Wikipedia:Staying cool when the editing gets hot

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A guide to applying WikiLove towards another editor.

Wikipedia has seen some bitter disputes. It is easy to get into disputes online, especially as being online can enable near-immediate responses especially – reactions – but please remember that we are all here for more or less the same reason and that there is a person at the other end of your conversation. Flame wars are counter-productive and make Wikipedia a less pleasant project for everyone.

Top tips for keeping your cool[edit]

Here is a short list of tips from experienced contributors:

  1. If someone disagrees with you, make sure you try to understand why! Listen to the others, and take the time and effort to explain why you think your suggestion(s) might be preferable.
  2. Don't label, give names or even disparage people or their edits; assume good faith for as long as possible. Terms such as "racist", "fascist", "moron" etc., may enrage people and make them defensive. When this happens, productive discussion becomes very difficult.
  3. Take it slow. There is no time limit for a discussion. If you are angry, take a break from posting or editing. Come back in a day or a week. You might find that someone else has made the change or comment you wanted while you were away.
  4. Raw text is ambiguous and is often more difficult to interpret than speech. Text comes without facial expressions, vocal inflection, or body language. It is easy to misjudge other editors' moods and intentions, especially when disagreements or discussions are heated. Make your proposals and responses clear; listen carefully to opposing arguments and/or criticism, and be prepared to prove that you are listening actively. Saying things like "You seem to be saying [paraphrase of opposite opinion or suggestion]", or "As I understand you...", acknowledges that you are paying attention and not just waiting to interject with points of your own. Even if you are sure you have not misunderstood what someone is trying to say to you, listening carefully and communicating effectively will help keep you from missing something important.
  5. Assume the best about people whenever possible – this includes assuming that others are doing likewise. See WP:AGF and WP:AAGF. Wikipedia has worked remarkably well so far based on a policy of openness. This suggests that most people who visit do want to help and do succeed in trying to do so.
  6. Be prepared to apologize. In the heat of the moment, we sometimes say things that were better left unsaid; the least we can then do is make amends.
  7. Try to avoid deleting things as a matter of principle. When you amend and edit, bear in mind that others may find something useful in what you remove. Almost everyone – including you – has something useful to say. Deletion upsets people and makes them feel they have wasted their time; at the very least leave some indication of your rationale in an edit summary, if not in an entry on a Talk page or in a message to a user or users you think might be perturbed by your action.
  8. Sometimes you just need to walk away. There are over a thousand administrators here and countless numbers of users who can take over for you. Do not let an edit war supersede your personal Wikipedia time. Take a time out from an edit war that gets too hot; work on other articles, or take a break from Wikipedia in general. Go get some fresh air or cook up a nice snack in the kitchen.
  9. Think about whether each action is going to make things better or worse. If an action might make things worse, consider not doing it.
  10. Do not take it too seriously. Remember that Wikipedia is a hobby and not an obligation or commitment. Keep a good community spirit up and make good edits as a community.
  11. Go play in a Wikipedia:sandbox, especially one of the less prominent ones. It gives you a chance to ease discipline and get a few things off your chest, whilst still being within the Wikipedian public namespace – go ahead, you probably will not frighten the punters too much, but consider others and resist using anything likely to upset or distress a random visitor.
  12. Remember, you're not always right – sometimes you're wrong – sometimes you're dead wrong. Even when you know you're right, it may be better to concede to the prevailing opinion.

How to cope[edit]

Shortcuts:
Even though they are technically competitors for the same goal – fresh fish – this fisherman and pelican are ignoring each other and minding their own business.

Occasionally, on Wikipedia, despite everyone agreeing that we should not engage in personal attacks, harsh words get flung around – occasionally by longstanding contributors, but more often by newcomers. There are various ways to deal with this:

  1. Just ignore it. Name-calling may be offensive, but it is not very helpful or mature. Go about your business, and do not worry about it; you are not required to respond.
  2. Politely ask the person who you feel has insulted you to retract what they said. Sometimes people say something insulting by accident, not realizing that their words could be taken in a certain way. Other times people will change the way they act when they realize they have offended someone. That said, it is rarely useful to demand an apology or retraction.
    If you yourself, through accident or anger, insult someone, an apology might smooth things over. If you sincerely meant the insult and cannot honestly apologize, sometimes it is best to fall silent. If that does not work, try refocusing on the issue at hand; try to be more specific about what action you disagree with, rather than insulting the person.
  3. Instead of reacting to the insult with a return insult, or getting upset, try to concentrate on figuring out why they insulted you. In most cases, they may just be kidding you. If that is not the case, then try not to let their problem(s) become yours. We all have enough problems in our lives.
  4. Understand that this is the internet, and it is an open invitation for individuals to be critiqued. Not taking it personally and realizing that it goes with the territory is crucial.
  5. Log out for awhile and allow yourself to calm down. Pour yourself some lemonade and consider both your actions and theirs. When you feel you are calm enough, log back in and attempt to resolve the issue.

When we correct violations of the neutral point of view (NPOV) policy, we often make the mistake of using phrases like "foo points out that ..", "xy explains ..". These phrases themselves can be seen as non-NPOV, as they imply a certain agreement by Wikipedia. The original author then often sees this as non-NPOV and deletes the changes, and eventually, an edit war results. It is better to use the following procedure:

  1. Inquire politely on the article's Talk pages about aspects of the article you consider non-NPOV (unless they are really egregious), and suggest replacements.
  2. If no reply comes, make the substitutions. (Use your watchlist to keep track of what you want to do.)
  3. If a reply comes, try to agree about the different phrases you want to use.

That way, when an agreement is reached, an edit war is very unlikely. The disadvantage is that the article stays in an unsatisfying state for a longer period of time, but an article that changes every five seconds hardly leaves a better impression with other Wikipedians.

Now, there are cases where this strategy does not work. There are users who simply cannot and do not want to write NPOV articles, users who want to delete relevant information, users who are notoriously anti-social, and so on. We think these are the types of users we do not really want on Wikipedia, and a few have been banned. However, while many Wikipedians tend to write slightly POV articles about subjects that are near and dear to their hearts, most of them can be worked with.

Creed[edit]

If you consider yourself a cool, level-headed editor, then consider adopting this as your editing creed:

"I will always assume good faith on the part of my fellow editors and will be civil at all times, even to those who are not civil to me. I will not attack my fellow editors or disrupt Wikipedia to make a point. If involved in a content dispute, I will not engage in edit warring and will instead discuss contested edits and/or seek dispute resolution."

Remembering this simple statement can help keep you grounded when hot air begins to blow.

See also[edit]