One Australian sports team has taken a stand against cyberbullying, but this isn't the usual case of a sports team traveling around to schools to talk to students or doing community outreach. Instead, the team was fighting against cyberbullying of its own players.

In a column for the Sydney Morning Herald, sports writer Sam Duncan outlined how the Melbourne Football Club of the Australian Football League recently ran out onto the field while breaking through a banner adorned with disparaging and rude tweets about the club's players along with the slogan: "We're making a stand against online trolls by tearing through tweets on our way to kick goals."

A sample of the tweets provided by Duncan say things like "I'm sick of seeing" a certain player, as well as calling players things like a "dirty dog," "a scumbag," and "a flog," which is a disparaging term in Australian slang.

Duncan's column went on to talk about how professional sports athletes, despite earning tens of millions of dollars per year in many cases, are shockingly unhappy.

While that may be true, I'd like to focus on what the Melbourne Football Club, nicknamed, the Demons, did for their players who were the targets of abuse from online trolls and why it is a valuable lesson in emotional intelligence and how you can use it in your startup.

1. It acknowledges the issue and makes it clear that it is a problem.

Online harassment isn't always recognized and when it is, it is not always seen as a problem. Much of the time, because the harassment is usually coming from anonymous sources, the advice is to just ignore it.

Other times, it is made light of, as in Jimmy Kimmel Live's "Mean Tweets" segment where celebrities from movies, sports and music read the disparaging things people have tweeted about them.

Ignoring or laughing at online trolls each has its own merits. Since trolls are primarily after negative attention, not giving them any attention or laughing at their attempts to be mean can be cathartic.

By acknowledging that harassment is happening and bringing it to the attention of their fans, it shows the players that the club is looking out for their mental and emotional well being and letting their fans know that this kind of behavior is also unacceptable.

Regardless of whether it is online harassment or in-person harassment from customers, fellow employees or some other source, it is best to acknowledge there is an issue if it is happening and an attempt to deal with it.

As entrepreneurs and business leaders, we often encounter scenarios where we have to choose between a team member versus a customer. The rule of thumb I have for those types of situations is after choosing my position, I try to imagine things from the other person's perspective. For example, if I side with my team member, I try to see things from the customer's perspective and see if it changes my mind at all.  Switching the perspective like this can help you solidify your position.

2. It shows fans their words do matter.

Fans may not even know what they write online about players actually gets seen by those players, which may account for some of the abuse. If a person doesn't think someone will actually see something, they might be more prone to make harsh comments.

By putting people's tweets up on their pre-game break through banner, the Demons showed fans that their words are seen and they do have an impact on the very real people who are performing for their entertainment.

Similarly, sometimes customers may not realize that what they post online has to be read by someone or they may not take into account that the person they are yelling at over the phone really can't do anything about their specific issue.

Reminding customers about the need to always show respect to employees and reminding employees about the need to always respect each other can help cut down on incidents of harassment and show your team that you won't accept that kind of behavior toward them.

3. It illustrates that everyone is affected by badgering.

Yes, even professional athletes, who are often supposed to show incredible strength and toughness and who often get to live lavish lifestyles, can be negatively affected by the words of people who they don't even know. The Melbourne Football Club reminded their fans that even those who have the confidence and tenacity to make it as professional athletes are susceptible to what they read online.

Regardless of position or title, people can lose confidence in their abilities and be made to feel badly. It could be an employee, a manager or even an executive. Nobody is immune to the effects of belittling. Putting a premium on respect in the workplace, no matter what that workplace is, can help the entire company to prosper.

Published on: Apr 22, 2019
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