Blog » How not to comment
How not to comment - and save the fallout
There comes a time, it seems, in the life of a public figure, when it seems as though they take a view of themselves as having more clout and importance than they actually have. The way that we treat our celebrities and public figures in the UK is unusual, and their subsequent treatment by the national media is presently the subject of the Leveson enquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press. None of this, however, excuses the extraordinarily incendiary comments made by Jeremy Clarkson, who does have the ear of many in the UK for his career in driving. Not much of a qualification for comment and edicts about public execution, but that didn't stop him. So how can we apply a stop-button to such awful comments?
As mediators, Peaceworks often witness the most extreme side of relationship breakdown and the hurtful, and sometimes unforgiving communications that people exchange when they are in dispute. How much more effective it would be if we all had some idea about how to stop ourselves making remarks or comments that hurt and damage others. There are many suggestions on the internet for stopping yourself from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, so you're not alone if you find that you're making some awful faux pas. Here are some suggestions about how to forestall those comments and stop ourselves from saying those "point of no return" things:
1. It can help to visualise your audience, if they're not immediately in front of you. When writing, blogging, texting etc, visualise someone who you most value as a person reading what you are about to write.
2. If you're talking to a group, visualise a valued member of your family in the audience who would be adversely affected by anything negative you might say or who might take a joke the wrong way
3. Remember that there are many people with equally strong (or not) opinions as you. They have the right to hold them, just as you do.
4. Articulating opinion does not necessarily make it right. There are many sides to a story and yours may not be the right one.
5. It's a good rule of thumb to make sure that you've got your facts right. Before you express an opinion, make absolutely sure you've checked your sources and know how to answer anyone who might question what you're saying.
6. If you are in any doubt about the validity of your opinion, don't express it.
7. Keep in mind that your sense of humour may not match with someone elses. It can be the case that the things you find funny could be offensive to another person. Humour is a fine line, so when speaking in public or writing anything for public consumption, keep the humour non-specific in terms of race, gender, faith, disability and culture.
8. Others also have the right to disagree with you. It doesn't make them wrong or you right. It is the nature of free speech. The watchword is tolerance.
9. Legally, race and hate crimes are punishable. Be very careful about expressing opinions that could be interpreted as inciting hatred of any kind, or racial prejudice.
10. A false sense of safety is your enemy. It's a mistake to imagine that confiding strong opinions to others is fine because you're safe. The chances are, you aren't. This quote from Examiner.com sums up a good approach. "Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where we feel falsely "safe" and think it's ok to give honest feedback. Do yourself a favour and know your audience. If it's your boss or an executive, can they take criticism well? Will your comment further the conversation? If not, keep your comment to yourself".