6 minutes reading time (1219 words)

Language! How to comment and be heard

2023---JCM-November-Language

One of the big challenges in Joomla is we don’t have enough volunteers to do the work. Or rather: the volunteers we have are often overloaded with work, and no one is available to help new people find their way, so they don’t know what’s expected from them and just start working nevertheless. This is a vicious cycle we can’t seem to break out of. As a result, not every contribution gets the friendly reception it deserves. To put it mildly.

But how do you respond if a newbie you’ve never heard of, or someone who’s not very good at programming starts coding, neglecting all the rules, standards and good practices? Or someone keeps making the same mistakes? Or someone on social media says things about Joomla  that show they don’t have a clue what they’re doing?

In a situation like that, when it may even look like this person is doing it deliberately to annoy you, try to keep your calm. You could easily be tempted to shame people in public, telling them they’re stupid or ignorant, judge them while you know nothing about them and show your frustration or anger in ‘colorful’ language, making good use of your CAPS LOCK key and ignoring the question mark key (if you’ve never heard of it: it’s on the right, in the row above the space bar). 

Does it help, all this shaming, swearing, name-calling, judging, shouting and / or ranting?

I think you know the answer to that. 

So what can you do instead? Well, there’s a number of things:

  • Stay neutral and, if possible, friendly
  • Stick to the facts
  • Ask questions
  • Avoid accusations
  • Avoid judgment
  • Avoid aggressive or confrontational language
  • Go public with the positive, go private with the negative
  • Offer help and try to find out the best way to help them
  • Explain what’s wrong in simple and neutral language
  • Use your knowledge and expertise to educate the person
  • Be aware that the person receiving your comment is an actual human being, like you
  • Ask the person to do it in a different way next time, and explain how
  • If you are very angry or frustrated, say so, but describe it from your perspective (“I sometimes get angry when…”) instead of putting the blame on the person (“you make me so angry…”)
  • Focus on this particular situation, don’t start about things this person did in the past
  • Be patient and kind
  • Do not, as in NEVER EVER use words like, well, never 🙂 and always when referring to the person’s actions

Wow, that’s a lot of bullet points! How do I do all that?

OK, I hear you think, but that’s easier said than done. How do I find the words?

Well, as it happens you’re behind a keyboard, not sitting opposite at the same table. So no one expects you to respond right away. You have time to think about what you’re going to say. Use that time. Think for a while. 

If you remain angry or frustrated, go for a walk, sing a song, do a little dance, cook a four course meal, practice yoga or do whatever thing you do that usually calms you down (if you don’t have such a thing: take a few weeks off to find one). And after that, try to rephrase what you want to say to something helpful and positive.

Example #1

What you want to say

Your code is total rubbish, how can you even think this is acceptable?

Ah! A question. Well, not really: a question like this comes across as confrontational and disapproving, expressing frustration or disappointment.

But, you may say, I am disappointed and I have every right to be! 

In theory, yes. But by responding in this particular way, you will keep finding yourself frustrated and disappointed, since this kind of response is doing nothing to change that. Even worse: you’re frustrating and disappointing other people as well, and they will take it out on you (which will lead to more nastiness and away from the original topic) or they will move away from the project completely. All unwanted outcomes. So let’s try another approach. 

The helpful alternative

Thanks! I get what you’re trying to do here. The first part of your code would work. The second part does not comply with our standards yet (link to explanation of the standards). Would you like to rewrite that yourself, or do you need help with that?

Example #2

What you want to say

It’s idiots like you producing worthless stuff like this over and over again that make me want to bang my head against the wall. 

OK, this is clear: emotions going on here, and pretty negative ones at that: aggression, frustration and anger. 

Let’s stick to the facts. 

The person you’re addressing is a human being. Like you. And they have done something that’s not (entirely) correct, at least from your point of view. And apparently there have been multiple occasions where that happened.

The helpful alternative

Thanks for contributing to this. You’ve been contributing for a while now, and I can’t help but notice your code is not up to our standards yet. Especially this part (quote part) can be improved. We usually do this this way (give an example and explain why we do it that way). Could you rewrite your code accordingly? I’m here if you need help.

Example #3

What you want to say

I’m not going to waste my time on explaining why this feature is useless.

Oooh this is a tough one. But let’s give it a try. If this is what you want to say and what you genuinely feel, even after the yoga, four course meal and walking the dog: do not comment. 

Yes, you read it correctly: Do. Not. Comment. 

Because if there’s one thing that’s useless here, it is actually your comment.

Think about it. Regardless of this, the feature will be built, and it will turn out to be useful or useless, so you will be wrong or right, and nothing will change. Commenting this way is, you guessed it, a waste of time. So do whatever useful thing you want to do with your life, as long as it’s not posting this comment.

But. 

If you really care, and if you consider it better for Joomla if this proposed feature would be replaced with something that makes more sense, then your not-wasting-time-days are over, my friend, and you should get your hands dirty. Because your time is just as valuable as anyone else’s, and time spent on improving Joomla is never wasted. If you know the solution for the issue we’re trying to fix with this feature, share it, discuss it, and create it. Together.

The active alternative

I thought about this a lot, and I think we should look for a different approach to solve this issue. If we do it this way, (describe why we shouldn’t have this feature). What about (suggest alternative)? (Describe why it’s better than the proposed solution).  

Do you have examples of your own?

Do you have your own ways to communicate in a positive and helpful way? Or tips on how to help and encourage new people to contribute to Joomla? Feel free to share them in the… you guessed it: comments 🙂

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