As a moderator, you are inevitably faced with users who legitimately have problems with decisions you make. Often, you may be able to discuss the decision with them and reach a consensus, but sometimes this may not be possible. How can you reliably tell when further discussion is doing more harm than good? At what point should you simply cut off the discussion and enforce your decision?
I think this is going to come down to recognizing a change in the user's behavior.
- If a user is generally chatty and is now responding with terse comments, there's a good chance they don't care any more
- If a user is responding just to get in the last word (eg. "Ok.", "I get it.", "Ok thanks", "Thank you.", etc), there's a good chance they don't care any more
- If the user repeats the same arguments, there's a good chance they don't care any more
- If the user attempts to rally their troops, even after others have moved on, there's a good chance they don't care any more
- If the user rejects any argument that doesn't support their point of view (even from 3rd parties), there's a good chance they don't care any more
I'd cut off the discussion after it reached any of those points with a simple "Thanks for your concern. I appreciate your arguments, but we are going to have to disagree in this case. Our decision stands." Your options at this point include simply locking the conversation to prevent them getting in the last word, or to simply ignore it if they attempt to prod you further.
People react in different ways, but typically they employ epigrammatic behaviour in their language which are often generic replies, rather than a legitimate argument that they are putting forward to you. This may be essentially a sign of defeat. On the other hand, someone who continually repeats their argument without acknowledging your input may also be lacking in interest.
The long and short of it is when people stop directly replying to you, then you know you will get no further.
By considering the following points, we can reach proper solutions in such situations:
- We should always try to encourage community members to participate more in meta issues. Having different opinions and (deep) disagreements are natural and helpful for thriving communities.
If we see that a community member disagrees with and argues against our decisions, we first should show that we are interested to know their opposing viewpoints and assure them that their opinions are valuable to us, so after seeing our behavior, the community member is likely inclined to try more to reach a consensus or understand our decision in case a consensus is not reached.
- If we see that some community member keeps continuing arguing against our decision, let us first think positive about them (not calling them a troll even in our mind) and consider it probable that our decision is not as impeccable as we think of.
Now, there can be two cases: i) If we see that the community member argue reasonably against our decision or that our decision is questioned from different fair points of view by the community member, we should continue the discussion as far as both parties can continue it reasonably while trying to find alternative noncontroversial decisions.
ii) If we see that the community member does not argue reasonably against our decision or continues repeating their words and intentionally ignoring what they are asked, we should politely remind them that such a kind of behavior can be regarded as spamming and so may lead its doer to face disciplinary actions according to the community norms.
- If our community lacks the transparency policy, which is explained in this answer, and talking about the main reason of our decision may disclose some sensitive information, then we should treat the member and their disagreement with respect and inform them that we are not allowed to reveal the reason of our decision because of the community policy while assuring them that their opinions are valuable and helpful to us.
Just like with any kind of consensus (reaching terms accepted by all of the parties), it is just not always possible, especially in large communities. I was in one community of around 3-4 people, and sometimes we still failed to reach common terms.
In a community of 10 users, reaching consensus is often impossible, there will always be someone unsatisfied.
So, here is what we have tried. After some time dedicated to discussion, which must be specified, or after a certain number of members asked for it, we voted if consensus wasn't reached.
After some time, the discussion usually boils down to choosing one of a few options, most often there were two. This is akin to Stack Exchange voting on Meta.
Consensus is good if you reach it, but again, most of the time it's simply not possible to sastisfy everyone. If you try, you end up with a one-size-fits-nobody solution that makes everybody uncomfortable.
Recently I experienced a very long and protracted email exchange over an item I purchased with a company who is online and had closed their phone line during COVID. Questions were asked but not fully answered (or misinterpreted due to company-centric bias). This was 1-2 emails per day for over a week. It was awful.
I understand that’s not the context here, but there are many degrees of personal engagement with a social community (especially if you feel you contributions are significant).
The stakes can feel very high, but are they? Is there a tangible loss, or a perceived loss? What are the possibilities of redemption and recovery? Maybe bring in a colleague to give the user an opportunity to feel they are being heard by others in power within the community, and keep it from seeming personal. After hurt, starts the learning.