How Online Commenting Can Be Hazardous to Your Career

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Can commenting on blogs and Facebook posts be detrimental to your professional well-being? What you say and how you say it in the online world says a lot about who you are, both personally and professionally.

If you’re like me, you read a lot of blogs and news articles online. It’s the key to keeping ourselves up-to-date on the latest events in the world. But what do you do if the author presents some provocative ideas that you disagree with? What if you jump into a heated debate between several posters online only to be gang tackled by other participants who disagree with your opinion? How do you disengage from this discussion gracefully and with your reputation in tact?

Read any news feed or blog and you’ll likely come across an article that has drawn hundreds of comments, many of them rash judgments and unsubstantiated opinions. I try not to read the comments section of most articles, but when I do, I am often struck by the angry, disrespectful tone of commenters as they spit out their opinions. And when it begins to get personal, with individuals hurling insults at one another like they are hand grenades, I quickly exit the site.

It’s often tempting to comment on issues that you feel strongly about. That’s understandable, and sometimes even necessary. We all have to stand up for what we believe in. Knowing when to speak up and when to keep your opinion to yourself is a delicate dance we all must do, especially in business settings when our professional reputation may be at risk.

While in most situations, your contribution to the online conversation may be harmless, there may be times when it is better to stay out of the fray altogether. Discussions about religion, politics and social issues tend to bring out the most heated responses, so I tend to avoid them online as much as possible.

When faced with the temptation to get involved in these online debates, you can do one of three things:

1. Jump into the debate right away. This might make you feel better in the short term, but a heated response can come back to bite you later in the form of broken friendships and lost business opportunities.

2. Wait before responding. It can be a few hours or one day. Give yourself time to cool off, especially if you feel agitated or angry. Return to the online conversation later only if you still feel a need to express your opinion. Sometimes time and distance can help you see things differently, and you may simply decide to walk away from the conversation.

However, if you still feel a need to comment, plan the message carefully. Focus on the facts, and site statistics if needed. That will add credibility to your commentary. Be sure to remove emotion or anger from your response. When you provide a well-thought out response and communicate articulately, your viewpoint may be taken more seriously, even if others don’t agree with you. Besides you never know who may be reading those comments anonymously

3. When in doubt, walk away from the argument. Most online debates are not worth risking your professional integrity. And just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean you have to express it. Sometimes the least said will work more in your favor.

Since you don’t know who may be reading your comments – family members, friends, employers, clients, colleagues, etc. – the best advice is to err on the side of caution and say nothing. Choose your battles wisely.

What you say, or don’t say, and how you say it often reflects a lot about who you are. Think about your personal brand. How do you want others to remember you – as an abrasive personality who runs roughshod over others who disagree with you, or as an intelligent individual who is open to hearing different points of view? Remember clients, colleagues and employers may be tuning in to what you post in the online world. Make sure what you say accurately reflects who you are.

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