Here on Stack Exchange, I have a user with whom I believe I may have made a bad first impression. In general, I acted as a bit of an accidental jerk. Overwriting his edits, drastically changing the meaning of his posts, and in general acting a bit unprofessional in chat.

I was a bit of a Stack Exchange novice when I first joined, meaning I didn't really have a good idea of how to properly behave. Some of their comments leave me with the impression that they may now see me as a bit immature, or worse, a bit of a troll.

How can I recover from a bad first impression made with a specific user in an online community?

  • 1
    Have you apologised? (admittedly this is harder as this site does not have a mail box)
    – Casebash
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 6:45
  • This is a good question - when I have time, I'd like to post an answer. I'm making this comment to remind myself
    – user57
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 7:12
  • 1
    @YvetteColomb : glad you were passing by :) left a comment earlier about that, below apaul34208's answer, hope you don't mind...
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 7:56
  • @OldPadawan yes! That's why I feel like I should write and answer :)
    – user57
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 9:49
  • 1
    A small story: a user once made a bad first impression on me. I asked a question badly and deserved some blowback, but they went over the line. I was mad for 5 minutes but put it aside, and then a month later, I upvoted a really cool answer. It was that user--I recognized the avatar. So it does take time, but it does happen! Also, unless they're really vindictive, they probably forgot about you quickly.
    – aschultz
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 21:45

4 Answers 4


I understand this big time. As seen in this post on Meta Stack Exchange Why don't we keep public records of suspensions?, which is interestingly my top voted network question outside of Stack Overflow Meta.

In my case I was upsetting multiple individuals, but the same principles still apply. I still get off on the wrong foot with people from time to time. Some personalities are more difficult to manage (in this case mine) and so an extra effort needs to be made when communicating with people, so that our messages are not misconstrued online.

1. Acknowledge It

I work on the principle of "own it". If I've made a mistake I own it. It can feel a little humiliating, but that's not a bad thing, as we should be embarrassed by our own bad behaviour - whatever the reason for it. It's important to acknowledge to the person that you can see what was wrong with your behaviour.

Acknowledging one's own shortcomings is really the best strength anyone can have. As by knowing where we need improvement, we are able to improve ourselves.

It's like taking a car to the repair shop, when you think it's running fine. Not knowing if or what the problem is or where it is, means it's unlikely to be fixed. (may not be the best example as some things are obvious to a mechanic - but I hope you get my drift)

By sharing your acknowledgement of the situation, you are telling the person, hey, I know I behaved badly, and you could think I was immature or a troll. This feedback is important as it shows the other person you have self awareness and are capable of change.

2. Apologise

Simply, apologise for any distress or harm you may have caused by your behaviour. This is a demonstration that you are aware of how your behaviour impacted the other person. It displays empathy and shows that you are not only concerned with yourself, wanting the person to respect or like you, because it makes you feel good. You want the person to actually feel better.

3. Change Your Behaviour

This is obvious, but crucial. There's no point to apologise and then continue with the behaviour. It will render the apology, more or less, worthless. As it's akin to saying, I know I harmed or distressed you in some way and I'm still doing it.

There may be hiccups. By this I mean milder forms of the behaviour in a slip up. People can react in a couple of ways to backsliding. They may be oversensitive and overreact to it, or they may be pleased that they can see an active improvement. Either way, keep house cleaning and follow the process of acknowledgement and apology if you stumble. Slip ups are hard to deal with, for both you and the other person, but we are only human.

4. Be Patient

These things take time, for tensions to dissolve and the new and improved interactions between you and the other person to overwrite the person's experience of you. If the bulk of the experience has been negative, it will take time of being positive for the person to let their guard down and relax enough to trust that you have changed and the other was an aberration or an immaturity and you have indeed matured.

This can be difficult, knowing the person may not like you, and knowing you have to wait. Sometimes it's better to take a low profile for a while. Then gradually increase your activity, with the changed behaviour. Changing our behaviour is one of the most challenging things we can do. Tensions between people, puts pressure on you, so it's good to be mindful and pace yourself.

Interestingly, I have formed good relationships, where, previously, I was difficult and I've found people on this site to be forgiving. I suspect that's the nature of this site and the type of people it attracts. People who want to contribute and improve the world, in this internet environment, that strives maintains a Be Nice policy.

5. Forgive Yourself

With all this focus on shortcomings, it's important to also be kind to yourself and forgive yourself for making mistakes. People who are introspective, can sometimes be too self critical and just as we should be nice to others, we should try and be nice to ourselves.

  • I should add I'm now moderator on Pets.se and came 3rd in the latest Stack Overflow Election - a complete turn around from a 20 year suspension.
    – user57
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 23:25
  • 1
    20 years to Moderator? Wow! +1
    – NVZ
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 4:02
  • @NVZ thanks, unfortunately my interpersonal skills need more work still.
    – user57
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 4:03

Happens to us all

You are not alone in this. It's normal to make mistakes when you're new to something. You admit that you were a novice and did not know better.

The important thing is that you realized it and have decided to correct your mistakes.

If you think you have done serious harm to the user, you can apologize to them.

But if it's just some minor friction then it's probably going to go away on its own. It's nothing to bear a grudge against you.

Just continue interacting with the user, but now with more care and consideration. And your changed behaviour is itself the best apology.


.. The first step is to admit that you have a problem.

Admitting that you know you acted inappropriately will often go a long way towards mending things in most situations.

Beyond that, make an effort to be a better community member. Showing is always better than telling. Once this other user sees you doing the right thing consistently, they will be a lot more likely to let the unfortunate incidents of the past stay in the past.

On a personal note, I really enjoy seeing misguided newbs turn the corner on Stack Exchange. Many of us had missteps when we first started out, I know I did. Stick around, and keep learning.

  • 3
    +1 and I wonder if OP can feel better after reading Yvette's story, "sentenced" to a 20 years' ban and elected as a mod after her come back :) great posts from her about that...
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 7:00

Recovery will take time.

If someone was targeted, and others tried to intervene, it is something that many people may remember when they see your name. That doesn't mean that recovery is impossible, it just means that you will have to put in the effort to regain the trust and confidence they otherwise would've had in you.

But how do you regain that trust?

If you can prove that you are committed to contributing positively to the community, and show that you do not partake in those destructive actions, that will be a start. You can take a look at the Be Nice policy of your site, if you want some guidelines.

Stack Exchange has a history of a focus of rehabilitation with users. Suspensions are private for good reason, and moderators generally attempt to issue warnings before making harsh actions. Luckily for you, the presence of this idea in our community will help you recover.

Keep in mind though that impressions don't change overnight. Some people may hold on to their initial impressions; others will change and look at your new behaviour to form their opinions. What you need to worry about is if you've changed yourself into a positive member of the community. If you ask yourself "Am I making this community and the internet a better place?" and you answer "Yes," then you are on the right track.

  • Do you think I should apologize to them directly? I'm considering making a 1-1 room
    – Stevoisiak
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 5:27
  • @StevenVascellaro Not necessary unless it was thaaat bad.
    – NVZ
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 5:29
  • @StevenVascellaro If your actions could be construed as having been personal, and you had confrontations with very specific members of the community (i.e. it was not towards anyone), then yes, you could make an apology if you feel that it would make the situation better.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 5:31

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