Ask Havi We’ve got an anonymous Ask Havi today.

One that on the surface relates to our Blogging Therapy series but is — on a deeper level — really about relationships and communication too.

It’s a good one, and I was kind of torn about how to answer because there were so many possible angles. But this is what came up.

“What can I do if a friend is spammenting on my blog (submitting spam comments) and on other blogs that I know…?

How can I gently help to salvage her remaining reputation?

It’s a tough one… I know. It could be called alternatively — what to do when a friend’s going all wrong?

Thank you very very much for everything you’ve written so far on your blog!”

[Ed. I just realized that I hadn’t made specifically clear what I’d (correctly, as it turns out) assumed from the email — that this is about her friend leaving inappropriately self-promotional borderline-spammy comments loudly talking up her own website. Not, you know, the get-rich-quick-and-improve-yer-sex-life kind of spamminess or anything.]

Oh, how frustrating!

You must be feeling all kinds of things. It sounds like you’re feeling worried because you need to know that your blog is going to remain a safe, cozy, comfortable place for you.

And because you want your friend to be okay and not to be attracting a lot of negative energy. And there are probably a few other things going on here too.

Defining the problem.

If you look at this stuck situation and pretend it’s a tight knot in a shoelace, there are a couple of different threads here that we could start tugging at.

Just looking at the emotional angle, we have … oh, let’s see … worry and anxiety and inability to make a decision. And some fear.

Maybe fear of making the wrong decision.

Fear of hurting people’s feelings. Fear of letting the situation exacerbate … maybe even fear of feeling responsible for not having done something to correct or alter the situation.

These emotions and this concern are directed both inward (Oh, no! Spammy stuff on my blog! Awkward situation! What do I do?) and outward (Oh, no! How can I help my friend? Can we even still be friends?).

So there’s a deep desire to be helpful and useful, and at the same time to feel safe and supported in whatever you choose to do about it.

But enough with the “looking at the internal mechanisms of stuck” part — what you really want here is some help. So let’s get going.

Whoops — one more thing.

I just want to add something here.

Right now — obviously — you have very clear ideas about what it means to comment in a mensch-like way.

And you also have very clear ideas about what it means to cross that line and just be inappropriate in a spamtastic (fine, not a word) sort of way.

It’s obvious that you’re already modeling what you believe in … and that apparently your friend isn’t picking up on it.

This is important because this sense of disconnect is located at the core of the frustration.

You know, that feeling of “Argh … I’m showing you how to do it right and you’re not paying attention!!!”

So: Before you get to the point of deciding whether or not to have a talk with her or to break up with her or anything like that, it’s important that you turn up the volume on what you’re already doing.

In other words, right now you’re modeling what to do (as opposed to what not to do), but in a pretty casual, quiet, subtle way. And your friend isn’t picking up on it.

So you’re going to have to crank it up.

The question is just …. how much? And when is the point where you decide that enough is enough? But in the meantime, a few ways that you can work on the problem.

A whole bunch of suggestions.

The non-policy policy.

I’ve already talked about how I think strict blog policies are annoying and set off everyone’s inner rebel.

But you can totally have a non-policy policy (something written in descriptive rather than prescriptive language that’s not actually called a policy).

In other words, you’re going more for “Here’s how we do things around here” rather than “You are not allowed to do this and that.”

Jonathan Fields has a very clear-cut explanation right above the comment form. It’s still prescriptive languaging, but he gets the point across without pointing fingers:

Please do NOT enter a keyword phrase, business, product or service name as your name in the comment section. Doing so will get your comment labeled as spam and deleted. You MAY, however, use a real-person’s name/nickname/handle, along with a brief identifying phrase, like “Jonathan Fields, Career Renegade.”

The casual post.

If this person reads your blog regularly — and even if she doesn’t — you could write a post about something like “safe ways to biggify yourself on other people’s blogs” or “what I’ve learned from commenting on blogs”.

Or really on any aspect of the art of promoting-the-cool-thing-you-do.

You could even just write a personal story about how you comment on other people’s blogs and how it brings traffic to your own blog, and what mental guidelines you use to make sure that you’re not stepping on any toes.

That way you can link back to this post regularly … it’s a slightly more casual and less confrontational way of getting your point across.

Again, there’s a huge amount of value to modeling something for others out loud. Loud enough that it can’t be ignored. You’re explaining it, but it’s a soft explanation, non-confrontational.

Then, if you ever decide that you do really need to confront her about her behavior, you can send her a link to the post and say “This has some examples of how I want people to be commenting on my site.”

Miller’s Law it.

Miller’s Law is a terrifically useful concept that I picked up from Suzette Haden Elgin,

The idea is that you assume anything anyone says or does is “true” — and then you work backwards from that to try to figure out how it makes sense. What it’s true of.

So if we assume that for some reason it makes total sense that your friend is spamming it up, it becomes clear that she thinks that what she’s doing is a legitimate way to drive traffic to her site.

She may have seen this kind of behavior modeled elsewhere, or maybe she has issues around “not being noticed” and has learned from experience that she has to make a big show to get attention. Or maybe it’s something else altogether.

Either way, there is a reason that she’s doing what she’s doing. And it’s a legitimate reason … or seems to her to be one. This gives you common ground.

Common ground.

The better you get at finding your common ground, the easier it will be to interact with your friend.

In other words, if you understand where she’s coming from, you can empathize with her (and with yourself).

Which means you can communicate more clearly. So that if and/or when you talk to your friend about this, you can do it out of kindness and not out of aggravation and anger.

I actually have a great exercise that really helps you find that common ground, which I’ll post about tomorrow.

Taking steps.

Start slowly. In other words, you don’t necessarily need to start out with having an uncomfortable conversation.

You can start with some of the stuff we’ve been talking about. Because there are all sorts of other ways this thing can sort itself out.

  • Start turning up the volume on how you model what you see as the “right way” to do things.
  • Start making it very, very clear what you think about this theme in general.
  • Start empathizing with where your friend is coming from, so that you can meet her where she’s at with some understanding. Start empathizing with where you’re coming from so that you can get all the love and support that you need.

The next step will come from there.

Maybe you’ll feel like you need to have a talk with her. Maybe the issue will clear up on its own. Maybe you’ll recognize that you really don’t need that kind of energy in your life, and you’ll feel safe cutting her loose.

But you’ll know.

Okay, that’s all for now. I’ll put the Useful Exercise up tomorrow. (I’m having a Pooh Bear moment and needing to capitalize Things of Great Importance).

Let me know how it goes, yes?

Selma and I have gone through this too. Though, thankfully, not with friends (way more awkward and hard). We’re totally wishing you all the strength and support you need to feel safe and loved working through this.

And if y’all (dear readers) have Helpful Suggestions to add for our anonymous friend, be my guest. The more the merrier and all that.

The Fluent Self