How to Manage Disrespect

A very nice case study of a social media brouhaha has been developing over on ASAE's blog, Acronym. Scott Briscoe wrote what I thought was a nice post about some tricky issues related to how consultants and association executives work together, but the title of the post was "Consultant wasteland" and the first sentence said that consultants "suck." (I had to laugh a bit, since I wrote a post with the title "Consultants Suck" just two years ago without so much as a comment. Of course, I'm not ASAE!) 

Obviously this offended some members of ASAE because ASAE pulled the post down saying it was "blatantly direspectful to an entire group of ASAE members." Pulling the post, however, was then upsetting to many of community's digital extroverts (including me), because it is counter to the underlying principles of social media and smacks of censorship. It feels disrespectful when you forcibly remove part of my community's conversation.

So there is plenty of disrespect to go around, and very little of it is being handled well, if you ask me. Here's what's happening in a nutshell:

Scott wrote a post.

Some people (with influence apparently) said (apparently)
“Hey, you shouldn’t have written that post. It offends me.”

ASAE staff got together and said “We shouldn’t write posts that offend like that. Take it down.”

This angered some others. “You shouldn’t remove posts. It’s
censorship and violates my expectations of how our blogging community works.
And besides, those people shouldn’t have been offended by that post. It was
fine.”

Then we’ve got some people saying “You shouldn’t be
overreacting. It’s not Nazi Germany for Pete’s sake. You shouldn’t demand that
this blog be like your blog. ASAE should listen to its members.”

I am not sure this series of competing “shoulds” is getting
us where we want to go. 

Here’s a different type of should: we should get
clearer about what our “shoulds” really are. How about these?

  • We should create a space where people can speak up when they
    feel disrespected.
  • We should each own it and apologize when someone feels
    disrespected by our actions or statements, even if it was not our intention to
    be disrespectful. Apologize for the impact and THEN move to problem solving.
  • We should not cover up transgressions—we should confront
    them. Really, it makes it worse in the long run. Every time.
  • We should be curious and open to the fact that others will
    experience the same comment or event in very different ways. Expect diversity.
  • We should err on the side of conversation, but we should
    hold ourselves accountable to a higher quality of conversation.

 It is very difficult to manage "respect" in a community with rules, exclusions, and controls. Respect (and disrespect) is inherently relational, not objective. It is managed through conversations, not statements.

Let's Talk About Workplace Culture

5 Comments

  1. 02.04.2010 at 11:26 am

    I think you should delete your post too. I kid!
    I do think this is overblown. For a group that generally espouses failing on your way to success with social media, I find the agita more than a bit strong.

  2. 02.04.2010 at 11:46 am

    Jamie – Thanks for commenting on this. I agree that it’s way overblown and that it’s not consistent with the evolving philosophy of social media. ASAE must have pulled it because some overly influential “voices” were immediately offended, probably without even fully reading the post, which I thought did make some very good points.

  3. 02.04.2010 at 11:47 am

    Call me crazy or reactionary but this whole thing really bugs me and honestly has me questioning whether or not I want to remain an ASAE member. It’s not so much the censorship issue as just the whole culture of stodgy-ness (seriously–the word “suck” is so unthinkable?) and inflated importance. If I’m a person who values creativity and freedom of expression and couldn’t care less about committees and councils, is ASAE really the right fit for me? Why do I want to pay money to be told what is and what is not appropriate?

  4. 02.04.2010 at 11:48 am

    I’d like to clarify that by ‘group’ I meant everyone giving ASAE hell, not ASAE itself. Deleting the post was unfortunate but it ain’t high crimes and misdemeanors.

  5. 16.04.2010 at 12:49 pm

    “Err on the side of conversation.” Words to live by, Jamie.

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