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Moderators have thankless tasks including intervening in existing conflicts, or also enforcing rules users were not aware of. Of course, users are unpleasantly surprised at such intrusions, and not all of them react gracefully. Some of them start crying about moderator nazis and whatnot, or deleting their posts because somebody (a moderator or another user) said something negative. Of course, this angers me personally.

But our public site is there for everybody, and I believe that people who have a hard time psychologically coping with (real or imagined) rejection have as much right to use it as everybody else. Besides, I want to be a member of an open and kind community, and reacting aggressively or even just firmly blocking an angry or hurt user goes against these beliefs. And then there is the matter of us being a small community, so it is hard for us to lose users.

I do my best to be patient, but at some point it becomes too ridiculous. I had a case where me and a fellow moderator spent three days frequently communicating with a user over three different channels trying to convince him that two people posting comments doubting the veracity of a minor detail in their post doesn't mean that they are unwanted on the site. In retrospect, this was probably too much effort without especially valuable return.

What are good criteria to decide how far to go humoring a user who is acting up? Especially if he isn't involving other users in the drama, it is hard to draw a line and say that rejecting him and stop giving support has just become acceptable. I don't think that my own feelings are a good guide, because if I stopped cooperating at the first offensive reaction by the user, I'd be no better than them. So, what signs can I use to determine when the user is demanding too much?

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Repeated complaints are usually a sign that the user does not feel like they have been heard. If the user you refer to is coming across as a drama queen, it may be that the user wants their feelings validated more than that they want any particular outcome. You can do this and achieve a happy result for all if instead of focusing on the unwanted behavior, you point toward the desired outcome.

For instance, you might head off an argument about commentary by praising the user for their patient response to criticism. Recognize their complaint and that their feelings are hurt, and tell them that you understand that it can be difficult to have others accuse them of being wrong. Then follow that up with a statement that you support them, and you hope that this gives them an opportunity to clarify/expand upon/provide an even better answer.

The effect is (hopefully) two-fold: the user knows that they are valued, and the commenter is responded to. Additionally, you've made it clear to the user that the praiseworthy behavior is to be patient and level-headed when criticized.

If this method doesn't work, you might also try engaging the user positively by asking them what they would like to have happen, and then work out a plan of action together.

In this example, you might ask your user what they think a satisfactory resolution might be. Let's say they want all the comments deleted, but you think the comments are important counterpoints. You might offer to delete some (if there are repeats) and possibly edit the remainder to remove the accusatory-sounding parts, or the @-pings, so that the point remains, but is less inflammatory.

In this case, you are also demonstrating concern for the user and your desire to involve them in the action plan will (hopefully) help them feel empowered and valued as a user.

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Said users will often have several signs:

  • They will repeat the same arguments over and over.
  • They will reject your arguments for dumb reasons.
  • They will not calm down even after long minutes of discussion.
  • And in many cases, they will whine and rant to other users.

If the user displays these signs, it's best to direct him to a place where the rules are plainly shown, and if he refuses to adhere by them and continue ranting, a timed suspension will usually do the trick.

Don't be afraid to time-suspend, users more often return more well-behaved after a timed suspension, than they return vengeful and full of troll.

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  • 1
    Maybe I didn't explain it well enough. I certainly agree that a suspension is a good tool to stop unwanted behavior, for example a flame war. But I meant cases where the user is not engaged in unwanted behavior (any more). He is just complaining loudly. I know I have many ways to confront him, and the community will probably be inclined to be on my side if the user is obnoxious. But I was asking how to deal with it without being confrontational, and especially how to recognize when the non-confrontational approach has flopped. Your points help me recognize an obstinate user, but it [cont.]
    – rumtscho
    Jul 29, 2014 at 20:33
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    [cont.] it could be that the user is obstinate and right, while I am obstinate and wrong, in which case it's a bad thing to finish the discussion by overruling him with the instruments my authority gives me.
    – rumtscho
    Jul 29, 2014 at 20:34
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First of all, let me maintain that I am extraordinarily surprised and glad to see that constructive views like this answer still survive in human communities. So, my answer below should be viewed as a complement to that answer.

In situations similar to the OP's the following points could be considered as helpful:

  • It should be noted that "minor" is a relative concept; a detail you may call "minor" can be major in the view of a person who devoted a considerable amount of time and energy to it. So regarding a person's point as minor could upset him/her much, thus likely sparking dramatic reactions. Therefore it is recommended to assure the user in question that his/her concern is already appreciated.
  • When you see a user is very furious over what he/she has just encountered within the community, you need not and should not engage in heated disputes with the user to prove veracity of your points—even if you are absolutely right and the user is absolutely wrong—because otherwise that would likely backfire. Rather, you could pretend to have bias toward the user's attitude, trying to settle the atmosphere. During a short while just after a tension people usually need empathy from others around, rather than reasoning, advice, and the like. When things become calm, they will have a better opportunity to think and act rationally.
  • The OP's situation is an instance of a typical characteristic found extremely common in human communities: humans are unwilling to be criticized. However, that should not prevent community members from expressing their opposing opinions because no community will thrive unless any (opposing) opinions are freely voiced within it. This point should not be addressed only to some member(s) but to the whole community. Hence it is recommended to announce the vital role of disagreement expression within the community and encourage community members to appreciate and freely express different opinions, even ones opposing to the community mainstream.
  • My final point concerns you as a moderator (team), which splits in two parts. Firstly, it seems that you devoted too much moderation to the situation mentioned as an example in the OP. Long and so tedious discussions (arguments) would likely entail no goal except bothering you and the user. Instead, you could encapsulate your main points and inquire the user's ones in an exchange and then let either party ponder them for an appropriate while. Please note that “the ideal moderator does as little as possible.” Secondly, in my own view, an ideal moderator should not deal with problematic situations by judging users' characteristics as "drama queen", troll, and the like—even if they have repeatedly misbehaved (humans are not robots to have a fixed characteristic, and the behaviors of a person's two consecutive days can be completely different)—because otherwise he/she would be overwhelmed by such characteristic labels not to be able to reach a constructive solution; rather, problematic events should be dealt with on a case by case basis and without any negative assumption about the characteristic of the user. In fact, moderation is more an art than a science.

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