Softly, Softly

Sometimes when confronted by a setback, people lose their cool.

It happens. You have spent hours, perhaps days going over something in your head. You do research, can’t quite get to the answer you want to you post on a QA site, thinking “these guys really know what they’re talking about, I’ll get an answer real quick”.

But the process goes wrong. Instead of seeing your post and congratulating your for your witty and well-chosen phrasing, they take issue with terminology, ask questions that seem obvious, or irrelevant, or both! Then the question is put on hold until such time as your can ‘improve’ it.

Being told to improve isn’t the end of the world, but it’s a definite poke in the ego. The tribe has circled, they won’t let you in. As a result, some choose to express their frustrations in a non-constructive manner. This is unfortunate, because it evokes less consideration and feelings of altruism, not more.

In the example above, I’ve tried to pull things back from that brink:

Hi Raven, welcome to Super User. It seems you are a bit frustrated by the QA process here. Questions are sometimes put “on hold” so that they can be more easily answered- this has the benefit of making it more likely for you to get an answer. While it may be clear what you mean and intend, some of our experienced members find the specifics of what you are asking unclear.

However, I’m afraid you cannot ‘require’ that we take a post from being “on hold”, the best option for this to happen is to clarify or add detail as requested. Furthermore, your comments come across as quite aggressive; that’s hopefully not what you intended (since that would not be okay); you should consider removing those before a moderator does.

Futhermore, as your edit does not contain information pertinent to answering your question, I am going to ‘rollback’ to your original version. You are welcome to make further edits to add information to make answering the question easier.

(typos mine)

There’s two things that need to be done, as I see it: 1) let the person know what their approach won’t work and is not acceptable; 2) try to get things back on track.

The first, if done right, is doable; in fact it’s very satisfying when it happens. You can go from someone insulting you and being aggressive, to having a laugh with them (in the best case!). That said, in this case getting the tone back to being civil would be enough. Being nice when someone expects hostility can be incredibly disarming. It has to be sincere though; phoney friendliness backfires.

The second is important form a QA point of view. Interactions are hazardous and sometimes go wrong and the wrong things are said sometimes but those are all a distraction. Ideally, a question would be improved so that it can be answered (some cannot). A reasonable response from the community side is more likely to engender a helpful clarification or vital detail. It’s not easy to keep that up though, especially seeing the same thing day after day.

Post-scriptum: in this case the user characterised the on-hold review process and comments as ‘nefarious’ and declared that what they had written was ‘ALREADY 100% CLARIFIED’, amongst other things. It doesn’t always work.

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