22

Active users of Stack Exchange tend to frequent multiple sites and chat rooms, so it means we will tend to bump into the same people in different places. People don't always click, and will disagree on with one another on some things, that's natural.

If I have a disagreement with someone I tend to move on quickly - forget about it and treat the person the same way as anyone else - respectfully. However this is not always the case with some people, they don't move on and hold grudges.

Holding a grudge doesn't really matter, in the sense that it only harms the person holding it, if the person is able to think and act objectively.

Occasionally, however there will be the person who cannot move past things and if there's been an incident between two people, it will colour their opinion and they will not let go or be able to rise above their feelings and so react in a subjective manner to any encounters with the other person. This can make life difficult when both people are active on the same sites and in the same chat rooms.

It's fair that people will not always agree, but it becomes suspicious, if over time, one or both people disagree with or object to everything the other person says. So a person will be reacting to the personality, rather than the content of what they're saying.

Most of the network is public and it's difficult to create a discussion with someone, that doesn't become a public debacle with other people being involved and lowering the tone of the site. Also, some people do not react well to being called out for their behaviour, and will become defensive.

Also, we cannot really know what is going on inside someone else's head, so perceived observations of two people not getting along, may be misconstrued. Plus with online communication and cultural differences, it can be even harder to read people. So there's the risk of misinterpreting someone's behaviour. Some people can have healthy arguments and both feel like they get along well and respectfully.

What are some effective ways of dealing with this type of situation, either as an observer or being engaged in this type of interaction?
Do we determine if there's a problem? If so, how? Ignoring it may also be an option.

Really this question could apply to any online community.

  • 1
    @Vylix Let's say just users, not moderators. Most regulars end up with high rep on one or more sites, anyway. But I agree - rep shouldn't matter, we are all subject to the same standards of be nice - I am wondering if this is too broad – user57 Aug 4 '17 at 23:19
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    @YvetteColomb : not complaining about the (important) subject of the topic (or saying it's off-topic), just thought it could have been more suited on meta, maybe I wasn't clear enough :) no big deal it's here or over there though... – OldPadawan Aug 5 '17 at 7:56
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    @RobertCartaino So why don't move this question to meta.stackexchange.com? – I am the Most Stupid Person Aug 17 '17 at 11:23
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    @RobertCartaino I think that this should be Re-Opened. This should not be closed as a matter of SE's (or SE Meta's) PR. If we do not address our issues on our own sites, I absolutely refuse to trust anyone to resolve other issues outside of these sites. – tuskiomi Aug 17 '17 at 13:44
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    The question does not have to apply exclusively to Stack Exchange and applies to our relationships on Stack Exchange, as opposed to the rules and policies of the site. As long as it's not singling out a definable incident or person - I reckon it should be to ask questions about managing our relationships on the site. We want to improve ourselves after all. – user57 Aug 17 '17 at 17:06
15

This feels a bit like the contrarian question...

In my experience here and elsewhere on the network, sometimes people really are just fundamentally different. They routinely take what appears to be a contrary position because that's how they honestly see things.

Over time, with enough of these interactions, two users can begin to develop some amount of personal grudge against each other. The two users are both right in that the other person constantly opposes their views, but they're usually wrong when they start to think that the other person is opposing them purely for personal reasons.

Even amongst the old guard of Stack Exchange, you'll see this sort of thing. The difference being that the old timers usually just make their case and let it go until the next issue rises. Occasionally you'll even see what looks like playful banter between two users who've routinely been on opposing sides of the issues for some time now.

People aren't always going to agree. We have to accept that. We aren't always going to be able to argue someone into our way of seeing things. When we argue we should state our case and let it go.

Occasionally there will be people who are legitimately trolling, but honestly from what I've seen, these people are few and far between. Someone who routinely disagrees with you isn't necessarily trolling, they may really just see things differently. But on those rare occasions where someone is really just causing trouble to cause trouble flag and move on.

Under no circumstances should you stop participating in a community over interactions with a single user. Regardless of how irritating they may be, there are lots of other users to interact with.

"Are you coming to bed? I can't, this is important. What? Someone is wrong on the internet."

When duty calls, take a break, but be sure to come back.

12

Option 1: Try to talk it out, one-on-one.

I have a short anecdote to start with.

Two and a half years ago, I was a newly minted moderator on History and Science & Mathematics. We'd been out of private beta for maybe two weeks, and I'd had a couple disagreements with a high-rep user who was (and still is) one of our most valuable contributors. It wasn't too serious, but I was getting a little annoyed with some of his behavior, and I didn't want to screw up, as a mod leading a young, unsteady site.

We had a brief discussion in chat, over a couple days (time zone differences made it hard). I only briefly brought up our differences of opinion, and, if I recall correctly, we got to talking about, the history of math - one of the subjects the site was about, a topic we were both passionate about, something we could really connect with.

See, what I remembered then was that Stack Exchange is about content. We're about questions and answers. We might have differences of opinion, but we're all here because we care about a couple of subjects, and we want to make the Internet a better place. We (well, I speak for myself) remembered that, and that helped us get through things.

The big advantage of this option? It assumes good intent. You're not going into it thinking that the other person is wrong and you're right - that's never a good path to take. I only don't assume good intent if I'm 100% sure that the person is being purposely malicious. I give second - even third, or fourth - chances.

I didn't go into this discussion with a specific plan; the question of whether that was good or bad in that specific situation will remain unanswered. However, in general, I'd recommend having a plan for a one-on-one discussion. It's very easy to let your emotions get ahold of you and to then make rash decisions because of that. If you think this might be an issue, you can make a short list of talking points:

  • What is the real issue at heart here? Is there an underlying issue beneath the continued disagreements?
  • How did the problem come about? Don't try to assign blame; I have yet to see that lead to anything productive. Just the facts, ma'am, so to speak.
  • What have the effects of the conflict been, and how seriously have they impacted the behavior of both parties on the site(s)? Have other users been affected?
  • How can both of you work together to change this in the future? Are there still options left?

Unstructured discussions can have some merit. I got lucky before. However, its usually better to have something in your back pocket you can go back to if you want a successful, objective conversation.

Option 2: Disengage.

Let me be clear. The first option is always preferable, because at the very least, both parties know that the other wants a successful resolution to the conflict. Asking someone to work together to solve a dispute should ensure that you both respect each other - one of the most important results going forward.

Last year, I and several other users had a problem with someone on Physics Stack Exchange. He had repeatedly broken various rules and continued to complain and whine in chat, toeing the line and sometimes breaking it. I was occasionally a victim of his remarks, and I quickly learned that the best way to deal with him was to ignore him.

There are many possible venues for conflict in Stack Exchange. As I wrote before, we're all about conflict, but there are secondary means of communication outside normal questions and answers. These are, in my experience, where issues usually escalate.

Ignoring the person won't end the harassment. You may need to step back and let a moderator or other community member step in, especially if this user is in conflict with other users, showing signs of a large-scale problem.

  • Chat. Just ignore them. Well, Ignore, with a capital "I", because there's a feature for that. Doing this to the fellow above worked. I let other mods deal with things when he broke chat rules.
  • Harassment in comments. Flag away. Again, my case involved the same person as the chat harasser, attacking people in comments under an election nomination. I flagged, stepped back, and let the mods (in this case, also a CM, because this person was waaay out of control) take care of it.
  • Meta issues. This is a place you won't be able to ignore the person as well. Meta is way more public. My suggestion: If they're being abusive, flag. If they're simply being overly contradictory . . . step back. Either their claims have merit or not, and if they're disagreeing just to disagree, the community will recognize this.

Important note:

Do not take these last two actions unless the person is actually being abusive or harassing you! Make sure that you're not simply flagging because you disagree with them; your requests for intervention will likely be denied. Some might argue that that's flag abuse.

3

If you have the impression that the relationship with the person is deteriorating (As you said, the tone is getting aggressive), the first steps should be always trying to talk 1:1. HDE 226868 already said everything in detail, so there is nothing to add here.

Other options:

Remove thyself from conflict.

I asked once a question in a SE group and the answers left quite a...not recommendable impression. I asked myself if either my question was really that out of line or if I hit grumpy people this day. So I looked up in META (which is always the first step you should do) and found out several highly-voted questions to the effect "Could we less obnoxious to new people?". Ok, so my decision was not to participate in this particular group. It is really that simple: If you do not feel well in a group, do not participate.

But often the group itself is no trouble, but a single, particular user. And here I must disagree with apaul34208:

Under no circumstances should you stop participating in a community over interactions with a single user.

Yes, you should think over to stop participating in a community over interactions with a single user if this single user is a moderator or an influential person, you have the feeling that the single user has an axe to grind with you and you have no support (small rep, newcomer).

Yeah, in movies and books the person with pure heart overcomes the evil scheming antagonist with the support of people. But in reality the community is not so interested in quarrels and has neither the time nor the intent to follow the details. So even if you are really, really wronged, it does not guarantee you will get "justice". Also both people are often quite normal, but each other has a specific quality which the other one fears or despises.

The conflict continues, what now?

But often it is not so easy. You really like the group and you have accumulated some reputation. The other person is not interested in discussion or even flat-out denies that there is a problem, but his/her actions speak otherwise.

I witnessed such a clash first-hand in one of my groups. Both people were really, really high on rep (> 10k), both people had people who liked them and both people disliked the other one. Both people gave excellent answers and asked good questions. That is a grave situation because it can rip a group apart.

Use chat/meta to announce/solve the situation.

If one or the other did not open up by posting his complaints on meta, ask e.g. an impartial moderator in private chat about the situation. Sooner or later people notice the conflict, but often hesitate because they are not interested in the conflict. Then try to find out if the situation cannot be resolved peacefully by inviting them into private chat or, if it was made public (which should be the last resort), to talk each other down. A participant in a conflict has always the right to say: I do not want this conflict anymore, stop bothering me and I will not bother you.

Cease-fire

Unfortunately such conflicts have evolved over such a long time that the participants are often unable to let their grudges slide. So the effective solution is that both participants abstain from sniping at each other, no exceptions.

In the particular case both participants were forced to make some holiday. And it was also laid out that they stop their interactions. If still a party violates this cease-fire, at least there is a culprit which will be kicked out.

  • I really like how you've explored this question from another perspective - in all honesty I think this, apaul's and HDE's answer really create an entire package to solve these issues. No one avenue is categorically correct. Thank you for this perspective. – user57 Aug 5 '17 at 18:09
-1

Most people on SE sites are nice enough. The really nasty ones get kicked off the site pretty fast. There are a few that "fall through the cracks," that are in-between.

In my experience, these people aren't fundamentally nasty, but some have "pet peeves" that will sometimes lead to seemingly "disproportionate" responses. They are few enough so I've identified the ones whose buttons I may push, and then try to avoid pushing those buttons.

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