Note: at first I considered to ask this question in the Moderator Teams, but then I thought it would do better here.

It has just happened. In the site I moderate two users have engaged in a discussion that went from mild accusations from one to the other and back again to bad words, and that ended with one of the users leaving the site (his account is scheduled to be removed... some time ago). I feel like I failed to stop them, but that's another question.

The thing is, the user leaving is one of the top 5 users of the site. I consider him a friend of mine after several years of working on the site. And I don't want this to happen any more. I know, it happens sometimes, you find someone you don't get along well with, something is said that can be easily misinterpreted, and then the accusations start... time to be nice! But how?

I would like to ask you for some tips about how to talk with others with respect, while stating your point of view about something that may be potentially harmful if not said with the proper words:

  • Someone has made a statement about you that may be understood with sarcasm (or not), and you feel like you should answer with a cleverer sarcasm.
  • Someone has directly made an accusation about you (that may or may not be true), and you feel like you should make a bigger accusation about the other person because you cannot lose.
  • Whatever.

In any case, you think twice and try to handle the situation with care. What should you do?

My own tips:

  • The very basic: Always talk with others the same way you want them to talk to you.
  • The sandwich technique (used by the most important companies): Say something good, then go for the bad thing (politely), then end with something good again. Thank you very much for you application, but unfortunately you didn't get the job. Don't let this discourage you and come back to us in the future for more opportunities.
  • Instead of focusing on writing something bad about the other person, try to focus in how they made you feel. Speak your heart! Instead of no, you are the one that has a problem try with your words made me feel very bad, I don't consider I have such problem. I'm sure this has a name...

Any other tips you would like to share?

  • 15
    I'm not suggesting that your question is off-topic here, but it might be a good fit on interpersonal skills, or there may already be questions there that will help. With a bit of luck you might find something that will give you a way forward towards persuading your friend to not leave the site you moderate =)
    – Rob
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:14
  • 2
    Sounds nice, in theory. In practice this is more difficult. Especially if moderators let rogue users go on and on and on.
    – user603947
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:15
  • 2
    I mean... some people just aren't interested in being reasoned with.
    – Kevin B
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:15
  • Note that I commented my case just to have a starting point for the question, but I actually wanted it to be as general as possible. I mean, I don't want to focus the question in my case, but on the tips about how to be nice in challenging situations.
    – Charlie
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:18
  • 37
    As a manager, I've been told repeatedly in various training venues that the "sandwich" technique (usually referred to as the "shit sandwich") comes off as insincere and should be avoided.
    – user399157
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:25
  • 3
    You might want to put your own tip in an answer instead of the question body (so people can vote separatly) Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:39
  • 1
    Also, the "sandwich technic" is a bit controversial. See here to learn more. (and the other technic you are refering to is called using the "I" statement: When you do X, it makes me feel Y. Could you do Z instead?) Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:41
  • 33
    Any technique is going to be controversial unless you make it genuine. It's going to feel like... Well, a technique, like I'm being "handled."
    – user102937
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:55
  • 1
    @RobertHarvey I got the example of "sandwich" reply in the question from Microsoft. :-) It really felt like I was being handled. Good point.
    – Charlie
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:57
  • 6
    You should only apply the sandwich technique when you're hungry.
    – rene
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 8:15
  • 2
    @rene ...and not in a service station on the A38. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 12:35
  • 3
  • 2
    This question might also be a good fit for ips.stackexhange As a general rule I stay polite and factual and use conjunctive and disengage if emotions run high. Cool down periods are important. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 19:51
  • 1
    The sandwich technique is not used by most companies, and especially not by successful ones. The trend now is towards retention in all situations as companies attempt to build social coalitions - regardless of if that person is an employee or not. If something needs to be said, don't sugar coat it; say it as honestly and truthfully as possible, and attempt as much as possible to be ready to listen to the response it elicits in an earnest and empathic manner. Then move on.
    – Travis J
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 21:01

18 Answers 18


Any other tips you would like to share?

Yes, I would.

  • Be nice.1
  • Be truthful, and
  • Assume good faith.

That's it. No, really.

Oh, and this. You're not responsible for your friend's decision to leave. They are.

1 Consistent with being honest. I don't believe people should have to carry around a thousand-page tome to work out what is nice and what isn't. Being nice sometimes means telling people what they don't want to hear.

  • 11
    This answer is deeply flawed because it's vulnerable to treating a person from culture A well by the standards of wildly different culture B, dismissing their complaints, and when that inevitably goes wrong, shrug and say "well it's not my fault, I shouldn't have to learn how to be nice, and they're responsible for their own feelings". Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:38
  • 6
    @Leopold: See the footnote.
    – user102937
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:39
  • 14
    The footnote is exactly the problem! Consider: "Hey, when you constantly argue and nitpick, it doesn't feel nice. I've read up on it and apparently it's a sign of polite interest in nerd culture, but to me it comes off as abrasive." "When you're wrong, it's nice of me to inform you, even if that's not what you want to hear." "I understand you think that way, but I don't. I've studied your norms a lot. Can you learn about mine too and meet halfway?" "I don't need a 1000-page tome on how to be nice!" Whatever niceness is for, that second person is clearly not doing that. Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:50
  • 7
    @Leopold: Hmm, whatever you think that footnote says, that's not what it means.
    – user102937
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:51
  • 7
    @LeopoldsaysReinstateMonica It would be so easy if there would be single unilateral definition of "Be nice". That means a lot of different things for different people. that is why there is also "Assume good faith". Give people some breathing space. Not everyone will act the same and everyone has their own quirks. True diversity and inclusivity is accepting the differences, different point of views and different opinions. Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:51
  • 8
    @LeopoldsaysReinstateMonica - I can honestly say that your imaginary conversation is not kind or nice. Cultures vary, but human emotions are remarkably similar from culture to culture. Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:52
  • 5
    Then... the footnote (actually, the whole answer) is unclear, and the answer could be greatly improved by addressing how to act when someone says "that's not nice": When to follow the other person's instructions on how to be nice to them, and when to dismiss it as "well, people are responsible for their feelings"? Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:55
  • 7
    @Leopold: Respectfully.
    – user102937
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:56
  • 3
    Any demand to "Assume good faith" is unfortunately unrealistic to anyone with any experience with the Internet since (and even before) The September That Never Ended. But it is a great ideal, and a great aspiration, and not a bad point of departure for a 'first time' interaction with anyone on line. PS: nice post. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 1:32
  • 4
    @LeopoldsaysReinstateMonica Instead of "that's not nice" followed by a set of instructions, how about: "I don't think that's nice" and a set of suggestions? That way you leave the other person some breathing space, instead of disqualifying their actions and giving them an ultimatum. Being nice and assuming good faith goes two ways.
    – user630245
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:16
  • 14
    Its very unfortunate that the core of your answer was exactly what was taken out of the CoC. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:25
  • 4
    @KorvinStarmast "Assume good faith" - I see it like huge ignore button in your head. If the other person says something you think is offensive or hurtful then you assume that their intent is not to hurt you - you try reading and understanding what they are saying beyond your feelings. On the other hand if they are really trying to hurt you, if you don't react then you are actually denying that person satisfaction they wanted - negative reaction, being hurt. Basically, you win all the time. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 10:28
  • 2
    Paraphrasing Hanlon's Razor, assume ignorance before you assume maliciousness
    – Jo King
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 11:46
  • 2
    This answer should replace the COC. We don't need a wall of text that's impossible to remember, we need simple, short, and sweet. Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 15:18
  • 1
    Oh, and I think the disagreement in the comments above remind me of walking on eggshells. I'm from the USA - and from the southeast to make matters worse ;) - and I'm not very well cultured. It's just not a priority. Yep, I could read more, but I really need top be working/reading up on my coding/skill set. I have very limited knowledge about other cultures and apart from a few cultural things I've heard about when dealing with people from China, I will probably accidentally offend people from other cultures or backgrounds. Should I apologize in advance? This is walking on eggshells and noise.
    – user611085
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 15:55

Don't make pointlessly negative comments.

If you are making a comment, have it be something that is driving the point towards something productive - whether that be an edit to the post, a change of opinion, or something else.

Don't just lay down negative unproductive comments that score cheap points against someone or don't lead to something good coming from it.

  • 3
    This answer requires support. Please link to pretty much every comment you've ever made. ;-) Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 2:36
  • Thank you for stating this. Pointlessly negative comments is a big problem on SE sites. Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 12:02

Know when to walk away

I think the most important part of being nice is knowing when you just can't anymore. Everyone has their limit. Everyone has some triggers, a finite amount of patience and a whole host of other factors in their day to day lives. No one can stay calm and reasonable at all times every time. And that's fine! We're only human. No one blames you.

However, it's important to know yourself and know when you can no longer continue to follow the other pieces of wonderful advice here. At that point, the nicest thing you can do, the best action you can take to keep things civil, is to disengage.

Maybe this means just walking away from the conversation. Maybe this means prematurely ending it by letting the other person know you don't feel the conversation will be productive if it continues. Do what you have to do, but know your limits.

  • 13
    ... And know when to run! Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:47
  • Good advice. If things are going south, best to exit before they explode.
    – SOS
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 9:13
  • 3
    @Ward-ReinstateMonica, this answer reminds me of some really good advice I got from an old guy I met on a train a long time ago. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 13:32
  • Maybe this means prematurely ending it by letting the other person know you don't feel the conversation will be productive if it continues If I can ask, how or why would you let them know -- in that situation wouldn't you just, "let them have the last word" -- walk away, say no more, don't reply? I mean, you might come back with some good reply later, if you think of one; but until then I'm not sure how or why you'd say, "I don't feel the conversation will be productive if it continues", I guess instead I'd probably just leave it there, wherever it is -- is that, not what you do?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 14:38
  • 3
    @Chris If I'm having a polite conversation that I feel is going in circles, I may point that out and let the other person know I'm disengaging. Especially if I respect the way they've been holding the discussion with me. Of course that seems to be an edge case from the back and forths I've had, but it does still happen from time to time. The majority of the time, I agree with you. I'd leave it and let someone else pick it up if they so desire (or maybe for you to come back to at a later date).
    – scohe001
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 15:57
  • @ChrisW what's usually the best way is to say "ok, that's enough for me now, I'm off. bye" (or similar effect) and then go. That lets them have the last word (which is really important to some people in an argument), whilst also letting you have the last word too. So everyone's a "winner"
    – gbjbaanb
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 23:46

Be kind. If you have something to say, especially if it's negative, say it with kindness. It only takes a little bit of extra thought to be tactful.

Remember this is all public, so negativity stings a bit more. So be a bit more respectful, and if it starts to drag out, take it private. Anyone can create a room.

Remember that it is difficult to read tone and intent from mere text, so give people the benefit of the doubt.

Be honest in all your dealings. Don't take things out of context, don't be hypocritical, just don't do anything that you don't want others to do to you.

Think of how much suffering the network could have prevented if TPTB followed these guidelines, as well as the advice in other answers. Can you imagine? I can.

  • 6
    Excellent. Being kind while saying something negative is a difficult skill, but goes a long way. One way to get better is to listen :)
    – De Novo
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:53

Wait before you respond

As @scohe001 mentioned, it is very important to know when to disengage, but you don't always need to disengage entirely. I often find myself writing comments that are a bit angrier than I would want associated with my account. I can usually tell that a comment I'm writing is going to be bad if I find myself typing faster than normal, clenching my jaw, or pushing the keys harder than normal. When this happens I will stop writing, minimize my window(or go to a different tab) and do something else for a few minutes.

When I come back to my comment, I like to read through it with a clear head and imagine how I would feel having that comment directed at me. This tends to lead to me removing a lot of the content that came solely from my anger and frustration, which leaves only the points I'm trying to make. Those points often seem disconnected and I'm forced to re-think what I'm trying to say. At times I've spent 30 minutes or more writing, waiting, and rewriting a single comment, but that comment was far more productive because of it.

  • 6
    Ooh yes, so much this. You're going to get one of my bounties. A few existing answers have touched on "don't be needlessly negative" and "consider disengaging", but this is the middle ground, the way to not be needlessly negative and often better than just disengaging, which hasn't really been mentioned explicitly here yet. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 21:08

TL;DR: Minimize interactions in comments.


Comments are second-class contributions. I feel I can safely ignore almost all comments as not worth my time. On many sites, there's a huge amounts of noise, argument bait, snark, etc., in the comments, to the point where it's simply not worth reading them. If they had something relevant and important to say, it'd probably be in a question or an answer (or an edit).

  • If the comment is about my opinions and not the question/answer... ignore.
  • If the comment is likely going to require some back-and-forth... ignore.
  • If the comment is not aimed a helping or improving a question/answer... ignore.
  • If the comment feels like it could lead to an argument... definitely ignore!
  • ...but someone's trying to make me look foolish... ignore!!! Let it go.
  • If I have a question about someone's answer... write a question (not a comment).

You are not entitled to my response.


One of the best ways to ensure nice behavior is having clearly defined questions: X is on topic, nothing else is on topic. By minimizing the gray area, it makes subsequent flagging as "not relevant" easier to moderate.

Focusing on questions and answers greatly improves the satisfaction I get from StackExchange. I'm not interested in the sharpest quip, I'm interested in learning and getting correct, well-thought-out, evidenced answers. Questions and answers are much higher quality communications than comments.

Time delay

Don't read anything (particularly comments) for perhaps 30 minutes after it's posted. The time delay makes it more likely that a rude contribution is deleted before it's seen. The delay also inhibits arguments.

  • 9
    "You are not entitled to my response." -> Exactly that! I know it's not a very liked position on meta.SE, but you should never feel forced to answer a comment (or a question, for what matter) Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 7:00
  • 3
    This is good advice, but the part about ignoring comments may be less applicable for moderators. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 13:35
  • 3
    @gung-ReinstateMonica I'm aware of a few cases where moderators would "switch place" if one didn't feel like answering. So, asking for someone else to respond is always doable. Also, if you don't want to ignore a comment but don't know how to stay polite, taking a break (30min, an hour or whatever you need) can really help (I'm speaking from experience here). Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 17:00
  • That's a good point, @BelovedFool. On my site, we often ask each other to take over when interactions w/ a user get tense. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 17:23
  • Excellent advice. SE is not a discussion site. If a comment is useful, it is almost always better to edit the question or answer instead. Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 12:19
  • Remember the human.

  • Most of us won't give you false crap for no reason, so trust what others say.

  • Try to see the other side, and if you can't, respectfully disagree.

  • Don't get into heated arguments - they help nobody. It's best not to engage if it gets to this point.

  • Have some fun once and a while!

That's my tips for survival being nice.

  • 8
    Agree to disagree is widely undervalued.
    – rene
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 8:20
  • The famous "Internet argument" comic from xkcd comes to my mind:

    Internet Argument

    Consider how you would speak to that person if it wasn't over the internet. That helps.

  • Don't be easily offended or disproportionally emotionally upset or involved by whatever someone writes, even if it is offensive, and even if it is intentionally offensive, or obviously, objectively and utterly wrong. Remember what you are doing:


    You're just sitting there, calmly in your room, staring at a rectangle of bright and dark spots.

  • Say the truth (or at least: don't lie). If someone cannot cope with the truth or doesn't like your wording of the truth, that's not your problem. Saying the truth can be difficult, and it can have devastating effects. People can become emotionally upset. The truth can cause bad feelings. The truth can bring people into trouble. But whatever happens when you say the truth: It can not be wrong - virtually by definition.

  • Maybe the most important one: If there is a conflict, and if you think that it has to be resolved (corollary: not every conflict needs to be resolved), then use the smallest lever that is sufficient to resolve it.

    ... you feel like you should answer with a cleverer sarcasm.

    ... you feel like you should make a bigger accusation about the other person because you cannot lose.

    This is exactly the opposite. It's intentionally escalating. When two people have vastly different opinions and engage in an argument that turns heated, then you could just pull out your mod-hammer and ban them both for 30 days. Yeah, that'll teach them. No. Instead, try to identify the core of the difference, and see whether it's possible to mediate at that point. All people are essentially so similar that whatever the reason for the conflict is, it's negligible compared to the commonalities. And it's fine to say: "Let's accept that we have different opinions about some detail (regardless of how wrong your opinion is ;-))".

  • 3
    Sorry, but I'm not sure I understand the relevance of the second graphic: I (?) P8? Is it supposed to represent a monitor? I think the message would be clearer without it, just my opinion. Maybe among programmers this is a common image symbol. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 8:17
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA Yeah, one could argue about that: It's just a magnified image of "some text on a computer screen". The point was: Whatever someone is reading or seeing via the internet is not "real" (at the receiving end). Nobody is beating someone else in the face. Nobody is setting a house on fire. There are unimaginably nasty things out there. But if someone is overwhelmed by looking at a pattern of black and white pixels, then the bar is set too low. There is no way to universally avoid these patterns of pixels.
    – Marco13
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 10:34
  • 2
    @Marco13 the "pattern of pixels" is needlessly reductive way to dismiss somebody's opinion. Perhaps we should also stop asking or answering questions on SO, should we apply the same reductive argument - in the end, all problems are just about patterns of bits. We shouldn't we care that one pattern of bits is "better" than another - it's just ones and zeroes, after all. The reduction serves no purpose here and just dismisses the problem off-hand without even trying understanding why it's a problem.
    – VLAZ
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 9:39
  • @VLAZ A nice pattern of pixels that you created there. It's reductive as a counterweight to the attitude that some comment or remark that somebody writes on the internet is a "hostile violent personal attack". I tried to make this clearer in my first comment. (BTW: You mentioned a problem, but did not say what problem you refer to. If it is the same that I refer to, then a lower sensitivity towards certain bit patterns could indeed solve it)
    – Marco13
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 11:34
  • 1
    @Marco13 doesn't matter what the problem is. Any question posted on SO would be about bits in the end. Any person that expresses a concern over anything posted would be about pattern of pixels. It is as I said - the reduction just dismisses that there is a problem at all, without trying to understand it. It is not a useful.
    – VLAZ
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 11:40
  • @VLAZ Saying that "it doesn't matter what the problem is", and saying that it is a problem to dismiss that "there is a problem" sound contradictory (particularly after I asked about it). If you think the point was inappropriate (and the other points not relevant), then downvote. If you think the point was not relevant (and the others helpful) then upvote. Beyond that, I don't think that we're on an appropriate level of abstraction for a sensible discussion here in the comments right now. (We might try it in chat, but I'm not sure whether I can/will allocate time for that).
    – Marco13
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 11:46
  • 1
    @Marco13 it doesn't matter what the problem is because the reduction dismisses anything and everything. And this, in itself, is a problem because you can't just sweep all complaints under the rug and call it a day. Some might be irrelevant, sure, but overly generalising is not useful.
    – VLAZ
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 11:53
  • @VLAZ Again, maybe we are talking about different things here, but roughly speaking: When someone writes a shallow insult, then (one could start to argue about whether this is a problem or only a symptom of a problem, but that's not the point: ) dismissing such a statement would be the right thing to do.
    – Marco13
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 12:46
  • 5
    @MartinJames I speak the truth on Stack Overflow. It hasn’t gotten me suspended yet. There is almost always a constructive phrasing for the truth that avoids your getting suspended. Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 21:48

Become a student of the other person's perspective

While a lot of people mention listening, the key to listening is to try and pick out what the other person means. I had my wife yell at me once, in an angry-rant-yell way (think Twitter, but in person). It took 15 solid minutes of her yelling before I finally keyed in on what the actual problem was. Once I knew what the root problem was, dealing with it was straightforward.

In many ways, negative behavior is very similar to the XY Problem. We think we know what we want, but we might not know what we actually need. Maybe that person has an emotional burn spot (or a button, so to speak) and hitting that sets them off. Maybe they've just reached the point of apathy and its spilling over. maybe they just want someone to listen, and being negatively emotional is the only way they've learned to to get that attention.

None of the root reasons excuse bad behavior. If they're a jerk, that's still on them. Understanding why they're behaving badly, however, can help you respond more appropriately.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry
James 1:19

  • 2
    Corollary: When you're in an argument with a person, it's not 'You against that person', but 'You and that person against the problem'. Unfortunately, in a public area (like SE Q/As and comments), there are always persons who want to stir things up, make ridiculous demands (maybe because they then think that they have ~"more room for negotiation"), claim the high moral ground, defame people who concur, and try to impose their views on others in a way that is simply totalitarian and authoritarian. It can be really hard to assume (or just try to act like) one is talking to a reasonable person.
    – Marco13
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 15:40

My experience is mostly on programming sites, but I've found it helps to:

  • Listen to the words, not the tone. It's much easier to maintain a civil conversation, when you leave out the emotional component.

  • Be able to admit when you're wrong

Once after receiving (what seemed like) some snarky comments, I decided to re-read them. This time, ignoring the tone. Turns out the other person was right - and I told them so. That diffused the situation. Yes, I still thought they expressed themselves poorly, but .. taking a more dispassionate view, allowed me to see that I was wrong and prevented things from spiraling.


Here are two Interpersonal skills (IPS) Meta question that I think would be relevant here:

  • How do you tell an answerer that you think their answer needs work?. I think this post is relevant because, when you tell someone something negative, you have to be extra careful as to how you say things.

    You are already saying something negative (which people usually don't like), so you don't want the other person to think you are doing it just to insult them. In fact, since you are trying to help, you want to communicate that. You are just here to help, this isn't a personal attack on them.

    It can be really complicate to achieve this. That's why I suggest using "Language smoother" to help achieve that (nb: the "language smoother" link explain how to make your sentences seems less harsh). In short, using words like "It seems to me", or "I can be wrong, but" will help the other see you in a non-confrontational way (which is a good way to avoid conflict, see here to learn more).

Here is the other IPS meta link:

  • It's about How to post a comment under an answer you disagree with.

    The main point is: don't say "I disagree", ask questions instead ("what makes you say that?", "I'm curious, do you have a source where I can learn more about this?", etc...).

    This way, you are not attacking the other person's point of view. You are trying to learn more and, if the answerer made a mistake (which can happen), they might realize that themself and fix it.

There are probably other very relevant links on IPS (after all, the main point of the site is to "teach" you how to communicate properly, being nice is part of it). So I highly encourage you to go ahead and look at the questions and answers there. You might be particularly interested in the tags "feedback-method", "politness" and "conflict-aversion" (or "conflict", or "conflict-resolution" if it's already too late).

(Also, please note that IPS is not the place to hold dispute about things happening on the rest of the SE network)

  • 3
    Further to what you wrote about phrasing comments as a question, see also the Help as well -- You should submit a comment if you want to: Request clarification ... Leave constructive criticism ... Add relevant but minor or transient information. So phrasing disagreement as a question -- e.g., "What did you mean by X, why did you write that?", or, "Do you have a reference for Y?" -- might be how comments were meant to be used. The SE format -- one question, independent answers -- tends to avoid arguments: beware when writing comments.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 8:32

"Simple": learn about non violent communication, as taught by Marshall Rosenberg. See wikipedia for starters.

In the end, it is always about:

  • clearly hearing the needs of the other person
  • clearly articulating what you heard
  • clearly articulating your needs

When that happens, both sides are normally able to see the other person as human being. Which means that it then becomes possible to resolve the conflict.

And yes, it isn't easy. The biggest problem is to realize what true needs are.

Of course, spirituality and self awareness help, too.

As soon as you realize that you aren't your emotions, and that you are also not the voice in your head that keeps talking about the other person... When you are at that level you are able to distance yourself from those aspects of your personality. Which makes interacting with others so much easier.

  • 3
    This is absolutely true. It's also challenging to do in a medium that discourages conversations. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 16:19
  • Why is the biggest problem to realize what true needs are? I think that I understand the rest but not this part. Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 9:54
  • 1
    @Trilarion see compassionateinteractions.com/needs.php for example. Albeit the best introduction I know: to listen to the audio version of Rosenberg reading his own book. Alternatively, there are plenty of good videos on YouTube for free. And note: unfortunately, many people learning about nvc look at it as a set of rules to follow. Avoid that. It is not a way to manipulate or coerce others. Just a very helpful framework to improve the quality of you communication.
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 11:31

Let's forget about niceness. Let's replace nice with productive. You may think you are being nice, and I may think you are being smarmy, insincere, patronizing or totally misguided. If you start out thinking you are nice, and I don't respond as you think I should, then things are likely to go downhill because I'm just plain stupid, or an SOB or deeply flawed, or not worth bothering with.

If you start off with the objective of a productive discussion, and I don't respond as you think I should, you are more likely to think you, yourself should try to get things on a more productive track.

Of course, it takes two to have a productive discussion. The phrase in the first comment "This answer is deeply flawed.." is likely to raise hackles, not smooth feathers.

There are situations where you want to project overwhelming strength, not the goal of an amicable agreement, but the premise of the OP's question is not that.

Clarification in Response to a Comment

One comment (@Rand al'Thor) just said, in part:

It's possible to be nice without being productive, sure, but equally possible to be productive without being nice. Assuming the aim is to be productive, how do you do that in a nice (or at least not not-nice) way?

To which my response is (in part):

Asking questions instead of making provocative statements is a good tactic. Being productive often involves a lot of back and forth and an important part of being nice is that both people expect and are prepared for a civil back and forth.

  • 2
    It's possible to be nice without being productive, sure, but equally possible to be productive without being nice. I think this is sort of missing the point of the question. Assuming the aim is to be productive, how do you do that in a nice (or at least not not-nice) way? Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 8:42
  • @Rand al'Thor You listen and you try to interpret what it the other person wants and you address that. Asking question instead of making provocative statements is a good tactic. You just demonstrated how to be productive while being nice. You could have said: "Your answer is nonsense." Now I will edit to try to clarify. Being productive often involves a lot of back and forth and being nice means that both people expect and are prepared for back and forth.
    – user540056
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 15:43

I think the critical thing is empathy and self awareness.

I guess handling these from the other end of the screen may give the a different perspective of course.

Empathy lets us consider the effect of our words on others. Self awareness lets us moderate ourselves - and lets us consider the effect our emotions have on our words.

We're human. We lose out tempers, we act on impulse. We often feel like we absolutely need to get the last word in or else we have lost. I for one have had times I've nearly gone full angry, and had to take a walk or a longer break to deal with it.

I often have folks ask me to explain why something was rude (and these often start with a flag from another user) - we've moved to trying to specific guidence where possible, so in theory folks have an idea what was the thing causing the trouble.

So being nice is up to 2 questions "How will someone else see my words or actions?" and "What is my motivation and the results I wish to see through my words and actions?" and those things wishing a constructive outcome for folks.

But from there - there's a little more - its also worth understanding your audience to understand the effect your words have, and listening is important.

And finally being nice should actually be something you want and work towards. I've had to deal with a few folks who intentionally were not nice, and felt this was desirable. One must want to at least make the effort to - and want to deal with folks that way.

That dosen't mean of course, asking other people to explain what's not nice, but rather to observe, adjust and learn yourself. Listening is a more valuble skill than asking folks to dissect your actions.


There's a fair bit of advice here: Right Speech

The detailed meaning of some of that might be not-entirely-obvious at first reading -- for example:

  • "Not lying" probably includes, beware of telling jokes if they're untrue, ditto exaggerating.

    Sarcasm and exaggeration are difficult, maybe especially online.

    If you must use them then, I'd say, always add an emoticon, to telegraph they're untrue -- because otherwise I might suffer in ignorance without getting the joke ;-)

  • I think it's a context which sees emotional afflictions such as anger or hatred as a fetter, a hindrance.

  • And, "a sense of the proper time for saying them", is not necessarily, "whenever I feel like it, damn it!"

Additionally I find this -- The Insult -- rather magnificent. It's about not getting involved, even if somebody is trying to be insulting (and let alone when they're not).

I read Wikipedia's Emotional labor article today. I don't entirely buy-in to the concept that there is such a thing, but it's a theory, a description. Note what it says about "surface" and "deep" acting, e.g. re. Physicians:

Overall, Larson and Yao (2005) argue that physicians are more effective and enjoy more professional satisfaction when they engage in empathy through deep acting due to emotional labor.

That slightly contradicts the "even when you don't want to" in the title -- i.e. perhaps you should want to. If I don't want to be nice then instead I try to post nothing at all -- that's one of the benefits of this medium, i.e. it's not real-time, you can take a break, have second thoughts before you write something.

On the subject of emotion, I've read some claim that according to Buddhist doctrine there are four emotions recommended as being appropriate for all social interactions. The four are, three different kinds of love ...

  1. I hope you're well
  2. I don't want to hurt you
  3. I admire/approve your doing well

... plus, equanimity as the fourth.

I met a young Friend (i.e. a teen Quaker) when I was young, who said, "I'll discuss anything with anyone, but if it turns into an argument I walk away." Memorable.

What else. This one -- Punna Sutta -- is kind of interesting:

“The people of Sunāparanta are wild and rough, Puṇṇa. If they abuse and insult you, what will you think of them?”

“If they abuse and insult me, I will think: ‘These people of Sunāparanta are gracious, truly gracious, since they don’t hit me with their fists.’ That’s what I’ll think, Blessed One. That’s what I’ll think, Holy One.”

“But if they do hit you with their fists, what will you think of them then?”

“If they hit me with their fists, I’ll think: ‘These people of Sunāparanta are gracious, truly gracious, since they don’t throw stones at me.’ That’s what I’ll think, Blessed One. That’s what I’ll think, Holy One.”

“But if they do throw stones at you ... (etc.)

"Sticks and stones". So you might want to see the person you're talking with as being "gracious, truly gracious" (sometimes translated as "civilised, very civilised").

There's one more bit I'd like to recommend -- Ursula K. Le Guin -- Bryn Mawr Commencement Address (1986).

Le Guin is -- was now -- a famous author. She knows words. Anyway, this "commencement address" is quite long, but was new to me when I read it and worth knowing.

It starts by talking about different modes of speech, which she calls the "father tongue" and "mother tongue".

She warns that we'll be inclined to use the father tongue (for public discourse) but that's maybe inappropriate -- it distances, it talks down, it thinks it's the voice of reason ...

And it is indeed an excellent dialect. Newton's Principia was written in it in Latin, and Descartes wrote Latin and French in it, establishing some of its basic vocabulary, and Kant wrote German in it, and Marx, Darwin, Freud, Boas, Foucault - all the great scientists and social thinkers wrote it. It is the language of thought that seeks objectivity.

I do not say it is the language of rational thought. Reason is a faculty far larger than mere objective thought. When either the political or the scientific discourse announces itself as the voice of reason, it is playing God, and should be spanked and stood in the corner. The essential gesture of the father tongue is not reasoning but distancing-making ... (etc)

It takes detours, into poetry, and feminism.

There's a bit here I'd like to quote:

If I try to be objective I will say, "This is higher and that is lower," I'll make a commencement speech about being successful in the battle of life, I'll lie to you; and I don't want to.

Early this spring I met a musician, the composer Pauline Oliveros, a beautiful woman like a grey rock in a streambed; and to a group of us, women, who were beginning to quarrel over theories in abstract, objective language - and I with my splendid Eastern-women's-college training in the father tongue was in the thick of the fight and going for the kill - to us, Pauline, who is sparing with words, said after clearing her throat, "Offer your experience as your truth." There was a short silence. When we started talking again, we didn't talk objectively, and we didn't fight. We went back to feeling our way into ideas, using the whole intellect not half of it, talking with one another, which involves listening. We tried to offer our experience to one another. Not claiming something: offering something.

That ties in with using "I-messages" as a deescalation technique.

  • If I say, "X is true!", then you might think, "It's only true sometimes", or, "It's not true this time", and you might reply, "No it's not!", and then, we're arguing.

  • If I say, "I feel X!", then I think you're less likely to reply e.g., "No you don't!"

And so, an "I message" might be easier to hear and to accept.

Anyway -- good luck!

  • 6
    great post, wrong audience. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 1:36
  • 1
    I struggled to interpret what "the audience is wrong" means. I guess another bit of advice is, I assume that ideas I have about the audience are "made of mind", and only theory. And I assume the audience is quite diverse, different social backgrounds. We might have things in common -- possibly English language, maybe a shared interest in whatever the site's topic is, even incidentals like D&D and Traveller in the 70s -- but people are strangers. So be polite -- like you'd be to a stranger or if you were a guest -- don't assume too much in common.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 8:08
  • 1
    Chris, that was my first impression based on who I think is reading Meta SE. (And if I am guessing wrongly, it is still a great post) Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 12:43
  • This is a fascinating post. People here are just too lazy to read the entire post.
    – Ver Nick
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 13:45
  • 3
    "You make things worse when you flare up at someone who's angry. Whoever doesn't flare up at someone who's angry wins a battle hard to win." I like that. Thanks for this answer. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 17:00
  • 3
    "I feel X"... that's what's gotten us into all these problems. Feelings are made to be more important than objective truth these days.
    – gbjbaanb
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 23:53
  • @gbjbaanb I first met the "I messages" doctrine in the context of relationship counselling -- therapy for couples in romantic relationships, marriages -- where participants' "feelings" are supposed to be on-topic, and the therapist was to help people communicate and be heard. And you're right, I don't usually talk about feelings but I'm pretty sure that I do use a lot of I messages: like, "I think ...", "I suppose ...", "I guess ...". That's partly in order to be strictly truthful: some of what I say, I couldn't swear that it's "objectively" true but I'd "know for a fact" that I'm thinking it.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 0:36
  • 2
    @anongoodnurse You're welcome. Another quote is, "He who restrains his rising anger, as a skilful charioteer checks a speeding chariot, him I call a true charioteer. Other charioteers only hold the reins" (see also this answer). The doctrine says that an enlightened sage gradually uproots the unwholesome causes or roots (and so I think will no longer feel angry). But not acting on anger might be considered "ethics", and is ideally practical even if you're subject to occasionally feeling it (I think it's considered impermanent, transient).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 1:09

Don't live on the Internet.

If most of your interactions with other persons are through a device such as a computer or mobile phone, you will begin to lose the feeling that you are dealing with a person.

The more you interact with persons face-to-face, the less you will treat them unkind over the Internet.


Step 1: Want to be nice. It gets easier from there.

  • 8
    Step 2: Don't expect others to be nice. That's gonna help as well.
    – Marco13
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:13

When SE decided that even snark and subtle put downs were not acceptable, I concluded that minimising comments was the best way to avoid posting something unacceptable.

But that does not mean you can't be negative about a post. You have the options to down vote, vote to close, or flag it. Doing those things has several advantages.

  • They are anonymous and invisible to the other person (except for votes to close, which become visible when the post is closed, but not until then). From their point of view you have entirely disengaged, and have no prompt to escalate the interaction. The interaction can not get worse.

  • By themselves they have no effect (except for voting to close when you have a relevant gold badge), but must be confirmed by others (other voters, flaggers, or a moderator). So anger or oversensitivity on your part can be moderated by the cooler heads of others.

  • They are focused on a small set of acceptable reasons to be negative. If you want to be negative, but none of them seems right, that is a clue that the kind of interaction you want to have is not right for SE.

  • They can cause the post to be less prominent, even deleted. This prevents other people being angered, and removes examples of inflammatory statements that might encourage others to be inflammatory.

  • They are recorded and tracked by the system, with automated and semiautomated rate limiting or suspension of repeat offenders.

Silently walking away in that manner would be rude, or not useful, in other contexts. But here, on SE, we are not trying to have conversations or to mentor people. And we are under no obligation to interact with the other person at all.

  • 6
    'No comment' means zero constructive criticism or feedback. That's not really an advantage. That's destructive. And not nice. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 11:00
  • 5
    Some users get upset when receiving downvotes without a complementary comment explaining that downvote. Other users get upset when reading such opposing viewpoint or criticism in a comment. There is no solution if we are not able to deal with things that make us feel uncomfortable. The problem is SE does not want its users to feel uncomfortable.
    – dfhwze
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 15:59
  • 3
    IMO what's within the bounds of acceptable criticism is to post a comment like, "I don't think that X in this answer is quite right, because reason Y." Note that this criticises the content of the answer, not the person/author, and it explains why (it's not just, "This is rubbish!"), it's specific and thus prescriptive/informative. Then the author can improve their answer or not, or post a counter-comment -- at which point, having already said what you wanted to about the answer, it might be better you don't comment again -- and instead let the author have the last word.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 19:08

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