Training modules/Dealing with online harassment/slides/communication-style

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Communication: Communication style[edit | edit source]

Appropriate communication with a harassment reporter should focus on two areas: first, appropriate communication style, and second, appropriate information and expectation sharing.

One of the most important things to remember when you are communicating with someone who reports suffering harassment is that harassment is, by design, intended to intimidate and upset. As a result, you will likely be addressing someone who is frightened, angry, hurt, or a combination of all three. Reporters may be worried that they will receive a dismissive response. Whatever the merits of the report itself, you can go a long way toward making the reporter feel safer than they may have feared simply by approaching it, and the reporter, with empathy.

Your goal in empathetic communication is to signal to the reporter that you understand that this is a stressful or frightening situation for them.

Some ways to communicate empathy will involve your choice of words and phrases. Try to use language that approaches the report with concern and attention, like:

  • "I understand" or "Could you help me understand" – Let the reporter know that you are not just reading the words they wrote, but rather are truly trying to grasp the situation. If the initial report is clear and thorough, show them that you understand their situation. If you need to ask questions to get a handle on the situation, ask them in a way that communicates "seeking to understand" rather than skepticism or doubt about the report.
  • "That must be (frightening/hurtful/upsetting)" or "I see that you are (frightened/hurt/upset)" – Active listening is an important skill in these situations. Your communications to the reporting user should indicate that you understand why they felt it necessary to reach out to you.

Avoid using words and phrases that indicate skepticism or disinterest, like:

  • "I disagree" – Remember that they are reporting the situation to you as they understand it. Negative assertions and disagreement won't help you understand the situation better, and may lead the reporter to believe you are not here to help.
  • "Nothing we can do" – There certainly will be cases where you cannot take action. However, there is a difference between saying "nothing I can do", and offering advice or alternative routes forward. Even if a situation does not call for administrative attention, you may be able to help the reporter with suggestions of other venues, new communication strategies, or referrals to support organizations.
  • "The person accused of harassment has a good reputation" – Sometimes harassers have a good reputation on their project, which can act as a social "shield". Do not offer opinions on the person accused of harassment. Instead, focus on the reported behavior or actions.