do.

I was tired. And very cranky. That’s no excuse.

In a fit of pique I responded to a comment and totally trashed this product in a public forum where I’m known for being very helpful and friendly.

Did my little temper tantrum help me at all? No.

What it did do is confuse people. They did not know this raging lunatic, and they didn’t like her. I don’t blame them.

One lesson that I learned at a very young age is to not respond to people when I am angry. I’ve gotten my share of angry emails. And it would be SO easy to snap off an angry reply to show that person just how wrong they are. But I’ve learned to utilize one of my greatest tools–the pause button. To take a few minutes to breathe and compose a much calmer reply.

Sometimes this means I have to let it sit till the next day because I’m still mad. That’s OK. A thoughtful reply the next day is always better than a hasty angry retort within minutes.

Yes, my pause button was broken that day. It’s fixed now.

Consider the Consequences

I used to  follow someone on twitter who had very good marketing advice. It was good stuff that I enjoyed reading. But all of the sudden his whole focus changed and he began tweeting nothing but ugly political vindictive. It was really kind of vile. And not at all what I expected when I followed him. I  unfollowed him in a hurry. And from what I hear, many others did, too.

Unless the political arena is your niche, it may be wise to temper your statements in this area. I’m not saying to hide or censor yourself. I am saying to remember that your actions have consequences.

And the most important place to put your efforts when building your author platform is to give value to the people in your target audience. Don’t chase them away by not understanding the consequences of what you do to THEM.

Put Yourself in Their Place

It’s so easy to assume that the person on the other end of that comment is ignorant, uneducated, spiteful, jealous, or any of the other states we ascribe to such people, but maybe they just had a bad day, too.

Elizabeth Potts Weinstein writes very eloquently about this in her piece In Response to Drama, Trolls, and Inadequate Baristas. She was reminded of this lesson by her young daughter.

So what would happen if we gave these people the benefit of the doubt? Maybe a little less ugliness in the world is what I’m thinking. Let’s hope so anyway.

Are you taking the opportunity to respond usefully to your readers?

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  1. Carole, this is a very important lesson. I am very careful about what I post online, especially anything negative. You are absolutely right — it’s best to sit on something negative for a day and see if it really needs to be said.

    Occasionally it does. I wrote a comment on Ari Herzog’s blog a few days ago saying that I’m far less likely to follow someone on Twitter if they do frequent FourSquare updates. It’s negative about FourSquare and FourSquare users, but it’s how I feel, and I backed it up with reasons. And I only waited a few minutes…
    John Soares´s last post ..How to Win Multiple Freelance Writing Assignments

    • John, I’ve found that even negative feedback can be delivered in a respectful way. And, I totally agree with your assessment of Foursquare. I really don’t care where a person is eating lunch, and if that makes up the bulk of their twitter stream, I’m out of there.

      PS thanks so much for your tweets of this post. I really appreciate it.

  2. Carole, Thanks for the thought-provoking post. Lack of consistency in behavior takes away from the message or persona that someone is trying to create. I noticed a case where the author said one things in the posts, but responded to comments in a manner that was inconsistent with what had been described in the posts. That mismatch diminished that author’s authority in my eyes.

    • Greg, consistent behavior/actions are key to growing your platform. And I felt really bad about my own inconsistent behavior this week. I’ve apologized and tried to make it right. I can’t undo it, but I have learned a very important lesson. And I really hope I don’t have to learn that lesson again.

  3. Sheepishly raising my hand here. :(

    What if we really screw up and write something totally out of line and out of “normal” character. Is it okay to ask people to remove our knee-jerk-reaction comments off blogs if we regret them when we’re feeling better?
    Marlene Hielema´s last post ..Its all about timing

    • Marlene, I found out the hard way that some things are undoable. I wanted to delete my comment but someone had quoted it in full in their response. I totally get that sheepish feeling. I felt like a total schmuck. But I apologized and life will go on. I can’t keep beating myself up about it.