A "troll" is a common term used to describe an individual who deliberately starts arguments for no reason other than to upset, offend and belittle others. The term became popular with the advent of social media. Comment sections became perfect breeding grounds for trolls to rant and unleash havoc. To put it simply, a troll is an online bully.
Let's be honest, we all know people who love to stir the pot and incite sparring on social media. In the work environment, trolls look a little different. When it's on social media, humiliating others is much easier because there is less accountability, more anonymity, and fewer filters. At work, it tends to be more subtle -- or maybe not.
I started my career in sales. Over the course of a few years, I worked in industries that were extremely competitive and dominated by "lifers" -- those who had been in the business for almost their entire careers. The dynamic made it a tough environment for an idealistic graduate to succeed. Competition can bring out the worst in some people, and generally speaking, "lifers" can be more hesitant to embrace new people and ideas, and can be quick to mark their territory.
The more I introduced new ideas, and the more results I produced, the more negativity I faced from some of my colleagues. There were digs made about my approach and work style, and my achievements were frequently chalked up as "luck." I felt more and more secluded from my colleagues.
The saddest thing about trolling is that it can discourage others from pursuing their passions and trying new ideas. The ugly truth is, regardless of where you are, there will always be someone like this. Don't let it get under your skin.
Here are three ways to neutralize and deal with trolls in the workplace.
1. Kill them with kindness.
I sound like my mom. However, this age-old colloquialism is still true today. The primary goal of a troll is to get you worked up and to elicit a reaction. Don't engage them. If you do, then you'll fuel the fire and encourage the behavior.
As in most bullying cases, the other person is likely dealing with their own insecurities and is taking it out on others. Show them kindness and empathy, and it will likely suppress the trolling. Don't let them pull you into their negativity, instead pull them into your serenity.
2. Use humor to counteract.
Trolls like to make others the brunt of their jokes. They love the reactions and attention it brings from others. However, if you're wittier than they are, they will likely back down.
I'm not saying that you should launch a counter-attack -- that could make the situation worse. While this might sound counterintuitive, owning the joke -- and the little bit of truth that may be in it -- is a great way to shut down the roast session.
Self-deprecating takes a little humility, but it almost always turns the attention away from the troll and makes you more relatable to others. For example, if someone continuously mocks your youth, respond by making a rookie joke or asking for anecdotes from their rookie season.
Making light of the situation signals to the other person that it doesn't bother you and it makes them look like a jerk at the same time.
3. Address them individually.
When kindnesses and wit doesn't work, it's time to call the person out and address the situation face-to-face. When stating how you feel, use "I" statements. They prevent the other person from shifting the blame or minimizing the severity, and they clarify the impact of the person's behavior. Often, others don't realize how their actions affect others.
Lastly, actually listen to what they're saying. Take some ownership and see if there is anything you can do to improve the situation. Sometimes people just want to be heard. They don't know how to voice their concerns in a constructive way and resort to minimizing others.
Don't let trolls get to you. Regardless of where you are or what you are doing, there is certainly the possibility that someone may try to rain on your parade. These three tactics are great ways to address and move past trolling, so you can focus on what's important.