The Anatomy of a Comment

by Jennifer Miller on October 2, 2009

in Communication, Leadership, Personal Effectiveness

Yesterday I posted my reaction to the various “comments” that a local art competition is receiving in our community.  These comments are appearing in several places: the art competition’s website, the online version of the local newspaper and various other local blogs. Reading these comments caused me to reflect on the nature of discourse on blogs. The people commenting seem to fall into one of three categories:

Cheerleader: This is the all-out supporter of the crowd, providing enthusiastic support.  “This needed to be said; well done!” or “This is great! Thanks for your hard work.”  A cheerleader is one who guides and inspires others.

Editor: This commenter is the one who corrects, revises, adapts. This person genuinely wants to make it better and therefore provides an alternate point of view or additional information: “I see your point.  Wondering if you’ve considered it from a different angle….” or “Sam Jones offers a counterpoint to your position on his blog at www.xyzblog.com.”  A true editor isn’t pushing his/her agenda, hidden as a “helpful” comment: “We’ve tried that before and found that the best solution is the ABC product, which you can see on our site at www.ABCproduct.com”.

Critic: A commenter of this type is someone who frequently finds fault with and makes harsh or unfair judgments. They typically do so in a way that is disagreeable and in some cases downright nasty. Terse comments like “Total waste of time” and “Don’t bother” fall into this category.  There is absolutely nothing useful about their comment in that it provides no specific or helpful information on how to fix or improve the situation.

It occurs to me that the “comment” feature on blogs can be instructive outside the blogsphere too.  Ask yourself— when providing feedback to someone, which type of commenter are you: a Cheerleader, Editor or Critic?  There’s a time and a place for both cheering and editing, but I see no value in being a critic. (At least “critic” as I’ve defined it.)

If a colleague seeks your feedback, before replying ask yourself, “what does this person need right now?”  Does she need support to keep going, or just to vent and be “heard”? Then being a cheerleader is what’s advised. If she’s truly seeking to improve herself, a bit of tactful “editing” might do the trick.

If you’re a leader, ask yourself, “Do my followers see me as Cheerleader, Editor, or Critic?”  Consider what type of situations and follower behaviors tend to bring out the Critic in you.  Work to adjust your tone of voice and word choice to reflect a more “editorial” intention.

Above all, remember that even your most well-meaning commentary will sometimes fall short.  When you sense that’s happened, don’t hesitate to check in with your listener and adjust your message if necessary.  That’s how you keep the dialog going and the relationship intact.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Thomas Waterhouse October 3, 2009 at 10:54 am

I try to begin every comment with, “I notice…” That puts the other person and me “on notice” that my statements will be based on neutral observation for “redemptive” (buying back from ineffective or inappropriate action) or “building up” (adding simple encouragement) purposes. I notice… that you write thought-provoking articles! I guess that makes me a “Cheerleader-Editor”. Thank you for your work Jennifer.

Susan Mazza October 6, 2009 at 10:02 am

Great insight. (I guess in this moment I am being a cheerleader!) I am sure at some point soon I will put on my “editor” hat on your blog though. You are writing about a lot of topics of great interest to me here.

Susan Mazza October 6, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Per my tweet I’ll suggest an additional category – “The Enricher” Perhaps it is a sub-cateogry of the editor. When the comments enrich the original content of whatever I post is when I feel a post has been most successful.

Mike Henry October 6, 2009 at 6:30 pm

So, you let those pushing their own agenda off. Why not give them a category? (Not that I’m pushing an agenda.)

Mike…

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