• Jan 31, 2024

How I respond to aggressive comments

  • Daniele Catalanotto

Published in the Backstage Blog

In this short article, I want to explain how I use extreme politeness to answer aggressive or negative comments online to defuse situations and why I don't take it so seriously anymore.

A bit of context

I have been writing and creating educational content about Service Design for years now. One of the perks of having some visibility is that you can help more people. But with more lovely people you can touch, you also get to interact with more frustrated people.

How I usually respond to aggressive comments

Whenever someone publicly is very aggressive towards me or tries to shed a very negative and unfair light on my work, I never answer with the first emotions that come. Because the first emotion I would have is to say: "Fuck you". But we all know that wouldn't do any good, neither to me or to the person.

Instead, I do my best to:

  • Say hi in a very polite way

  • Reformulate what I understood of what the person was trying to say (often, the real content isn't so clear when the comment is aggressive)

  • Propose something for a resolution when possible. Often I recommend other service design educators to follow that don't write in the same style I do

  • Ask a question to verify that I've understood well what the person meant to say

  • Conclude with a very polite greeting

And in all of this, I sprinkle smileys like ":)" to make sure that the person understands I'm not coming back with aggression but with calm.

It's all about helping people come down from the extreme

Basically, whenever I'm in an interaction which is extreme, I tend to answer with the same extreme but on the other side of the spectrum, and strangely enough, that brings people back to a state of equilibrium.

For example, one day, I was shouted at by someone for a good reason. This time, I answered back in a low voice until we both could speak normally and solve the issue calmly.

The Dead cycle of online aggression

The one thing that makes me smile again and again is that, in most cases, once I answer in that way...

Nothing happens.

No answer from the person.

This makes me sad, as I really want to resolve the issue (even if I don't like the tone).

Why I don't take it so seriously...

I do my best to learn from each feedback, even when it's not easy. But at the same time I've learned not to take outrage, aggression and provocation so seriously, as often people just put it out and don't really want to solve the issue they are seeing as they stop interacting once you answer politely.

The hypothesis I have about this situation is the following:

People just need to get their emotions out. And once it's out, it's solved for them. At least, as long as you don't fire back.

And this isn't something that is limited to online conversations. I've had interactions of this type with other people "in the real world". People who just say what's on their mind without a filter, and once it's out, they are relaxed. Even if what came out was full of negativity.

... but still, answer every time with respect

And yes, there were times when the interaction was very aggressive at first, and there was a good resolution as the problem was real. But let's be honest, that's not the majority.

An opportunity to show who you are to the drama watchers

Though times are usually moments where we see the "true side" of people. When these conversations are public, many people watch in silence how you answer. I know that because when I answer in the way I answer, I then often get personal messages from people supporting the way I answer (but they don't do it publicly, which would have been a lovely sign of support).

So, taking the time to answer impacts not just the person who wrote but also the silent "crowd" watching for drama.

So, I'm going to continue to address these situations with politeness and care, but I won't take them too seriously before there is a real conversation.


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Meet the creator

I'm Daniele an Innovation Coach and Service Designer from Switzerland.

I worked with clients from all over the world to help them find innovative solutions to their problem. I've been blessed to be able to learn a lot. 
Today I want to share  these learnings back with the community. That's why I've built the Swiss Innovation Academy.