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Why can't you just communicate properly?

Online communication bugs me. Actually, bugs isn't accurate. Maybe saddens and fatigues. When volleying with people hiding behind their keyboard shield and protected by three timezones, you have to make a conscious effort to remain optimistic. It's part of the reason I haven't taken to Twitter as much as I probably should.

I've talked on this subject before and it's something I often have in the back of my mind when reading comments. It's come to the forefront recently with some conversations we've had at Western Devs, which led to our most recent podcast. I wasn't able to attend so here I am.

There are certain phrases you see in comments that automatically seem to devolve a discussion. They include:

  • "Why don't you just..."
  • "Sorry but..."
  • "Can't you just..."
  • "It's amazing that..."

Ultimately, all of these phrases can be summarized as follows:

I'm better than you and here's why...

In my younger years, I could laugh this off amiably and say "Oh this wacky world we live in". But I'm turning 44 in a couple of days and it's time to start practicing my crotchety, even if it means complaining about people being crotchety.

So to that end: I'm asking, nay, begging you to avoid these and similar phrases. This is for your benefit as much as the reader's. These phrases don't make you sound smart. Once you use them, it's very unlikely anyone involved will feel better about themselves, let alone engage in any form of meaningful discussion. Even if you have a valid point, who wants to be talked down to like that? Have you completely forgot what it's like to learn?

"For fuck's sake, Mom, why don't you just type the terms you want to search for in the address bar instead of typing WWW.GOOGLE.COM into Bing?"

Now I know (from experience) it's hard to fight one's innate sense of superiority and the overwhelming desire to make it rain down on the unwashed heathen. So take it in steps. After typing your comment, remove all instances of "just" (except when just means "recently" or "fair", of course). The same probably goes for "simply". It has more of a condescending tone than a dismissive one. "Actually" is borderline. Rule of thumb: Don't start a sentence with it.

Once you have that little nervous tic under control, it's time to remove the negatives. Here's a handy replacement guide to get you started:

Original phrase Replacement
"Can't you" "Can you"
"Why don't you" "Can you"
"Sorry but" no replacement; delete the phrase
"It's amazing that..." delete your entire comment and have a dandelion break

See the difference? Instead of saying Sweet Zombie Jayzus, you must be the stupidest person on the planet for doing it this way, you've changed the tone to Have you considered this alternative? In both instances, you've made your superior knowledge known but in the second, it's more likely to get acknowledged. More importantly, you're less likely to look like an idiot when the response is: I did consider that avenue and here are legitimate reasons why I decided to go a different route.

To be fair, sometimes the author of the work you're commenting on needs to be knocked down a peg or two themselves. I have yet to meet one of these people who respond well to constructive criticism critique, let alone the destructive type I'm talking about here. Generally, I find they feel the need to cultivate an antagonistic personality but in my experience, they usually don't have the black turtlenecks to pull it off. Usually, it ends up backfiring and their dismissive comments become too easy to dismiss over time.

Kyle the Inclusive


Kyle Baley

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