One of my favorite things to practice while gaming or having a discussion online, is diplomacy. I’m a counselor, so I normally refer to it as “using my counseling skills”. The only way to successfully deploy skills like these (and this is not an exhaustive list) is if you are, yourself, not upset. If you feel upset, walking away is often the best idea- and if you are feeling like you might hurt yourself, it’s time to take care of yourself first (call 911, talk to a parent or trusted friend).
Anyway, you can defuse an angry person using these skills – sometimes this person is a troll (someone who posts things with the purpose of angering or upsetting others) and sometimes this person is genuinely upset. Regardless, here are some skills to pull out of your pocket.
1. Validate something valid. This can be difficult, if someone has just called you a “#$%ing noob” or worse, a group of people has singled someone out. Cyberbullying happens in games, comment sections, and social networks. Anyway, there’s something valid, whether it is a person’s feeling upset. I can validate your feeling upset, even if it’s directed at me for absolutely no reason. “Oh, that did suck, huh? GAHHHH!” … This is empathy. There are various types of empathy, but the simplest way to describe this is to identify with a person’s emotional state and communicate it. “You’re really pissed off, huh?” If someone is cussing at someone else, they are either pissed off or they are not pissed off. Regardless, when you name the emotion for them, they will consider this. I’ve seen two responses, most of the time, to empathy: either a) they say a little more about their feelings and further talk helps to bring them down, or b) they examine how they just said what they said, and correct you: “well I’m not pissed actually. (lol…*)” In either case, encouraging someone to talk more about how they feel about x will either help them to reduce their intense anger, or claim a new emotion. *I dropped an LOL in there, because you will find this is a filler in some seemingly strange contexts of online conversation- look for it in situations where the pressure has just been let out of the veritable room.
2. Identify commonalities. What do you and the angry person have in common? Shared goals? Shared values? Anything? This can be one of the most difficult things because some of the more heinous online conduct is veiled in anonymity.
3. Ask for solutions. There are two parts to this. While asking for solutions, remember that a failure to plan is a plan to fail. Have a direction in mind, and see if you can draw it from your adversary. You may not agree, but at least you’re not sitting on the problem- and after an angry person repeats a problem and elaborates a few times, the average angry person tends to deflate and ready to think. One of the worst mistakes that angry people in comment sections, forums, and online games tend to make is to dwell on the problem. In fact, if you listen to any great debate going on right now, you will actually hear restatement of the problem over and over. That’s called feeding the troll, and I suppose it sells. A solution orientation would look like this: “I see this is something you care a lot about- what would a fix look like?”
4. Be ready to loop back to validation. Sometimes angry internet communicators are taken off guard when you try to derail the troll-train, and they just want to get back to making someone miserable. Whether it’s a need they feel hasn’t been met, or an agenda to which they’ve dedicated themselves, you can blow the cover off problem talk with continued validation, empathy, commonality, and solution questions.
There are reasons to negotiate with trolls, calm the angry, befriend the bullies, and chill with the chilled. Perhaps you’re in a World of Warcraft raid and you need this person’s talent (and what a GREAT thing to say to someone, by the way!) or this person is a friend of yours. Perhaps you’re trying to put a stop to a potential cyber-bullying incident where anonymous, misplaced anger has run amok. Another reason is perhaps you want to feel some positive power. I actually get a charge out of trying to debrief some of the more off-the-chart vitriolic personalities I run into online- it’s a whole new dimension to online gaming.
The main reason is his: spreading positive vibes is always going to be more useful and more fulfilling than doing anything else when faced with an angry person. So why not?
The above is just a limited list of techniques aimed at situations where you don’t necessarily have control over the venue. You can also set level-headed consequences, if for instance you have control over a forum or a gaming situation. You can use basic skills like active listening, advanced techniques like motivational interviewing, but be wary of manipulating others- it’s an unintended result that can put you on the trolling throne. And nobody wants you on the trolling throne.