Inspired by this question: Advice for posting answers that invoke concerns of women in the workplace without always having to go back to the very basics?

Since troublesome topics extend beyond gender related issues, what is a good, overall approach to Q&A which touch on topics that people have strong feelings about and positions on?

Some examples:

How to deal with a coworker who makes hateful comments about my religion?

Hidden/ unseen disability- how to ensure support is provided?

Casual Sexism in the office

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    I would probably go for something along the lines : SE sites are for profesionals and enthousiasts, everyone need to act the most profesional way possible in his post/comments/... This is even more true on the Workplace. Profesionalism is not letting strong feelings take the best of you in your posts. A good start is to rewrite the biaised question in order to make it more neutral and factual to avoid answers based on feelings.
    – Walfrat
    Jul 13, 2017 at 21:03
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    @Walfrat that's an answer, not a comment ;)
    – Erik
    Jul 14, 2017 at 6:50
  • Hold on, do you mean approaches to the design of the Q&A site itself or do you mean approaches to individual questions or answers (or both / either)? Jul 14, 2017 at 18:51
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    @Dukeling Approaches to individual questions and answers. It seems that certain topics will set people off. I'm not concerned with the comments, so I don't think it's a duplicate. Jul 14, 2017 at 19:03
  • I'd welcome any edits to make this less awkward. I've tried but I backed out because it only made it more convoluted. Jul 14, 2017 at 19:09
  • So... how can we phrase questions and answers on controversial topics to avoid the topic getting heated (where said heat is expressed using comments?)? IMO we currently do a pretty good job of keep questions and answers fairly neutral, so I'm not sure there's really a problem here (I could be wrong). Don't the answers in the post you linked already answer this sufficiently? Jul 14, 2017 at 19:20
  • @Dukeling not sure. which is why I posted this Jul 14, 2017 at 19:28
  • @Dukeling - I assume that there are always some members of the community who want topics to become heated. Thus, you cannot stop it from happening. I think we each have to model behavior that we want to see, hope for the best, and rely on moderators to clean up the mess when it inevitably goes astray on occasion. (Personally, I think getting rid of "Hot Network Questions" could help, but that's out of our control). Jul 16, 2017 at 11:52
  • @JoeStrazzere (Personally, I think comments are the real problem, if there is a problem, and removing, changing or hiding them would solve it, since then the heated discussion would take place out of sight or purely in the form of votes, which isn't all that heated) Jul 16, 2017 at 12:15
  • @Dukeling - comments clearly have the power to take a topic and make it more heated. And since individuals cannot downvote or delete comments, moderators have to take a more active role cleaning things up (perhaps prompted to do so by flags). Jul 16, 2017 at 12:17
  • @Erik More like a start because I didn't know how to put it properly.
    – Walfrat
    Jul 16, 2017 at 18:33

3 Answers 3


Apart from possible functional changes to the site...

In answers: (and also, to some extent, questions)

  • Don't present your opinion as objective fact.

    Of course this site specifically has a lot of subjective content (based on expertise), so the line between pure opinion and expertise-based opinion is a bit blurry, but asking myself "is this a potentially controversial opinion" has worked fairly well so far for me personally in avoiding creating conflict with my answers.


    The behaviour you described is insulting.

    Since whether someone would be insulted is very much subjective, quantifying it could help:

    [Many would / I personally / Your coworkers] consider that behaviour to be insulting.

  • Consider (and address) other points of view in your answer.

    This can go beyond simply adding a footnote, but instead considering the other point of view in how you phrase your post as a whole (including the point you're trying to make).

    For the above, a note like this can help:

    [Not everyone / You personally] may not find this insulting, and that's reasonable, but this unfortunately doesn't change how it's perceived by your coworkers, and you may want to avoid this behaviour regardless to avoid insulting them.

  • Don't make (unstated) assumptions about unclear statements in the question.

    Some conversations can get (a whole lot more) heated simply because you're making different assumptions and no-one bothered to clarify what they're assuming.

    When you said A, I'm of course assuming this is limited to B. If this is instead C or D, I would consider your behaviour to be fine here.

    Note: again not objective - "I would consider".

  • Consider downplaying parts of your answer, and absolutely don't exaggerate.

    Of course downplaying a part of your answer can hurt the point you're trying to make, but this is not always true, and when you downplay something, people are less likely to either object to it or feel the need to express their objection.

    Some might be offended by the behaviour.

    Assuming "offended" would be considered a bit "less extreme" than "insulted", and also avoiding "most" in favour of "some".

These might seem like small differences and you might consider most of the above to go without saying and for it to be essentially equivalent to just stating it as fact, but people who very strongly disagree with your opinion would likely object to the first phrasing of "is insulting", but are less likely to have a problem with the "some consider it insulting" phrasing.

Now the only question is whether it would be appropriate to edit answers of others as described above to prevent the topic from getting heated.


To start with, questions that invite / inspire heated debate have no place at this site. This has been unambiguously explained in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective:

Stack Exchange is about questions with objective, factual answers. We’ve been crystal clear about this for as long as I can remember...

Great subjective questions have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone. The best subjective questions avoid the all too seductive route of ranting and flamebait. They set the right tone of constructive learning and collaboration from the very outset, by emphasizing that we’re all here to learn from each other, even if we have different viewpoints or beliefs about the right way to handle what are inherently subjective decisions. We’re not here to fight each other; that’s an enormous waste of everyone’s time...

If you spot that a question violates / deviates from above requirement first thing to try is to figure if it can be edited to better shape. Sometimes asker just lets unnecessary ranting out along with a reasonable question and it is easier for outside reader to find and correct that.

If you see no way to salvage the question with an edit, then vote / flag to close in order to give asker and community better chance to deeper study and correct it, preferably before it gets polluted and "content-locked" by fastest-gun answers.

Another case of heated debates I see happening is in comments. If the question is okay ("good subjective") such debates hardly belong in there and in cases like that the way to go is to flag comments for deletion (or moving to chat if these have some merit).

One under-utilized moderator tool is when inappropriate comments tend to "stick" to some post despite deletions to use off-topic comments lock. This is a simple feature, thanks to this guidance at MSE which clearly explains when to use it and when not.

The only technical difficulty for moderators may be that per my recollection lock default timeout is unreasonably long, like week or maybe even a month. I think it is safe to expect that locking a post for a day or two would typically suffice to cool down inappropriate debate.

  • 1
    Locking a post also prevents voting and editing. Particularly if there's some problem (that's leading to those comments), we want people to be able to edit it. We have used locks at times, of course, but it's not the first tool we reach for. (I, and many other mods, would love to have a comments-only lock -- that is, leave the post alone except that new comments can't be added -- but that's not available now.) Jul 17, 2017 at 1:21
  • @MonicaCellio yes that's a known problem, that's why I believe it should only be applied when inappropriate comments tend to stick too much (and even then with a smaller timeout than default). There is even a feature request to allow comment-only locking somewhere at MSE, it is based exactly on the idea to avoid blocking editing of the post
    – gnat
    Jul 17, 2017 at 1:26

Vote in good mods and let them do it.

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    that's not really an answer. "Let them do it" is not an answer to "What is a good approach" Jul 14, 2017 at 18:21
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    @SaggingRufus Seems like an excellent answer to me, however if it gets 250 downvotes I promise to delete it.
    – Kilisi Mod
    Jul 14, 2017 at 23:34
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    @SaggingRufus I see no reason why not. Sometimes letting the right people handle the issue is not just a good approach, but also the right approach.
    – Masked Man
    Jul 15, 2017 at 16:59
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    You'd rather take something that any of our hundreds of users could do and restrict it to five people? That doesn't sound very healthy to me. Jul 16, 2017 at 3:27
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    @MonicaCellio only the five can do much, the rest of us hundreds would just put ourselves in the firing line for some abuse.
    – Kilisi Mod
    Jul 16, 2017 at 8:11
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    Do what exactly? Clean things up when both someone's flagged it and they've seen the flag, possibly quite some time after the conversation has gotten out of control? Ban users who post controversial on-topic posts or those who leave comments justifying their downvotes disagreeing with said posts? Jul 16, 2017 at 12:26

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