3 tips for moderating tough conversations

Ashley Neal
September 17, 2020
3 tips for moderating tough conversations

With the increased use of social media platforms in our professional lives due to COVID-19, organizations are having to monitor online activity more than ever. Usually a simple job, moderating becomes difficult in times of high stress, political strife and other emotional instances. 

In times like these, especially as voters in the United States near a contentious election, high tensions can reveal themselves online. On a personal page, that is fine. But when it comes to professional Facebook pages, groups or LinkedIn status updates, how should organizations approach deleting or moderating these conversations?

Well, it depends on if the topic is fostering learning and growth, whether the participants are being respectful of each other and what your predetermined group rules are. If the discussion is indeed beneficial and respectful, then deleting the thread and its participants should be a last resort. Instead, allow the conversation to continue while keeping a watchful eye. 

As Anthony Shop described in a recent workshop he moderated for AssociationSuccess.org, “the person who administers an online group is kind of like a gardener.” They nurture the community like a flower bed, encourage conversation like the growth of a plant and, when necessary, pull the weeds created by unruly participants.

In the instances where a topic may be reaching the point where moderators need to step in, organizations can follow these steps:

Set ground rules

It is important to have a solid foundation for online community members to turn to when interacting with tense topics. Having your audience understand and agree to a predetermined set of rules minimizes the need for extensive moderation.

Speak up

Nothing gives unruly participants encouragement like complete silence from leadership on a thread.

Moderators are successful by “integrating themselves into the conversation,” says Gita Jaisinghani, an executive facilitator and moderator. “Especially in emotionally-charged conversations, the moderator’s authority, balance, and rapport will play a crucial role in facilitating dialogue.”

As an admin or moderator for online conversation, it is especially important to be present. Sometimes, just knowing someone is watching keeps participants professional.

Keep the peace

A moderator's job is to keep the peace and facilitate helpful dialogue. In cases of highly emotional conversation, it is important for a moderator to stay neutral, understanding and respectful. High emotions often lead to high tensions, but as Bruna Martinuzzi explains, “we can avoid this by being mindful of preserving the person's dignity—and treating them with respect—even if we totally disagree with them.”

At the end of the day, if a conversation is still out of hand, banning a participant or deleting a thread would be your organization’s best bet for fostering a safe and reputable place for dialogue in the future. As the year progresses, I have no doubt that more tough conversations will begin to pop up everywhere. With the steps above, your organization has the tools necessary to broach these topics and become a space for learning and opportunity.

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Ashley Neal

Ashley Neal joined the Sidecar team as Community Coordinator in March of 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down life as we knew it. Having to adapt, overcome and predict the changes needed to survive in the new normal, Ashley now has the skills needed to juggle any obstacle thrown her way. A soon-to-be graduate from Southeastern Louisiana University in the field of Strategic Communications, Ashley spends her days balancing her work and education with her love of dogs. Taking her three dogs — Scooby, Pipsqueak and Moose — to restaurants, hiking trails, vacations and even participating in dog shows and sports is the highlight of her weekends.

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