Friday, October 8, 2010

Making our online communities safe from one-upmanship

When we're chronically ill we often feel that we're caught up in a tornado of chaos. No matter how long our disease process has been a part of our lives, part of us just simply can't believe everything we've been through. Our lives are a circus - full of craziness, chaos, and unbelievable occurrences. We want to share that part of our experience, often because we want to know we're not alone, or because we want to feel validated. Sometimes just because it's an incredible story and we're simply in disbelief ourselves. Many times this happens because those who are seeking online communities are the most sick and in need of the most help.

But what does this sharing of worst case or unbelievable experiences actually do within our groups? There may be some unintended consequences to this activity.

Here Dianne Reese mentions the prevalence of 'one-upmanship' within many groups keeping new members from feeling validated enough to participate. This is obviously not constructive to them or to our groups.

Okay, so we've shared an incredible story. Did we stop to consider how the wording of that story and the responses that follow, might affect new members who don't know us or who may be new to our disease? How did you feel when you were a newbie and ran into posts like this?

If some of the stories within our groups *might* appear to be one-upsmanship, that leaves us as leaders and moderators with a choice - how do we want to handle this type of post?

I would love to hear some of your ideas for options how we can:

A) more mindful of how we tell a story, keeping newbies in mind so our tales don't overwhelm them or read like tales of one-upsmanship.

B) ...respond effectively to these types of posts in a way that makes it okay to be new to the disease/disorder and that it's okay that we're not that seriously sick or injured - we are still an important member with a voice that others want to hear.

C) ...constructively call out these types of posts as the obvious - this is not the typical experience - while maintaining support for the author of said post so they still feel validated, while at the same time looking for a solution to the topic so we can all learn how to deal with that particular subject.

D) Any other ideas?

I sure don't have all the answers and I'm very interested in what other leaders have to say about the subject. Every once in a while as moderators we run into someone who has joined a group just to present themselves as the worst possible circumstance. Perhaps they need attention, perhaps they truly are looking for help. Sometimes they are trolls in sheeps clothing. If we are to be effective leaders, it is not our place to judge them unless they are being destructive to your group's "home" atmostphere, but to look for ways to ease their feelings and incorporate them into the group by talking with them and connecting them with others that might be able to help them deal with their situation. Our job is to guide a multitude of different types of personalities, and sometimes that means to redirect as well. Our job is also to be sure that the group feels like a home and a family to every member.

What are your tips and tricks to prevent one-upsmanship in your community?
Comment by Nicole on October 11, 2010 at 12:19pm
I really like this post. I think that the WEGO community is usually really good about this topic, although sometimes it does come up. I think that when writing blogs it's important to try to keep a tone of encouragement. Keeping that in mind can make your writing more positive in general. Sharing a story can be therapeutic, but we also should make sure that by sharing that story, we are keeping the community positive.
Comment by henryde on October 11, 2010 at 3:57pm
This is a timely post for me personally because I was accused of tone crimes in another community just because I asked a bunch of questions. It's hard because there is so much confusion out there, particularly when food allergies are involved. I guess I'm not really accustomed to the delicacy of people's feelings. I did apologize.
Comment by Janeen on October 11, 2010 at 5:01pm
This is such a tough subject, but an excellent topic. I'm so glad that you tackled it. I've seen this happen in my community and often. Even though most of us are working together for one cause, sometimes there has become a rub with certain "allergies" in the allergy community. It's almost like one allergy feels it's more severe than the others and therefore deserves more face time.
I know for me, I used to attend a local food allergy support group (and I enjoyed it, but my time commitments got the better of me) and when I'd say "My son is allergic to wheat, rye, barley, oat, eggs, milk, peanut and tree nuts" I sometimes felt like people thought I was trying to "one up" their one or two allergies. Believe me, it couldn't be further from the truth but I can see how they could preceive it to be so.
I agree with Nicole, it's always good to try to keep a tone of encouragement. The more positive you seem the better. It also helps if you are sympathetic and engaging to the other members. If you only pop into the community to "brag" about your issues or problems than you will be preceived as trying to "one up" everyone else.
Henry, sometimes if I'm asking a bunch of questions I might say something like "I apologize for all the questions, I"m just trying to learn from you all who seem to be so knowledgeable on this topic". Flattery seems to diffuse the situation. Or "I apologize for all the questions, I'm new here and just trying to get the lay of the land". Sometimes if you are new to a community and people don't know you yet, they may just need a little clarification.
Comment by henryde on October 11, 2010 at 5:40pm
Very tactful. Thanks.
Comment by Ellen S on October 12, 2010 at 5:57pm
Thanks Nicole and henryde, and Janeen, those are really excellent suggestions!! Even when I'm not new I think adding that little bit of flattery is always helpful - it's usually true too, or I wouldn't be there!
Comment by henryde on October 12, 2010 at 6:16pm
In that case, nice horse.
Comment by Nancy on October 17, 2010 at 1:56pm
Being new in this community, but not to Migraines/headache disorders, I think this is a wonderful topic. I remember quite vividly being a newbie and feeling absolutely alone. I often have to take a step back and remember that feeling. Thank you for the reminder....
Comment by Dianne Rees on October 17, 2010 at 6:58pm
I just wanted to give credit to Meg Fowler who brought up this point, though I agree group dynamics can really influence whether people feel comfortable enough to participate. People come to health communities for a variety of reasons and at different points in their lives and need to be able to express diverse opinions while having respect for the opinions of others. I think you made great suggestions in your post.
Comment by henryde on October 17, 2010 at 7:31pm
I am very glad that this thread continues. It is worrying to me that some bloggers are so aggressive with their own experience, which can't be comforting to the new and worried. I certainly don't want to aggravate their anxieties. I am merely a purveyor of conventional wisdom and in some cases that is a big help. I hate to see over-the-top bloggers fan the flames. I certainly try to avoid that myself.

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