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Related: Is this an appropriate place to call for the resignation of an SO employee?

In an answer to the question above, Shog9 ♦ mentioned that calling for a staff member's immediate removal can be frightening to the staff member in question. Considering this, are there any best practices or preferred practices for constructively calling out a specific staff member for what one feels is inappropriate behavior, especially when doing so right here on Meta Stack Exchange or in a closely linked context?

In other social contexts, I have been taught to frame criticism in "I messages", such as,

I feel unsafe and persecuted when Staff Member X suspends me with only a brief message about "rule violations". I need staff to provide detailed feedback in any future suspension, to include exact copies of the problematic posts/comments/behavior and the exact text of the rule(s) that I allegedly violated. This will help us get along beause X, Y, and Z, and also past experiences with P, Q, and R strongly support this means of resolution. It would also help greatly if I could get a formal apology from X. Thanks!

Are there any rules or best practices that one should keep in mind in terms of how to phrase criticism of an employee's behavior? Are there any specific examples of well-received constructive criticism of an employee's behavior that resulted in an overall positive outcome?

To be clear, I'm not asking about any specific staff member or specific behavior, but general best practices. If we assume that calling for a staff member's immediate resignation or termination is inappropriate, what level of criticism can be deemed appropriate to post on Meta Stack Exchange, a per-site Meta, or chat?

This is not a duplicate of How do users escalate concerns about an abusive employee? because that question is about escalation in a private context, while this question is asking how to publicly call out employee behavior without offending against rules of conduct or unnecessarily stressing the staff member in question.

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    facebook, twitter, reddit, dev.to, take your pick – user400654 Nov 8 at 16:27
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    @KevinB no, I'm asking what the practices are for doing it right here. When calling out behavior on Facebook, Twitter, etc., one follows the rules or conventions of those sites. I'm asking what the rules or conventions are for this site. – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Nov 8 at 16:29
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    The practice for doing it here is to not do it. – user400654 Nov 8 at 16:30
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    Part of "appropriately and constructively criticize or complain" should also include being heard. If nobody listens to our criticisms or complaints, then they're useless. – House- 'Reinstate Monica' -man Nov 8 at 17:08
  • An empirical response would be: "Don't complain on MSE; complain on Twitter." That's where you post when you want SO to react. I know that the question does reject that option, but it's good SE tradition to challenge artificial restrictions in questions. The main problem would be that the staff would learn to ignore Twitter, too. – MSalters - reinstate Monica Nov 11 at 12:01
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I like Makoto's answer, but to put it a different way

Criticize the person's behavior, but avoid impugning the person's character

Let's contrast

I really don't like X. They said mean things about Y and should be fired!

That's neither constructive, nor useful. In fact, it's more of a rant and should be deleted.

X took actions I disagree with. They were harmful to myself/others. I wish they had done...

Now we're being respectful without attacking the person. This is a perfect example.

It is clear to me personally that Monica meant no harm by her avoidance of nonbinary pronouns (I say as someone who uses they/them among other pronouns). I believe that while there were problems with what she said, she meant all the best, and that is a starting point for a conversation, not an ending point for a long and productive relationship with Stack Exchange.

They disagreed with the person but continued to work with them. Imagine how that would have gone if they had jumped out with all sorts of assumptions and started slinging labels and attacks.

If you want an example of one with a SE employee, there's this Meta.SO post (with lots of good examples of respectful disagreement) and a positive response (note how they quoted someone who disagreed with them).

TL;DR

  1. Avoid labels or assumptions about motivation
  2. Be respectful
  3. List your grievances without airing them in a rant
  4. Listen to the response(s) and respond accordingly
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    A less laconic answer compared to mine. I approve of this. – Makoto Nov 8 at 17:18
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"Hate the sin; love the sinner."

Complaining about an individual's actions (i.e. "sinner") is seldom constructive, as it doesn't motivate a solution to the actual problem which caused the reaction in the first place (i.e. "sin").

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    So why are users suspended and not their actions made impossible? Or asked differently: Should SE Mods follow your advice? – Tom Nov 8 at 16:38
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    @Tom Do suspension not make their actions impossible? – user400654 Nov 8 at 16:39
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    @Tom: They already do. After a suspension, if the behavior improves, then you're welcomed back into the fold. I suppose there's a catch for the sake of moderation, but even then it's only a year. – Makoto Nov 8 at 16:42
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    @KevinB Does firing an employee not make their actions impossible either? But doesn't look this is what Makoto meant. – Tom Nov 8 at 16:42
  • Now you're contradicting yourself (or your answer is unclear to me): You said don't handle the person, handle the actual problem. How is suspending someone not handling the person? – Tom Nov 8 at 16:44
  • @Tom: When the suspension ends, your reputation and status are largely restored - you'd have to wait "a year and a day" to have your full status level back to 100% for the sake of mod elections. If it were the case that the person were "handled", then they would not have their reputation and status restored. – Makoto Nov 8 at 16:46
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    This eliminates the responsibility of the individual for the actions they take. The problem with the "love the sinner" phrase you quoted is we're not inclined to love or respect people we don't love or respect. Complaining about the individual's actions shows the individual that that was their action, and it is thus in their power to fix it. Removal of that removes their responsibility for the action. If I still love you but hate your actions, why am I inclined to do anything when you behave inappropriately? You deserve to be loved, perhaps society just forced you to do it? – logos_164 Nov 8 at 16:48
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    I very much agree with this, but it's sort of hard to follow when much of the messaging directly implicates users as a problem. It feels like a, "do as we say, not as we do" situation. – fbueckert Nov 8 at 16:48
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    @Makoto That's not what I mean. Your posts reads like "don't do anything to the sinner, prevent the sins". A ban is already something against the sinner, no matter how long it lasts. – Tom Nov 8 at 16:57
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    @fbueckert: You do have to remember that we are dealing with dictators, irrespective of their benevolence. – Makoto Nov 8 at 17:02
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    @Tom: Is the main thrust of my answer, "Don't complain about the individual, but rather complain about the individual's actions" somehow lost on you? You're trying to make this about normal users but the stark and blunt reality is that Stack Exchange staff aren't normal users and the rules and policies we have for them do not generally apply. – Makoto Nov 8 at 17:09
  • @Makoto "but the stark and blunt reality is that Stack Exchange staff aren't normal users and the rules and policies we have for them do not generally apply" Yes I guess that's the issue (at least for me). Anyway I still disagree with the answer, but a further discussion won't get us further. Thanks anyway. – Tom Nov 8 at 17:27
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    I rarely find pithy maxims and platitudes useful, and sometimes, I even find them hurtful. The language of "hate the sin, love the sinner" has often been used in modern day to excuse abusers and shame victims. I see it doing the same thing, here. – Web Head Nov 8 at 18:17
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    @WebHead: It seems like you, as well, are not quite reading the rest of the answer. Taking umbrage with the adage is fine, but the point I'm conveying I feel outweighs whatever stigma you're attaching to it. – Makoto Nov 8 at 18:20
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    @Makoto It sets up the "rest of the answer" to be interpreted a certain way. The point you're making is trumped by the adage, whose stigma exists regardless of what I do, which advocates for allowing bad actors to stay in positions of power, and only addressing the actions they've taken. It completely ignores that often times the problem is the person. – Web Head Nov 8 at 18:32
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It is very unlikely that someone can “call out” individual strangers constructively in a public forum in front of hundreds of strangers. It is almost always more effective to depersonalize the criticism or to do it privately.

If you believe some task could have been handled better, then you should address your concerns to the team or discuss the process in general. I’ll tell you right now that moderators or CMs are not going to argue each specific point with you, but I do agree a generic “rules violation” form letter is not helpful.

Ideally, you would be given an example of what specific behavior was a problem and some advice for how to avoid future suspensions. When a moderation team is overloaded, sometimes that personalization suffers. Responding to the private message with your concerns is probably the most constructive way to deal with it. Those responses go to the entire moderation team on other sites. I’m not sure if they work exactly the same way here.

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    'You can’t “call out” individual people constructively in a public forum in front of hundreds of people.' - I'd very much disagree with you. It really depends on the sort of people you are dealing with. I know people who are happy being called out in any situation in front of whomever as long as it's constructive (i.e. not done just for the sake of calling them out and provides genuine suggestions to improve). The issue I find is that we've made all disagreements out to seem like confrontations when they might not be. – Script47 Nov 8 at 17:56
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    @Script47 I know people who... If I rephrased it as “You can’t “call out” strangers in front of hundreds of other strangers constructively” would that be better? There’s a certain amount of trust required for public criticism to be constructive. It’s far more effective to criticize individuals privately where the conversation doesn’t have the peanut gallery piling on. – ColleenV parted ways Nov 8 at 18:03
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    I'm not sure if that would help no, because in my scenario, I've seen these people accept constructive criticism from strangers who've done it respectfully albeit publicly. The point here is that if you get called out it doesn't have to be a "bad" thing. It becomes something "bad" depending on how people looking in and the person who it's regarding react to it. I find that in modern discourse people are looking for drama or they try and whip up drama where none exists. A person can call another person out without it being some "bad". – Script47 Nov 8 at 18:05
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    What do to in the situations where the person will not discuss things privately with you, or, the outcome of those private talks are not fruitful? – Script47 Nov 8 at 18:20
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    I just want to point out that the community is showing far more courtesy and respectfulness toward a particular employee than that person showed to us. I hope SE is paying attention. – Monica Cellio Nov 8 at 18:23
  • @Script47 That’s probably a question that should be asked on Interpersonal Skills – ColleenV parted ways Nov 8 at 18:24
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    @MonicaCellio Agreed, and it is frankly not easy to keep said person from becoming the avatar for all my negative feelings about this situation. This isn’t all their doing however, and we have no real knowledge of what they regret or don’t. – ColleenV parted ways Nov 8 at 18:29
  • Yeah.... if you can't constructively call out someone in front of a large group, it means that a particular employee was extremely unconstructive to talk to the media about a particular user, eh? It seems, to me, that there isn't really any consequence to being unproductive. – Chris Nov 12 at 11:30
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You're asking contradictory questions.

  • In the title: "How can one appropriately and constructively criticize or complain about a ... employee?"
  • In the body: "Are there any rules or best practices that one should keep in mind in terms of how to phrase criticism of an employee's behavior?"

That's the answer, IMO -- i.e. criticise the behaviour not the person.

Here's an example for pre-school teachers:

  • "Don't bite people" -- criticises behaviour, is fine
  • "You're a bad boy" -- criticises the person, not ok

"I messages" work too. They're often for untangling miscommunication rather than for criticising behaviour ...

When you said X, I felt Y
When you said X, I didn't realise that Z

... and to avoid telling your side of the story as if that were the whole truth or the only objective truth.

Another benefit of "I messages" is that they're hard to argue against, easier to hear and accept:

  • If I say, "X is true!", then you might want to argue, "No it isn't!"
  • but if I say, "I feel X", you're less likely to say, "No you don't!".
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    "You're asking contradictory questions." - (I feel) That's nitpicking, really. I think this topic is not about "Bob is stoopy" but "Bob did X and that sucks because Y" – Philipp Nov 8 at 18:08
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    @Philipp Given the first sentence -- i.e. "Related: calling for an employee's resignation" -- I think the question is or was about how to distinguish "I condemn Bob", versus, "I condemn behaviour X". – ChrisW Nov 8 at 18:20
  • That the criticism is about the behavior is implicit. – Scott Hannen Nov 8 at 19:15
  • @ScottHannen It's explicit in the CoC -- "Focus on the content, not the person." – ChrisW Nov 8 at 19:19
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    It's difficult (though not impossible) to criticize someone without saying what the behavior is. If I complain about Bob, I'm going to say, "Bob whistles for no apparent reason, and it's distracting." Unless OP is asking how to appropriately say, "I hate Bob," it seems obvious that they're asking where to criticize or complain about the behavior. – Scott Hannen Nov 8 at 19:23
  • @ScottHannen I don't see what you're getting at, nor why this answer is at all controversial or attracting comments. Should you post an answer of your own, instead of a comment, to make your point clearly? I think the point is: don't complain about Bob, only about the whistling. – ChrisW Nov 8 at 20:13
  • That's pretty much it. Complaining about Bob = complaining about Bob's whistling. – Scott Hannen Nov 8 at 20:17
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My interactions on Meta.SE are quite limited, so my opinion could differ from the actual reality here. But my first reflex would be to focus the message on the action, and not on the person. You can always say that you don't agree with some opinion of Employee A, or actions made by Employee B, provided that your opinion is phrased in a respectful way. But accusing those employees on a personal level is totally different, and unacceptable IMO.

We have to remember that most of us don't know the SE employees personally. We have never interacted with them, other than through this impersonal medium that is the Internet. And it is very easy to infer intent based on our perception of the message, and react to this perception of the original intent. This is even truer these days with all that happened. As long as you stick to the facts, and not your perception of said facts, I believe your hypothetical criticism has better chances to be received positively.

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    I strongly agree. This is part of anger management training: ` And it is very easy to infer intent based on our perception of the message, and react to this perception of the original intent. This is even truer these days with all that happened. As long as you stick to the facts, and not your perception of said facts, I believe your hypothetical criticism has better chances to be received positively..` – pacmaninbw Nov 8 at 17:24
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what level of criticism can be deemed appropriate to post on Meta Stack Exchange, a per-site Meta, or chat?

And then:

while this question is asking how to publicly call out employee behavior without offending against rules of conduct or unnecessarily stressing the staff member in question.

First, for context, again, the already mentioned golden rule:

Do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated.

If the two of us got into a dispute, I wouldn't want you to publicly call me out. Neither would I consider it useful to call you out in public. We have a disagreement, and maybe each of us is angry about the other one.

Now: when you think about "you" vs "some SE Inc. employee", it gets more tricky immediately. You putting up a question here X did that, I find that horribly, what do you think? might quickly turn into a shit storm.

Meaning: you have the leverage of a large community behind you. One nice, funny (snark snark) attack could get you 50, 100 upvotes in a day, and there is close to zero what the attacked person can do about that, without making things worse.

Sure, on the other hand, we don't have real leverage. Whatever we did during the last weeks, SE Inc. did not change course. Monica still thinks she needs a lawyer, because the company seems to be unable to resolve that conflict in any other way.

So, on the one hand, we have a lot of power (to create attention, and somehow steer them towards specific policies, or well, individuals), on the other hand, we are also powerless.

Thus, my personal conclusion: avoid getting hang up on individuals. Discuss/request policies and agreements. When you think you are stuck when talking to a certain individual (or heck: reading what they said somewhere), then disengage. If at all, write a question here, describe what happened, maybe without giving a specific name, and then propose a way to better address the underlying problem.

Anything else feels like a waste of your time and energy.

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    Some of the anger is that a fired Moderator was publicly reported as having behaved in a particular way. But it seems many are willing to publicly abuse (accusing her of lying, for example) a named staff member. There is an inconsistency here. – Raedwald Nov 11 at 11:08
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    @Raedwald You assume an unproven congruency or even identity of subgroup and ignore both agency and the timeline: the staff member pulled both including own name into public, being quite proud and satisfied about it. (twitter) – LаngLаngС Nov 11 at 11:51
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    @Raedwald I think my answer actually addresses that part. It boils down: publicly accusing individuals ... isn't helpful. Having said that, there is a German proverb "Wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es heraus", roughly translates to "what goes around comes around". But as said: I dont think that is helpful, and I suggest that there are better ways to handle such conflicts. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Nov 11 at 11:55
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When I have something negative to tell someone (for example, telling them they just did something that seemed unfriendly), I try to keep the conversation as private as possible.

Over the years, I have find that giving negative feedback in private will allow to the other person to react more calmly. They are more likely to listen to what you say and less likely to "violently" react.

I believe things are this way because, when you give feedback in private, there is far less social pressure. Also, when you receive negative feedback in public, everyone suddenly becomes a potential threat for you and your social status. However, when you receive this in private, there is only one other person involved. Since you are also one and, hopefully, of similar "power", things don't look as frightening.

When people are afraid, they don't act are they normally will. They act in defense, feeling like they have to fight for their life. This is not something you want when giving feedback to someone.

When you give feedback to someone, you want the other person to empathize with you. To see your point and understand it. You also want them to trust that your point is valid.

This is not something that a person in a situation of fear is likely to do. I know I have zero trust for people who, by their actions, are threatening me. I also know that I have very little empathy for them. If such a person were to bring a concern to me, I would probably dismiss it as them being their usual threat to me.

If I'm convinced that the other person is untrustworthy and are just "out to get me", why would I believe anything they say? Well, I simply wouldn't.


So, long story short:

  • When giving feedback to someone, avoid being seen as a threat to them.

  • Speaking with the person privately (instead of publicly) will reduce the likelihood of them seeing you as a threat.


So, about your question:

How can one appropriately and constructively criticize or complain about a Stack Exchange employee on Meta Stack Exchange?

I think you can't.

However, you could bring those concerns privately using the "contact" page (or by inviting them to a private chatroom, or by letting a comment under the question/answer you feel the person made a misstep on, etc...).

Or, as other people already said, don't criticize a person, but do focus on the behavior.

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    "Praise in public, correct in private" is Management 101 in my experience. – Monica Cellio Nov 11 at 16:05
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It depends on what they've done, but most things have a reporting function you should use.

If you don't feel that's enough, then there's the contact us page. Adding a question about it here won't get much traction, as you're just inviting even more discussion to a point, which you've already reached your own conclusion about - so don't bother unless you're actually open to being convinced otherwise.

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