Discourse's Recommendations for Tough Conversations - and what we can pull from it for community moderation.

Feb 7, 2021 2 min read

I'm really impressed with Discourse's Recommendations for Tough Conversations that they created for their community and pulling a few bits out of it to share here, but also want to pose the larger question —

How can the way that we structure and set the groundwork for our communities impact the type of conversations that take place in our communities and how they're moderated?

Moderation is a tricky beast — you want to encourage and promote open conversations, but you also want to make sure that it remains a safe place for all to be, for years to come.  When does open and exciting lead towards too many open doors.

Taking some quick pointers away from Discourse — here's what I loved about their recommendations for tough conversations.

Share moderation duties with multiple people. Having a single focal point for all mod decisions is fatiguing and can lead to undue flashpoints, and personal attacks. If there’s only one person in charge, is the forum “you”? What if you’re tired, or cranky, or in a bad place? What if you find yourself overly involved in a topic and want to defer moderation to someone else? That’s a dangerous path to be on.

It can be TOUGH to be a moderator!  When you're the only one moderating it can be EXHAUSTING -- you can feel like you're constantly playing 'bad cop.'  Making it a team not only helps the moderators mental health, but also your community feels like its not just one person who's calling the shots of what stays and what goes -- a win-win situation.

When you must ban, be decisive. Certainly give people another chance if they make a mistake, but then cleanly, decisively ban them. It is not your job to reform this person. You are not obligated to let them try over and over. You can keep the door open by advising them to email you in 6 months or a year if they want to try again. But the impetus to recognize the problem, apologize, and ask politely to try again – that is on them.

Oof, anyone who's had to drop the ban hammer, knows.  It sometimes is hard.  I'm a believer in second chances, but there's definitely a line that can be crossed.  You don't have to let someone try over and over and over and over and over again. Your community will be at stake and you will lose credit with your community members. Be mindful when you use that ban hammer — and discuss it with your fellow moderators - but not in public of the community.  I hold onto the adage from one of my favorite community articles, — "This server is not subject to your definition of “fairness." knowing your ground rules and what's worth being upheld in your own community is good to note.

Take a break. Sometimes people just need to walk away for a while and take a break from the discussion. A short closure of a contentious topic, or a day suspension, might be in order. Avoid making hasty decisions in the heat of the moment, and discourage others from doing so as well.

We're all human, and in the words of my mother, we all can be a little too close to the circle at times.  Don't be afraid to close topics, end comments, or just encourage everyone to take a pause when things get heated, and that goes for us community managers too -- we can be a bit too close to the circle at times!

I am curious to hear your thoughts on my original question:  

How can the way that we structure and set the groundwork for our communities impact the type of conversations that take place in our communities and how they're moderated?

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