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Moderation: tactfulness vs thick skin

  1. Sep 5, 2012 #1
    I saw a regretful message today:

    "I wanted to post a link here to my thread [..] but that has been deleted by moderation. My thread [..] is locked for no reason and I am not allowed to make a link to that thread.
    Therefore I consider my presence on this forum as a waste of time, so I have asked moderation to close my account. Even if they don't, I consider my particitation as terminated."

    Moderation can be very displeasing and can even hurt; sometimes it can't be helped. But participants may need a thick skin or they could leave as a result; once I almost quit this forum because a moderator ended threads with personal attacks. What is done to remind moderators of being civil and tactful, or perhaps train them in this important matter? It's impossible to please everyone at all times, but with applied psychology unnecessary bad feelings can be avoided.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 5, 2012 #2


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    Keep in mind that all Moderation actions are visible to all the Mentors, and we regularly discuss Moderation issues. There are times that we decide to reverse actions, but much more often we agree with the actions and reach a concensus.

    As always, if a user has a problem with some Moderation action, they should contact the relevant Mentor directly, or else click the "Report" button on a relevant post to send a global message to all of the Mentors.
  4. Sep 5, 2012 #3


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    To add to what has been said, keep in mind that you are seeing only ONE side of the situation! What you are referring to has other issues/history behind that, and in fact, if you have followed closely the history of posting by that member, there was clearly an agenda being pushed here! You do not know the other side of the story.

    None of the moderators take their responsibility lightly. In fact, we continue to lose valuable moderators and mentors because the responsibility and time demands can be too much. So clearly, no one here is taking the responsibility lightly, especially when all of us are volunteers.

  5. Sep 5, 2012 #4
    I recall having done just that at least once, with zero visible effect. So, perhaps something was done, but nothing to reassure me; and that relates to the psychological aspect that is the topic here.
    Actually I saw bits of TWO sides of the situation, both now and when I nearly quit myself. I surely noticed that in this case a narrow agenda was being pushed (an anti-crank crank perhaps??); I thus do realise that even with the utmost tact that person could have lost appetite to participate. Which is why I added that "sometimes it can't be helped.[..] It's impossible to please everyone at all times".

    However, it can easily happen that someone (especially a newcomer) gets agitated because he doesn't get the responses that he hoped for; which leads to loss of appetite even if that person isn't cranky. In such cases, in order to discourage that person not unnecessarily even more, he should be treated with as much courteousness and patience as the rules permit.
    I don't doubt that! My question was not about the good intentions of those who are put in a position of power. Sorry if the trigger for asking my question distracted from the topic. I'll repeat it then in other words:

    As all moderators are volunteers, probably they generally do that work without special training for that work. However, to do it well requires applying psychology to both themselves and the people they interact with. Therefore I asked if there is there a semi-professional approach of teaching applied moderating psychology to the moderators (at least self study) in order to put velvet gloves around iron hands; what is done to train them?

    And I can give a preliminary answer: I suppose nothing, else there would have been an affirmative answer! Doing a step back, my next question: has this at least been considered or discussed? Likely free-of-cost sources are available.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2012
  6. Sep 5, 2012 #5


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    We have some pretty strong criteria for selecting new Mentors, and that includes their demeanor in their posting, and how they handle difficult posters. So the "training" of Mentors starts well before they are selected as Mentors.

    And we do have tutorials for new Mentors, to help them understand the mechanics and the themes of how we try to Moderate the website.

    As for "velvet gloves", there are certainly plenty of times when we try to take it easy, especially on new members who don't understand the PF Rules yet. That's why initial problems usually only earn a 0-point warning to get the user's attention. Infractions are usually only given for repeated violations of the rules, or especially bad behavior (like strong insults, etc.). We do not tolerate crackpot ideas or trolling, and those types of posting behaviors are generally dealt with pretty strongly.
  7. Sep 5, 2012 #6
    Actually, that sounds not too bad! :smile:

    Does that tutorial also include the two-way psychology that is under discussion here?
    And how about upfront clarifying the reason(s) why a thread is locked if someone is agitated, so that the victim of such action may understand that it was reasonable?
  8. Sep 5, 2012 #7


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    Threads are almost never locked without a reason being stated -- it is, in fact, our policy always to give a reason.
  9. Sep 5, 2012 #8


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    The team of mentors we have here is not a homogeneous team. We regularly disagree, debate, discuss and even argue with each other which is a good thing for the site. We all have different methods of dealing with things and I can think of many examples where some have rightly called out others for being too harsh and where some have rightly called out others for being too soft. At the end of the day if we've done our job well and people still feel offended (which happens regularly and often with many verbal insults towards the mentors) there's nothing we can or should do.
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2012
  10. Sep 5, 2012 #9


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    You mean you guys live in the real world? That's a relief.

    Sounds like a good time to praise the mentors.

  11. Sep 6, 2012 #10


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    Thank you :smile:
  12. Sep 6, 2012 #11
    I dare think that you're mistaken. For example, there is no need at all to be "soft": I spoke of iron hands! Someone independent who is skilled in psychology should check that out. But not to forget:
    Yes I fully agree, the mentors deserve a pat on the back for all their good work! :smile:

    -> and this was a good example of applied psychology!

    People are not geared into accepting advice if they think to be criticized; instead it puts them into defense mode. Unwittingly I demonstrated that fact here. So, sometimes one may have to give a pat on the back and sincere praise BEFORE suggestions for improvement can be effective. :tongue2:

    Now, I didn't need to look far to highlight the need for applied psychology by means of a few examples. Keeping with the above case, reasons stated for locking threads can be anything from "you are ranting [..] along crackpot road" to :"Apr17-12 Time out while the Mentors consider what to do about this thread..." - which may have sounded fine at the time but it makes the latest "Locked, pending moderation" sound meaningless (consequently it was interpreted as "locked for no reason").

    Thus, what do you think of my suggestion to improve the manual by including basic psychology recommendations for mentors?

    Tiny Tim seems to realize the importance of making new people feel good, and I copied that good example; but there is much more to it. Regretfully in the field of applied psychology I'm just an amateur and I don't know a good (short) course on it.
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2012
  13. Sep 6, 2012 #12


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    Of course there is a need to be lenient and to call a mentor out if they have been too harsh. Mentors can make mistakes and like everyone we have bad days. It's easy to read what looks like the tenth crackpot comment of the day and go in guns blazing with a witty put down and a 10 point infraction only to realise that you've misread the comment or aren't moderating uniformly.

    We should be soft and lenient where appropriate, sometimes it gets better results than heavy handedness.
    Intelligent criticism never bothers me. What rubs me up the wrong way is condescension which to me you are displaying in spades. Partly it's because you keep using the buzzwords of applied psychology but admit to knowing nothing much about it and are generally using it to mean people skills. The manner in which you're using this is to suggest that the people you are criticising can be easily manipulated and any objection to your criticism fits within your model that people get defensive (thus preventing you from critically examining your own manner and position).
    IMO "locked pending moderation" is a pretty clear message that this thread has been paused to prevent it spiraling whilst mentors discuss what to do about the spiraling that has already occured.
    I find it strange that you are suggesting this even though you admit you don't know much about it and don't know any resources. It's rubbing me up the wrong way that you presume that mentors need training (in a huge field no less) without really providing examples of a systemic need. It's good for mentors to have good people skills, we ensure this by vetting for them and discussing between us if we feel something could have been handled better or was handled badly.

    Note that I'm not saying education or training is a bad thing, just that from my point of view there is nothing to indicate that mentors need to run off and enlist in a training course for applied psycology nor that it would add anything to the site if we did.
    You don't need to learn applied psychology to recognise the importance of manners and social skills anymore than you need an MD to put on a bandage.
  14. Sep 6, 2012 #13
    Yes indeed; however what "should" is not at all the topic here (I get back to that). Obviously I lack the same "people skills", as I also stressed myself next:
    "it puts them into defense mode. Unwittingly I demonstrated that fact here."
    Very good - but please, don't shoot the messenger! The topic is not at all about criticizing anyone, but regretfully there is nobody that I can talk to here about such a sensitive topic who could not get that feeling without an extreme amount of tact. And as you pointed out, I failed. And I even failed to illustrate how mentors may apply psychology, as you interpreted the examples that come straight from our conversation as an attempt to manipulate you, and you did not appreciate my sincere pat on the back! :eek:

    Now, I could react to your words by stating that I did my best, and I don't know how to do better, so that if any mentor feels offended there's nothing I can or should do to change it; but a psychologist would certainly disagree with me.
    Yes, I fully agree. And I indicated (but not clearly enough) that the disappointed person probably noticed that the earlier thread with a similar remark has been locked for four months, from which he/she seems to have inferred that it's a perma-lock without clear excuse other than that the mentors didn't like it.
    As according to my feeling I'm being polite and tactful, it's surprising to see you claim that I'm "rubbing you up" -which is just the topic! What I know about psychology is from self study (e.g Eric Berne etc. which is not much but also not little), and what I saw here is more than enough to wonder how much professional people skills advice and/or training is given to moderators of this forum. If there is, please post it to this forum.
    I only propose to include some of such material from a short course in the manual - a training course would not be reasonable! :tongue2:
    And I'm sure that everyone knows that such skills are important. However, mentioning in a manual that such skills are important, or knowing that, is like saying "we must know how to put on a bandage" - that doesn't improve anything! :bugeye:
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2012
  15. Sep 6, 2012 #14


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    In the rare cases where this happens a simple PM or report would draw it to our attention. If this happens it is usually because events in our non-PF lives (some of us do have them) conspire to take up our time and said threads get forgotten.
    I've highlighted examples of what is rubbing me up the wrong way for your consideration. The implication of these examples is that you are right and we mentors are lacking something and that are responses in this thread have proved your point. There is also the tacit criticism that we are being sensitive and rejecting the topic rather than raising objections to some of the things that you have raised and how you are raising them.
    Let me try and summarise: Mentors are vetted for technical knowledge, commitment to the forum and people skills. In essence they shouldn't need further training on any of these things. Once they become a mentor we have a tutorial filled with advice and information as well as our own forum where we continually discuss and observe each other's activity. In my opinion and in the majority of feedback I've had we mentors do a good job and your suggestion that we look for training courses in applied psychology seems a huge overkill for a non-existant problem. That's not to say that we don't make mistakes or that there are not examples of people who feel justifiably slighted but they are rare and not something we are incapable of dealing with.

    In essense your suggestion, and tone, implies a problem that doesn't exist.
  16. Sep 6, 2012 #15
    I can see no possible way to honestly comment without inherent criticism on denials that improvement may be possible. :frown:
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2012
  17. Sep 6, 2012 #16


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    You misunderstand, as I stated we mentors are not perfect and there is certainly room for improvement and I welcome criticism. My point was that the implication of this thread is that we have a problem that needs addressing rather than a suggestion on ways we might improve. It is the former that I disagree with not the latter but I am more than willing to change my mind in the face of evidence. A few anecdotes of people who have disagreed with a moderation decision without context is not enough to overturn my observation that the vast majority of the time the job is done well.
  18. Sep 6, 2012 #17
    OK!! :smile:
    Yes indeed, I agree that the vast majority of the time the job is done well. And I found that illustrating that improvement may be possible distracts from the topic. This thread concerns the suggestion to improve tactfulness by including a minimum of professional practical "how to" advice in the manual that was mentioned here.

    Now, I am willing to spend time on searching such materials for everyone's benefit (incl. myself, in case you doubted!). In particular, I think that it would be nice if we could find something similar to Eric Berne's way of teaching by means of examples.
    (BTW this thread contains several crossed transactions; it's time for me to read his books again! :uhh:)
  19. Sep 6, 2012 #18


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    I understand what you are saying, but please remember that there is only a small handful of mentors and a lot of members. What you see on the forum is usually only a small part of the interaction between a mentor and the member that has broken the rules. I understand that it often appears that an action was suddenly and arbitrarily taken.

    We do not have time to personally counsel every member that won't read or follow the rules. New members, even though they have agreed to the rules when they registered, usually don't read them. As has been already explained, if the rule broken is minor, we usually just send a zero point warning. There is your "velvet glove". :smile: If the member continues to break the rules or becomes abusive, then further action is called for.

    I don't think it is too much to ask that members read and follow rules. In a forum this active, we need everyone to do their part to keep the forum running smoothly.

    Mentors can make mistakes, members can make mistakes. I have reversed or reduced infractions many times after the member either explained their post in more detail, pointed out where I was mistaken, or even said "I was in a bad mood, sorry, I'll be more careful", I can understand that, and if they don't have a history of bad posts, I'll reverse the infraction.

    I sometimes (more often than I should) lie awake at night agonizing over an infraction I gave. Did I take their posting history into consideration? Did I take the thread dialogue into consideration? Did I misread their post? This is why I ask that people use the quote function. When trying to read through dozens of posts, posts that repeat what someone else said without appearing to be a quote, can accidently get the member a warning since it looks like they are saying it.

    Being a mentor is not easy.
  20. Sep 6, 2012 #19


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    I think it would be useful to post the result of the discussion as new post in the thread - even if it stays locked. This way, all users interested in the thread can see the result without checking the thread frequently.

    I do not want to link specific threads here, a search for "pending moderation" gives many threads which just end with those words and without explanation, even if the last post is months ago and an ongoing internal discussion about them is quite unlikely.
  21. Sep 6, 2012 #20


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    Generally this is done but fair point about doing it more.
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