Humans love to vent – and social media provides the ideal platform. We take to these virtual town squares to complain about…well, everything.

Talking about what bothers us can be cathartic. Maybe even productive. Sometimes, a well-intentioned comment leads to positive change.

However, there are times when we go too far. A recent episode in the WordPress community may be a classic example.

In March, the owner of the Cwicly page builder plugin announced the product’s discontinuation. And the reason behind this closure was shocking. In a since-deleted post, Louis-Alexander Désiré said his team faced a “relentless onslaught of destructive posts and comments by certain WordPress influencers.”

Désiré noted that “Each day has become a struggle.” The mental toll was enough to push the product to extinction.

I don’t know all the details. Or the specific comments that led Désiré to feel this way. But I do believe there are some valuable lessons here.

We must raise our game when it comes to discourse. Let’s talk about the way we offer criticism and how we choose to disagree. And how it impacts the humans on the other side of the screen.

The Struggle for Success in WordPress

WordPress offers a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs. Anyone with the skill and desire can put a product out there.

Product makers come from all walks of life. Some are working solo. Others are part of the corporate landscape. If you visit a WordCamp, you’ll see everyone from mom-and-pop to Google.

Success is far from guaranteed – particularly for small startups. Cwicly seems to fit that description.

A lot of work goes into building, marketing, and supporting a product. Finding traction in the WordPress ecosystem takes time. Not everyone makes it.

Feedback from users can be a crucial part of the journey. That helps product makers decide where to go next. It could also be a detriment, on the other hand.

When Does Criticism Cross the Line?

Remember our talk about venting? Well, WordPress users love to share their experiences. And a negative experience can be a delicate subject.

We may share our displeasure with a product or WordPress core. However, we don’t always provide details or context. We’ll use shorthand like “terrible” (or worse) to describe what we witnessed.

Perhaps that describes the feeling adequately. But it doesn’t say much about what went wrong (or our perception of this).

Without context, these comments spread negativity. And they provide no actionable information for the product maker. How will this help them improve?

These critiques can also become personal. You don’t have to look far for examples of insults and general rudeness. Former WordPress Plugin Review Team rep Mika Epstein has written extensively on the subject.

Plus, some of us may criticize products we haven’t used. We take umbrage at its marketing or underlying philosophy.

We should feel free to have those debates. But the context should be clear. Otherwise, it may be unproductive or even hurtful.

How to Engage in Constructive Criticism

I don’t have all the answers when it comes to critique. There were times when I wasn’t professional or sensitive to others. I’d venture to guess that most of us have misbehaved at some point.

We can learn through experience, though. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Take Time to Think (And Calm Down)

The immediacy of social media can work against us. It’s easy to post something – only to regret it later. Sure, you can delete the post. But it may be too late to avoid the damage.

Get away from your device if you’re feeling frustrated. That will give you time to think about what you want to say. And it may prevent something hurtful or embarrassing from being said.

Take a step back and collect your thoughts. You’ll be a better communicator for doing so.

Stick to the Issue at Hand

Social media and forum threads tend to wander. We sometimes go off-subject – muddling the point we’re trying to make.

Sticking to the issue at hand benefits everyone. The person on the other side of the screen will have a clearer picture of what you’re saying. And you’ll avoid wasting time with unnecessary comments.

The idea is to provide the relevant details and little else. The recipient will appreciate your efficiency.

Explain Your Position in Simple Terms

On a related note, the language we use matters. Developer speak may make sense in some cases. Otherwise, try to use simple terminology when sharing your thoughts.

From there, calmly explain your position. Point to the item you’re discussing and why you’re doing so. The “why” may be as important as the “what”.

Let’s say that you’re concerned with a product’s licensing policy. Why do you feel that way? Is there a specific item that gives you pause?

Sharing your reasoning will help to establish your position. That may lead to a better response.

Be Polite and Open to Discussion

I can’t stress this one enough. Politeness and empathy will get you everywhere. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.

There are people behind WordPress and each product within its ecosystem. They have families, feelings, and untold challenges. We should remember this each time we hit the submit button.

Criticism is part of the deal for product makers. But everyone handles it differently. Thus, you won’t know how someone will take your comments.

Treat others respectfully. Give them a chance to respond. Be willing to discuss your stance. Don’t be afraid to suggest reasonable solutions.

Who knows? That criticism may lead to cooperation.

Let’s Improve Discourse in the WordPress Community

I like to say that the WordPress community is a reflection of society. Some people behave poorly. Some products are better than others. Every one of us has an opinion or 10. That’s OK.

We can’t control anyone else. The important thing is that we have control over how we engage with others.

I don’t know whether a kinder and gentler discourse would have saved Cwicly in the long run. It could have saved their development team some mental anguish, at least.

Engaging professionally and respectfully is always the better choice. There’s no downside. And it paves a pathway to progress.

The other benefit is that we’re creating a more inclusive space. Disagreements will always be a part of the community. But members should feel safe and welcome to express themselves.

We’re all capable of doing this. But sometimes we need a reminder. We should consider this incident to be just that.

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