Guiding Discussion - Moderator's Guide

Hello, we are working on a Moderator's Guide, here is a portion of it for your reference. Thanks.

Guiding Discussion

As a moderator, an essential function you perform is to guide discussion when needed. Members on the various communities come from many different backgrounds, health issues, family issues, etc. Members can be very outspoken or very timid. Many members are silent participators only. Let’s take a look at some potential situations and how to effectively guide the conversation.

The Depressed Member

This is the member who posts negative discussions or comments frequently. When this happens, a good moderator will monitor the responses closely. Hopefully, other members will step in and guide the discussion to a more positive or solutions-oriented tone. If that does not happen, then the moderator needs to take an active role to help turn the tone around.

Let’s consider this example. Member Jane posts a discussion titled “all my friends and family suck!” She then goes into detail about how her husband doesn’t understand and causes more stress for her. She elaborates that her friends don’t believe she is sick and reprimands her and tell her she making up excuses. She ends by saying that her mother and her brother-in-law constantly nag her to try a new fad diet because of course that is the reason she is sick, she isn’t eating right.

The first person to respond is member Pat. Pat starts out by saying that yes, my family also suck and treat me badly. She continues and says that her family all think she is crazy and worthless. She ends by telling Jane, oh well, that is life.

The next person to respond is member Joe. Joe immediately starts a diatribe on how awful his family is and goes on and on. Joe does not offer any helpful information to Jane.

By now, the discussion has taken a bad turn and a good moderator will step in. The moderator might start off by saying something like “I am sorry things are tough for you.” The moderator then works to guide the discussion to a more solutions-oriented discussion instead of a complaint discussion. The moderator might offer Jane a few written resources on life with chronic pain (for example, the Spoon Theory – there are a number of articles on the individual sites) to share with her family to help increase their understanding. The moderator might ask Jane what special things she does to help herself, this can help her think of some positives in her life. The moderator might ask if Jane’s family attend medical appointments as that can be enlightening for family / friends. The moderator (if they feel comfortable and can relate) might also say something like, “I am sorry, I know for a while I felt my husband didn’t understand but then when he went with me to my doctor appointment and heard from my doctor about my condition things improved.” These types of comments will help steer the discussion in a more positive way and will hopefully help Jane to start to think of solutions to some of the concerns she expressed.

There are times when you might have a member who is very clinically depressed (makes frequent comments such as “the world would be better off without me)” or makes a real threat to harm themselves (“I am going to swallow my whole bottle of pills tonight”). These types of situations can be emotionally draining and troublesome for a community and a moderator. In the first example of a very clinically depressed person, the moderator should post the appropriate suicide hotline number (numbers for the US and multiple other countries are posted in the mod forum on each site) and ask the member to call it for assistance. The discussion should be closed for replies at this point. In the second example, the discussion should be removed (copy and paste it first in the mod forum so there is a record of it) and a message sent to the member with the appropriate phone numbers.

While it might be tempting to want to intervene further in these situations, it is not our role to do so. We need to guide the member to resources where there are trained professionals to help.

The Know-It-All Member

Ah, the member who is an expert on EVERYTHING! This type of person makes comments such as “having surgery is the only solution and you must schedule surgery now.” Or “you have to go gluten-free, that is the only cure to your problem.” And of course, there is the member who professes that your health condition will be solved by taking a vitamin cocktail worthy of a fraternity party.

The know-it-all member feels that their way is the “only way” to do things or to treat a condition. It is important moderators stay vigilant for members who are “prescribing” a solution to another member. As moderators, this is something we have to watch in ourselves as well. We need to remain as neutral as possible and not profess one type of treatment plan for everyone.

When a member “prescribes” a solution, the moderator’s role is straight-forward. Members (and moderators) should not be PRESCRIBING solutions. Content that is bluntly prescribing (for example, member Bill tells member Sally that she must have surgery, she needs to schedule it now and she has to tell her doctor that is the only solution) needs to be removed (copy and paste into mod forum first) and a message sent to the “know-it-all” member. There of course are going to be some grey areas where a moderator needs to use their judgement. Sometimes members get caught up in diet fad solutions or vitamin solutions. A moderator needs to be aware and watch for any member trying to sell a product or who crosses the line into prescribing. Those types of comments need to be deleted.

How does a good moderator deal with the “know-it-all?” Sometimes, a moderator needs to step in and present a different viewpoint. For example, something like, “I have found that eating a well-balanced diet helps me.” Also, whenever members are discussing using supplements, a moderator should make sure to add to the conversation that it is very important to make sure your doctor knows about all supplements you are taking for your health and safety.

In Conclusion

On a well-established community with good member input, the moderator’s role will be more hands-off. If members are responding to a discussion, it isn’t necessary for a bunch of moderators to also respond (except when a new member has posted an introductory post, then it is nice if all or most mods welcome them). If a discussion has only 1 or 2 responses (especially if it has been 15 or more hours after posting) then a moderator should also post if they are able to. For smaller communities, the moderator may need to take a more active role in guiding discussions in order to stimulate interest / discussion.