Words have meanings. Sometimes those meanings are unambiguous. Other times society, culture, countries, and people change the meaning that suits their benefit at that moment.
When communicating via the written medium, the tone of your voice and the body language is not part of sharing those written words—quite a problem in the world where we have all been remote over the last year.
Here are a few guidelines to keep the written context to what you want it to be - kind, compassionate, and sincere.
- Assume good faith. Some people may have an excellent command of the written language; others are still building towards it. Always assume that the words you are reading have the best of intentions.
- If people post their work - code, document, design, or other things, comment on the work, not the person. Handle critical feedback 1-on-1 --in person, over a phone call, or video call.
- Do not use any harsh tones. Welcome, all kinds of work, as an opportunity to coach and get better. Inspire to learn - not teach via a carrot or a stick.
- Do not criticize people for the wrongs you speculate that they may do; only comment on what they have done.
- If you are at the receiving end of the feedback loop, the identical items above apply - assume good intentions, the person giving you the feedback might not be the best at showing it, but they are trying to be better at it. Provide them the feedback on their process as well. Again, the identical items above apply.
- Political and religious issues are off-topic. However, social problems are not. Using a person's pronouns correctly is not political, it's kind.
- Under-react until you have all the information. A lot of times, you don't need to fire back right away. There is no need to send an angry text or email; instead, it's an opportunity to pick up the phone and connect. Listen more, then listen some more.
Being kind encourages the more open contribution of new ideas. We should all welcome new ideas. If anything, the world needs more of them.