VINners' Oath — Item 3: Respect
Published: May 04, 2017
Paul D. Pion, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology), co-founder, VIN

This month I expand upon the third item.

The VINners’ Oath is a commitment we make to each other. The third item is:

3 I will treat all colleagues with respect when posting to the message boards and give colleagues the benefit of the doubt when reading their posts.

VIN, like any society, on or off-line, has evolved a set of social mores and has a mix of "characters." On an average week, more than 30,000 colleagues access VIN. Most visits are to research and read. The average VINner posts infrequently. They are part of the silent majority. Some frequently post medical cases. Others enjoy lively dialogue on a variety of non-medical issues and post frequently. They are the vocal minority. Some make us laugh, others make us say "Ah ha, thanks for the insights" and others make us groan.

VIN, and every group of humans, has a vocal minority and silent majority.

Members of the vocal minority change over time. Some comment on almost everything.

Whether coming from the vocal minority or silent majority, most posts are respectful. But, sometimes VINners forget there are people with feelings on the other side of their words and post without empathy, understanding or diplomacy. This approach can be off-putting.

More than a few colleagues have told me they are hesitant to post because they fear the response.

This is unfortunate. I am a believer in the good intentions of colleagues. I believe few (hopefully none) post with the intent of hurting. While constructive discourse does not equate to always agreeing, it is important to remember that tone and nuance are often lost in the black-and-white of text. A harmless question – intended to seek information – may be read as a challenge or criticism. This can lead to retreat or conflict.

Posting in hopes of being agreed with or praised is a formula for disappointment. It’s nice when it happens, but we usually learn more when colleagues help us view situations through a different lens.

The secrets to having a productive conversation are:

  1. listen more than you speak
  2. remember those you are speaking to have feelings, and
  3. assume the best intent from others in the discussion until proven otherwise
  4. don’t need to have the last word

Still, history and experience remind us that if humans are involved, conflict is unavoidable at times.

When this happens, each of us, whether active participant or bystander, has a choice.

We can say nothing, run away from the discussion (or VIN), fan the flames, or try to help each other calm down and clarify the intent of the comments that sparked conflict.

I am proud that in most cases, given time the VIN community, after some wide swings brings the discussion back to center with no intervention.

I, and VIN staff, avoid editing or moderating, so long as things remain — and move towards — civility. It is rare that with a bit of time and an occasional offline conversation, civility isn’t quickly restored.

The return to civility and mutual understanding is best facilitated when colleagues involved in the discussion show empathy and diplomacy.

I'm not suggesting not speaking one’s mind. No one can accuse me of not speaking my mind. I'm not often accused of being PC. Being forthright is quite different from not respecting the opinion of others and not accepting that diametrically opposing views can be equally acceptable solutions.

It is easy, from behind the computer screen, to forget the potential impact of words.

When I post I know many are reading, so I think about the potential impact of my words upon others.

When I am unsure, I take advantage of a VIN tool that makes it easy to “pause” before posting — drafts.

When you post a new message or reply to a message, a draft is automatically saved every 30 seconds. If you aren’t certain your post needs to be said or aren’t sure how to say it, click the “save draft” button and walk away. Later, you can decide to abandon, post or edit your words. Here’s how

Thinking or pausing to post with respect rather than from judgment or personal irritation helps not only those who read your post, but your reputation among your colleagues. None of us wants to be that colleague whose name at the top of a post makes others groan.