Beyond getting business online, we humans struggle with the balance between showing our true selves and our true work in light of the fact that there is always some a**hole waiting in the wings to shoot us down.
No matter who you are, how popular, smart, good looking there will be haters.
In fact when I opened this website a few weeks ago I had several people pounce to point out it’s “flaws.” And, in the big scheme of things, I’m no big deal in the internet world.
We are also living in a time when anyone and everyone can say or do whatever they want anonymously, or even worse under the excuse of “Hey, I’m being authentic.”
Ever have someone be totally rude to you and then claim, “I am who I am. I’m just being me.” Ever want to punch them in the mouth? Me too.
The Theme of Civility
Yesterday, I read this post by Geoff Livingston about it being Not OK to be a jerk online. And this morning I read this article by Dan Shaughnessy about the uncivilized behavior of anonymous football fans booing a quarterback who had been knocked out on the field.
Both Geoff and Dan make similar points that the culture or being brutally honest, mean and uncivilized is indeed NOT OK.
And while these posts are a nice starting point to just sort of say, “Hey, let’s be nicer.” The truth is lecturing does not make change happen.
So we need to reverse engineer the way we all cope with jerks and trolls and it goes like this:
As a nice person, you need to learn to do two things to shut up the trolls in your world and the universe at large.
1. Confront bullying. Don’t tolerate it in your world. Confronting bullying can be a book, so I’ll summarize to say that as a culture, we let bullies get away with the shit they toss around. Listen to any talk radio or TV “news” show and you see bullying. Much of it is overt – yelling over people, lying, name calling. And see politics. We actually pay people in our world to do the work of bullying.
But beyond that, in our day-to-day lives, we let bullying go with a pass, from letting the big dude cut us in line at the grocery store, to keeping our mouths shut when someone snarks about our outfit or leaves nasty comments on our blog posts.
People often advise ignoring trolls. I don’t subscribe to that philosophy. If someone uses their name and is snide to me, I reply. I’m not emotional or angry. I reply logically and usually with a clear message that their form of feedback isn’t welcome and is, in fact, unkind. No one ever replies and they don’t come back either. I especially love those people who use my contact form to bully me in my email box. This allows me to directly say, “I feel your comments are unkind and unwarranted. I don’t know you and I don’t owe you anything. If you have anything constructive to say, I’m open to conversation. Otherwise, I will consider your continued comments harassment.” Snap.
I also stood up to the guy who cut me in line at Trader Joe’s last week. It sounded like this, “Oh, excuse me this is a line and my cart is here. Maybe you didn’t see it? I hate lines too, but learned to stand in them in kindergarten.” *smile* The dude moved and I ignored his dirty look. He was wrong, not me.
Many people reading this are saying to themselves, “No way. I can’t stand up to bullies. They scare me and could do something to me.”
Here’s the thing, bullies are really cowards hiding from their own shame and vomiting it onto you. If you assert yourself, they will retreat. Also, what is the commenter on your blog going to do, fly to your hometown and challenge you to a fist fight? And they guy at Trader Joe’s? No way he’s going to flip out over a line dispute in public. Who looks more stupid in that throw down?
Know your power. You have just as much a right to your opinion, words, physical space as the person who is trying to tell you otherwise.
Yes, there are occasions when your bully is truly nuts and could hurt you. In that case, tread carefully. But most people are not nuts, they’re just jerks.
This brings us to our second skill to manage trolls.
2. Toughen up.
The truth is, we’re not going to shut bullies and trolls down. They will exist and show up. So, in addition to standing up and empowering yourself, you also need to be emotionally prepared and not care so much.
When I say this to people, they agree and then say, “Yeah, but it still hurts.”
And, sure, initially, when someone comes at you with no provocation it can hurt and be shocking, but then you just have to put the blame where it lies – on the bully. Anger is a healthier reaction than hurt.
Because that person is wrong and rude and out of line. You didn’t do anything to deserve their hate.
Brene Brown calls the process of coping with other people’s anger “shame resistance.” That bully tried to shame you. You can choose to accept their shaming or cope. I choose to cope.
To crumple into hurt feelings and self-doubt is to let the troll get in your head. They win and you lose. They took their bad feelings about themselves and passed them on to you. You don’t deserve to carry someone else’s baggage.
If this coping and empowering yourself sounds less fun than lecturing bullies to knock it off, I agree. Inner work isn’t sexy.
But know that you are not alone. And everyone needs to develop these coping skills to survive this new era of “authenticity.”
As a psychologist who has worked with the bullied and the bully I can tell you this: the only thing you can control is YOU. You can control how you react to other people’s stuff. You cannot control how other people come to you, especially online.
Empowering yourself and building your shame resistance is an important life skill, not just a way to survive trolls online.
Personally, I’ve worked on my ability to stand up to bullies my entire life. I still work on it every day. But I have enough jerk-resister weapons in my toolbox that now I know what to say to those who think they can push me around. Sometimes it does still hurt. And I have a process to vent my feelings to a friend or family member and then let it go. Not always easy, I admit.
Managing being human online is really about understanding our psychology. If you want to learn more about that I invite you to my new Psychology of Business Foundations webinar series. It’s free. Check it out.