Dead on arrival

Stating the obvious here: dealing with drama when you work with an online community can get a little overwhelming. Whether it’s moderating comments, moderating forum content or internal blogs, or just dealing with contact from readers or members, there is a lot of potential for being in a situation where you’re dealing with really unhappy people.

We all know that when we’re unhappy or upset, we make bad communication choices. We’ve all said something in the heat of the moment, sent an email or text we regretted, or wrote an angry letter. It happens. And it happens way more on the internet than in person because it’s so easy.

As anyone working in tech support or community management knows, being on the receiving end of that unhappiness is no fun. As the Community Manager for the Offbeat Bride Tribe, it’s my job to deal with our members whenever they’re unhappy, mad, or sad.

This in mind, there’s a little thing called the “24-Hour Reply Rule” that has become my friend when managing the Offbeat Bride Tribe. This rule isn’t about me needing to reply to an email in under 24 hours (my general policy is to reply to all member email within 12 hours, if possible). No, the “24-Hour Reply Rule” is this: When emotions are heated, don’t reply for 24 hours.

If I am in a situation where I know a member is getting upset (or will be upset by something I’ve emailed them about), and I think it could delve into the realm of majorly unpleasant, I reserve the right to file all responses for 24 hours before even reading them or replying. That’s right: I won’t even read the email for 24 hours.

This may sound harsh, or like bad customer service. Trust me, here: if done thoughtfully, it can be in everyone’s best interest. In 24 hours, the member may send multiple replies — and often the last one being calmer or even apologetic, realizing that their initial reaction was out of proportion. Alternately, they may send multiple emails to support their argument, and it helps if I take them all as one single response.

My biggest hope is that after 24 hours, everyone will have had chance to calm down. If I’m lucky, members may be at a point where they can read my response without just continuing a cycle of sad/mad emails. We don’t have to agree, and it may not change whatever decision that has been made, but at least the exchange can close on the most civil note possible.

It also means that I am not panicking or worrying, waiting for a reply and winding myself into knots. Because I don’t enjoy reading email from people who are pissed off, hurt, or feeling emotionally vulnerable. I want to make sure that I can avoid losing my mind over the situation, and also make sure that my response is the best it can be.

This 24 Hour Rule is slowly spreading its way across the Empire, because honestly? In many situations, it just makes sense. Sometimes the best thing you can do on the internet is not be instantaneous. Take a breath. Take your time. Be kind.

Comments on The 24-Hour Reply Rule

  1. I try to follow this rule myself ( although I don’t have a set time frame ). I remind myself that there’s no statute of limitations on being a bitch. I can still be a bitch later if I really want to.

    This thought really helps me when I’m struggling with the urge to PROVE MYSELF RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT NOW NOW NOW!!

    It’s like soothing my inner toddler:
    “Yes Kathy you’re right. Yes you can give them a piece of your mind and everybody will glory in your rightness. Yes yes you can even call them a motherfucker… after your nap. ”

    Needless to say, when later comes, I don’t want to.

    • ” Yes yes you can even call them a motherfucker… after your nap. ”

      Cracking me right the fuck up. Brilliant.

  2. I follow a similar personal rule too. Most of the time, I respond in twenty-four hours, if not sooner. Sometimes, I really am too busy to reply to my couples immediately: using my cell for real responses via e-mail is just not feasible. In the rare event that an e-mail truly stresses or annoys me, I need at least two days to reply calmly.

  3. I’m an online teacher, which is similar to your job in a lot of ways: usually fun, often aggravating, sometimes totally crazy-making. When I get one of those emails, I also give myself (and the student) time to calm down before responding, but sometimes I go ahead and write the angry response. I write everything I would like to say that would be unkind and unprofessional or get me fired or escalate the problem. And then I delete it and start again with all that negative stuff out of my system.

    I know this doesn’t work for the Empire, but my other go to strategy for angry emails is to pick up the phone. Hearing a human voice almost always diffuses the situation.

    • As a writer of “angry drafts that never get sent,” I have this bit of ass-saving advice: edit the “To:” field to be your own name before writing the angry draft. I’ve never accidentally sent an angry draft, but I’ve come close a few times… and if you have your own name in the TO: field, there’s no chance of accidentally sending it to the real recipient.

    • I agree with Ariel about editing the TO: field, though I usually just leave it blank since Gmail will pop up and tell me about it if I hit send. The “Undo Send” lab add-on would also work, but only gives a small window (though it has saved my ass when I’ve forgotten to, say, attach my resume to a cover letter!).

      Oftentimes, I’ve also sent my angry emails to very dear friends who are not involved in the situation at all, since it helps me to have someone hear it (and appreciate my witty insults) the same way it would help other people to vent over the phone. They are very trusted friends, though, so I know the email stops there.

    • Yes, picking up the phone is an excellent way to deal with angry emails!

      I find the phone so intimidating, though…

  4. I find this rule very helpful. It should be applied by everyone online because it could prevent a lot of bad things to be said and problems to arise. This is a very good idea.

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