Dealing with Difficult People Online

If you maintain any type of presence online, you’ve likely encountered at least one difficult person whose behavior you find irritating.  Unfortunately, as much as you might want to lash out and demonstrate just how “wrong” this person is, remember that every little thing you say and do online contributes to your personal brand.

So if you want your personal brand to be perceived as shallow, inflexible and irritating, by all means – go ahead and strike out at the trolls that frustrate you.  However, if you want to be seen as the better person (which is typically much more valuable from a personal branding standpoint), consider the following NLP process for dealing with difficult people online.

Step #1 – Think about how you’ve dealt with this person or a similar situation in the past.

Before reacting immediately to a frustrating situation, pause and reflect on how you’ve handled this type of thing in the past.  The very worst thing you can do is to rush ahead – guns blazing – and say something in the heat of the moment that you’ll later come to regret.

Instead, take a moment to identify your thoughts and feelings about the situation.  What specifically do you find so irritating?  Is it the language that the person used?  The affront to your authority?  Or could it be that, subconsciously, you aren’t 100% confident in your position and that the “difficult” person is only pointing out the weaknesses you’ve been trying to cover up?

Taking the time to identify your own thoughts and feelings in an impartial manner will go a long way towards preventing you from responding to difficult people inappropriately.

Step #2 – Imagine the situation from the difficult person’s point of view.

Certainly there are situations online where people abuse the anonymity provided by the internet to spew the hateful, baseless rhetoric they’d never share in the real world.  In this case, the best approach is simply to block all interactions with the person in order to avoid saying something you shouldn’t.

However, if the difficulty stems from conflicting viewpoints, these situations give you a chance to demonstrate your authority on a subject – but only if you’re able to defend your position on its merits alone.  Lashing out on a personal level will be perceived as shallow and immature, so it’s important to focus your rebuttal on the relative strength of your argument versus your opponents’ statements.

To do this effectively, take some time to fully imagine where your opponent is coming from.  What thoughts, feelings and emotions is he experiencing that could have led to his position?  What circumstances may have led to his particular viewpoint or comments?  Ideally, this exercise should help you to uncover the specific elements on which you disagree, allowing you to begin forming an appropriate response.

Step #3 – View the situation from an outsider’s perspective.

Before making any final decisions on how to move forward to resolve your difficult situations, take a second to imagine what an outsider would think of your position and your opponent’s opinions.  If you encountered this specific situation on another website, what would you say to the two parties involved?  Would your outsider status give you an special insight into how the situation can be resolved effectively?

It can be difficult to think this far outside of your own thoughts and experiences, but being able to assess a situation from an outsider’s point of view is a valuable NLP technique to learn.

Step #4 – Use the NLP agreement frame to move forward.

Hopefully, by this point, you should have a good idea of how to move forward in a way that respects both your position and your opponent’s opinions.  Truthfully, just taking the time to reflect on both parties’ positions before acting is often enough to prevent you from behaving in manner you’ll regret later.

In order to move forward in a way that respects both parties, it’s crucial that you demonstrate you understand where your opponent is coming from – even though you happen to disagree.  One way to do this is with the NLP agreement frame, which is a powerful way to facilitate agreement by eliminating negative words that threaten to derail your point.

For example, when forming your response to your opponent, know that the words, “But” and “I understand” provoke a defensive mindset that prevents resolution from occurring.  Instead, consider using the phrases, “I appreciate,” “I respect” or “I agree.”  Doing so will allow you to assert your key points and opinions in a respectful manner and leave the door open to further discussion that allows both you and your opponent to walk away satisfied.

Have you ever had to deal with difficult people as a result of your online presence?  If so, how well do you feel you handled the situation?  Share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments section below.

Image: Sybren A Stuvel

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