For obvious reasons, we give more attention to the content we create and share with the world than our comments and responses. Whether it is a post on Social Media or an email we send to a colleague, we typically have more bandwidth to collect data, process it, think, and phrase our thoughts when it is us who trigger the interaction.
When we respond to a piece of content someone else shared, we are in a reactive mode by default. We often react on autopilot without allowing ourselves to stop for a second, gather our thoughts, and decide what would make a valuable response. Most comments on Social Media are short, automatic, and meaningless, whether they support or oppose the ideas presented in the main content. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop with public comments on LinkedIn and Twitter: The same patterns have long since infiltrated our workplace communication.
But communication is never a solo act. Whether or not we acknowledge it, at least two people are involved in any interaction, so how we respond to other people’s content is as important as the content we create. People who see our responses, whether given in a closed forum or on the Web, use them to get familiar with us. From the moment we share them with others, our comments become an integral part of our body of work. And if that’s the case, they’d better be meaningful and provide value.
Here are some do’s and don’ts when commenting and responding to other people’s content.
The most important rule of commenting and responding is: Your comment should add value.
If you don’t have anything to add to the original content, don’t respond to it. If you just agree with it, find other ways to show that (that’s what the Like button is for, at least on Social platforms).
Commenting is not an act of voting. If you disagree, that’s not enough to justify a comment. Whatever you write in response must promote the conversation and shed some new light on the ideas presented by the author. Agreeing with the ideas or rejecting them is simply not enough.
There are plenty of ways you can add value to the conversation. One of my favorites is highlighting a nuance — something not addressed in the original content, which might yield different outcomes. It doesn’t refute the original idea. Instead, it makes it richer.
A different perspective, even when it results in the same conclusion, could also be valuable as it helps others relate to the original idea. Additional perspectives add depth to the conversation and can open it to new insights.
You don’t have to agree with the author to add value. If you have a completely different opinion you can articulate and explain, your comment will undoubtedly be meaningful and promote a conversation. It’s not about who’s right. It’s about keeping the conversation flowing.
Respond to the Idea, Not the Person
If all you have to share are praises to the author of the content, it is better to find another channel to communicate with them.
It’s not just a matter of keeping the discussion clean and professional. Responding to the person does not promote the conversation — it leads to a dead end. Even if your intentions are good, your kind words rarely trigger any follow-up.
I love getting feedback about my writing, and it makes me no less happy if my audience or colleagues say something nice about me personally. But I am as excited when I get this feedback as a private message. When a brief compliment that adds no new idea is shared as a comment, it clutters the discussion and makes it harder to navigate.
Don’t be Brief and Generic
If you wish your comments to add value to the discussion, they cannot be too brief.
A comment is not a post and certainly not an article. When you respond to an email, you rarely want the response to be longer than the original message. But when we feel a need to respond just for the sake of saying something, we often settle with ultra-short messages that are either generic or too cryptic to decipher.
If you have something meaningful to say, take the time to process your thoughts and write them in a way that will be as clear and concise as the content you respond to. Remember, your comments are part of your body of work. When you add depth to your comments, your showcase is richer and more meaningful.