Amending Online Wrongs Takes a Long Time

Image by Blake Reed

As someone who delivered more than his fair share of snarky, forceful contrarian opinion about people and brands in online conversations, I believe this behavior harms communities.

Having alienated readers, friends and business interests alike with this behavior, I’ve made a concerted effort to change.

But people don’t forget so easily, as a couple of commenters reminded me in response to this week’s Cathryn Sloane post.

My conclusion: It takes a long time to amend “douchebaggery.”

Recently, I began a weekly co-mentorship call with someone in the field. We discussed commenting and adding a twist of sarcastic humor to responses.

I cautioned X against this because it really takes a deft hand to add humor without alienating people. Text can hurt, even when it’s not ill-intended, or if a phrase is delivered in jest.

I have also heard multiple brand managers for sizable companies say they wouldn’t work with bloggers that trash brands regularly online.

Personal Experiences with Speech

Speech Bubbles
Image by the Decorated Cookie

Consistent readers should be familiar with my commitment to practice better speech. I’ll say this: You can’t just post that you’ve changed.

Really it requires demonstrative change over a long period of time. You have to live it so that people feel safe around you again.

I know people were scared of me. Hell, even one of the toughest bloggers I know when we met in 2010 told me he was afraid of me.

That’s not a good thing. I know that some (rightly) still feel that way.

I feel like I’ve done a good job muzzling myself online, barring a couple of slip-ups (which I promptly amended). For example, I intentionally avoid online conversations that seem to devolve towards snarky sarcasm.

It’s a path which may be less attention centric, but it’s definitely restoring community. I can see it here.

Now I’m working on learning how to express anger and/or disappointment privately without the same vitriol. I have to admit, sometimes it’s just easier to say nothing, and talk to my inner circle about it. Silent scorn is also something to avoid.

Payne Stewart’s Example

Payne Stewart Statue
Image by Erik Rasmussen

It’s comforting to know others have gone before me and succeeded. Payne Stewart’s battles with mindfulness were well documented before his untimely death.

As a renewed friendlier Payne Stewart won championships he said, “But in the end it’s still a game of golf, and if at the end of the day you can’t shake the hand of your opponents and still be friends, then you missed the point.”

Believe me, I still want to be that snarky guy at times. It’s just not good for me spiritually or my family’s future.

Plus I really want to give more to society than a pain in the ass. I want to contribute as much as possible.

That means taking the narrower road, and cleaning up the past over a sustained period.

Why share this? So others can learn from my mistakes.

Amending bad behavior takes a long time. Even a lifetime.


  • I think it comes down to something a group of us were talking about on facebook this morning. First, people take things WAY too personally. Second, there’s a big difference between being a “critic” and being a bully.

    If you spend some time reading critics – literary, music, movies, whatever – you’ll find the best ones know the fine art of constructive criticism…they may point out weaknesses but they also provide real constrictive advice based on their experience and seasoned opinions. They aren’t always popular, but the good ones are always respectful.

    Bullies on the other hand rely on cheap shots and posturing to get their point across. It comes from a place of wanting to make themselves appear better than others. They know more so you should liste to them and every one else needs to shut the hell up.

    People need to learn how to be critics. And in my humble opinion Geoff, you’ve always been a critic, not a bully.

    • Thank you! I wish I felt the same.

      I unfortunately feel like some of my snarky comments and pointed criticism have been bullying. I know I have hurt your friend CB, for example. Though I thought he was off, we didn’t leave the golf course smiling, so to speak. I’ll have to live with that outcome.

      I was bullied quite a bit as a child, and I do see the behavior as the same. For me, it’s as you said learning how to discuss an issue without taking heads off, offering experience and constructive advice.

      Consider this post, I used myself as an example and didn’t mention names of other people other than Payne Stewart. I feel like it would have no value for others if I had taken that route.

      Cheap shots, posturing, better than, show you, these kinds of things are not good. They always seem to lead me to hurting people or brands.

  • Very proud of you Geoff. I try not to trash brands when i blog. I do sometimes trash businesses or people i find who deceive others. And probably shoukd use a better tone wheni do. The web is thw wild west with no law enforcement. I remember how offended i was in 2009 when i learned in business week that guy kawasaki was a paid tweeter and didnt highlight which tweets wer paid. I told everyone i knew and unfollowed him and to this day wont ever visit or tweet anything alltop. So i dont regret exposing him to others but in hindsight how do i know if he changed. Same with any of the big name bloggers i look down on. If i dont read their blog can i have credibility in my dissent? I think if the facts are laid out without the snark and with a positive endi.g for readers vs dont read that idiot dont you know they suck dissenting is healthy. Hard to be mindful when pissed but we need to be.

    • I don’t know how else to say this, Howie: it’s bad for business. I’ve been told straight from the customers.

      Better tone while delivering an idea can only make you more likeable and accepted. I think you still see me make points, but without taking hostages.

      And let’s be clear, we can’t lead companies to better practices by finger wagging at them. I think we need to make it safe and show the benefits, highlight the winners, etc., etc. The most popular blog I have ever written on this site was advising environmentalists that pissing off consumers with finger pointing would never create environmental change:

      Two years later, little change, same problem.

  • As someone who’s read a few of your prior “forceful contrarian” comments (though thankfully not aimed at me), I can only I imagine that it took a lot to write this post. You are also writing about something few talks about: brash, bold headlines and op-ed pieces get shared rapidly, but the thoughtful un-snarky ones…less so. It’s hard to not be pulled towards the snark when one wants to grab attention. I see this more in newer bloggers than experienced ones.

    Hope this post creates a ripple in online commenting culture.

    • Well, you know, I am sure it may change one or two people’s minds or give them pause before they comment. In that sense I think it was worth it.

      Also, though, I need to be public about this issue when called out on the topic. If I want to be/lead the change, then I need to talk about the problem within me. So there you have it. Thank you for your support.

  • This is a very, very honest post, Geoff, and it must have been tough to write. Kudos.

    • Let’s put it this way… I didn’t post it on Facebook for fear of upsetting my family. It was not fun. Thank you!

    • I completely agree with Shonali! I have to say, ever since I met you, you’ve always been nothing but nice. As a young professional, I have learned that there are a handful of successful people in our industry (in any industry of course) that unfortunately tend to think they’re above others. It’s disheartening to read someone’s blog and connect with them, only to meet them in person and discover that they somehow think they’re a celebrity and you’re not worth their time. Perhaps this isn’t exactly what this post is about (and the snarky posts were likely prior to my read thing blog) but I have to say you are one person that I met in person and immediately respected for how down to earth you were!

      • Then you met me when the time was right, and I could be a good amigo. For that I’m grateful, thank you!

  • Open and honest, Geoff. It takes a big person to share something like this. For me, you have always been a good person and very helpful. Soleil has a great dad.

  • What a wonderful post! I am sharing everywhere because this is so important. People just don’t think and it’s causing problems all over the social sites. Who needs THAT?

  • The online world can be very tough. When you don’t have verbal cues or facial expressions you have to work that much harder to get your point across.

    It is easy to be misunderstood and sometimes hard to strike the balance between personal/professional criticism.

    If your goal is to convince people to adopt a certain thought or style it is always better not to make them feel stupid for not doing so.

    I am not always good about that either. It is easy to be a freight train and just bull your way into things.

    • No one wants to feel insulted or talked down to, which is a great point. When we do that, we’re more likely to repel people in the opposite direction that we want them to go. Such is life!!!

  • Cheers, Geoff. I read your first paragraph and I thought you writing about me — because I’ve also walked the road of blogging (and talking) with that oh-so-slightly-contrarian perspective on things. While I’ve always said my remarks were the truth, there were definitely more PC ways of saying it. And I have also alienated some people as a result.

    It reached its head a few weeks ago when I met a potential business colleague over coffee and she mentioned she’d perused my tweets and blog posts and observed I was occasionally rash, disruptive, argumentative. And I knew exactly what she meant.

    It’s not easy to change. It’s harder to recognize the change has to come from within. But change is so healthy.

    See you in a few weeks.

    • Yup, I think when it starts to hurt our actual lives, business, etc. we realize it’s not people being too sensitive, it’s us pushing the line too far. I’m really encouraged to see you are mindful of this, too, Ari, and I wish you good luck with your journey on the matter. See you in a few weeks!!!

  • Geoff,

    I know it was a hard one to write then hit the publish button. Opening one’s self to the world in such a public way is very difficult. Regardless of how good of a person we are, I think we all have darkness within that sometimes escapes. We all have exhibited some bad behavior in social media where we are often masked by the technology making us feel free to type without really thinking. All we can do is think before we type realizing that in the end we are just people and like us the person on the other end of comment has feelings which can be hurt.

    • Yet, I think for my own sake and commitment to this, as well as for others, some of whom have commented, this was necessary. Change requires leading by example. I want a better online conversation. Thank you for your encouragement and your insights!

  • Sarcasm is definitely one of my biggest defects. I think you can have a sense of humor and even be a little sarcastic as long as you contribute something of value to the discussion. Either way, I agree that amending bad or even slightly negative behavior takes time. This is an important lesson for anyone using Social Media today in any capacity. Your post should be required reading for anyone setting up a new socnet account. :)

  • Kudos. Taking responsibility is essential to growth.

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  • I have to say that this is a great post and I commend you for committing to change. Having had to make major changes in my own personal life, this can apply across the board to any bad behavior. Once you lose trust, it takes a long time and many days, months, even years of good behavior to gain trust back!

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