Three ways to keep social media civil

32602491_MWhether it’s a customer who’s unhappy with the quality of the product received from the company you work for or a friend who doesn’t agree with your political opinions, you’re going to deal with conflict on social media. Handle the situation poorly, and it could cost you your job or your best childhood pal. Handle it well, and your reputation will rise with your boss and your friends.

In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to respond defensively when you feel wrongfully attacked, especially from behind a screen when there aren’t any face-to-face consequences. Giving in to that urge to lash out usually backfires, though, and makes you look bad.

To keep social media civil—and keep your job and friends—try these three tactics.

PAUSE. Before doing anything, pause. Step away from your smartphone or keyboard and take a few deep breaths. Reflect on what was said. Try to put yourself in the other person’s position. Did they make any valid points? Could you understand why they would be upset about the situation? Write down some notes, so you’re clear on what transpired and can calmly respond.

LISTEN. Most people just want to be heard. There’s a lot of noise in our world today. We’re all so busy sharing what’s going on in our lives that we’re not always listening to others. In the case of the customer who isn’t happy with the quality of a product, ask them to tell you what they don’t like about it – and listen to what is said. There could be a problem that affects other customers that this concern is cluing you into. Even if there’s not, let the customer know that you regret that they’re disappointed and that you’d like to correct the situation if possible. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, but be sincere in your empathy and your desire to do what you can to fix the situation.

AGREE TO DISAGREE. Sometimes, as is the case with political leanings, you might have to agree to disagree and move on. That’s easier to do when you’ve stepped away from the argument for a little bit to calm down and you’ve really listened to the other person’s point of view. Hopefully, by then, you’re able to respect each other’s opinion without shifting view points and can move on to topics that you have in common.

Of course, if a conflict escalates to threats or individual attacks, you may need to end all contact, after discussing it with your boss if it’s a work matter or with the authorities if it’s of a personal nature.

In most cases, thankfully, it won’t come to that, and you can moderate conflicts respectfully.