How to handle someone being horrible to you online


A few years ago, I got severely panned on an online group in response to an article I wrote. It was in a closed LinkedIn group of about 200 people, so I can’t show you what this person said, but it was pretty vitriolic. So, I thought I’d talk about what it felt like and how I handled it.

My initial response

At first, I was upset about it. I knew that I’d written an article with some strong views, but I didn’t think that it was really any more contentious than any of my other blog posts. I didn’t understand why this person had got so upset, and why he was saying such bad things about me. When I put the article out on Twitter (a couple of days before), it had got a good response, and lots of people liked it.

And, as I first heard about it at 09:30 on a Monday morning (not my best time, I have to admit), with people emailing and phoning me, it felt like a complete disaster. In particular, it felt like a disaster that I’d caused.

How I checked out

The first thing I did was to check what I’d written. Maybe I had written something completely awful, and I’d said something I shouldn’t have. But no – when I looked at it again, I thought, well, that is quite full on, but that’s what I’m like.

I am someone who feels passionate about business, and that passion comes through in what I write and what I do as a business coach.

I haven’t bitched about anyone, and even though I talked about someone (who I didn’t name) whose opinion I disagreed with, I didn’t say anything bad about that person.

Other people’s reactions

Throughout the week, people kept adding comments on LinkedIn and emailing me about what this person had said. The whole thing kept going – once it’s online, it has some momentum.

What’s interesting is that although lots of people said that they thought I’d been misinterpreted, no one stood up and said “Oi! Leave Julia alone!”.

All this had been said in a LinkedIn group for a pretty small community. And (I’ve been told) this was the gossip of the week in the Brighton business community. Juicy, unless you’re at the middle of it.

How my feelings changed

I went very quickly from upset, to think it must have been my fault and then to become angry. All in about the first hour of seeing it. I then got a little bit scared.

By Monday night, I was checking that I’d locked the doors of my house. I knew this was silly, but I checked. Twice. I got out of that one pretty quickly by laughing at myself and then getting on with what I needed to do on Tuesday. There’s nothing like a complex spreadsheet to take your mind off things.

By the end of the week, my feelings had changed to feeling sorry for the person who had said these things about me. He’d probably done himself much more damage than he’s done to me.

Facing everyone

On Friday morning, I was due to go to the Brighton Chamber breakfast, where I knew a lot of people would know about what had happened. I was a bit nervous but knew I had to be there. The weird thing was that no one mentioned it, and breakfast was just like any other networking event.

Lessons learned

If you don’t like something online, don’t respond straight away, while you’re still angry. Have a cup of tea and calm down first. My detractor didn’t do this, and I guess this is what caused all the trouble.

If you’re angry with someone, email them or phone them. Don’t have your fights in front of everyone else. This is more honest and more likely to help you to stop being angry. Especially if you’ve got the wrong end of the stick completely.

If someone says something horrible about you online, do respond, but do that just once. Don’t get drawn into the debate. One of the least pleasant things about this episode was that it carried on all week, but if I had responded to all the comments, this would have made it last even longer.

Don’t be surprised if people enjoy seeing a fight. 8 million people watch EastEnders because people love a bit of drama.

Don’t expect people to take your side – while people love to watch conflict; they don’t want to be involved in it or take sides because this would make them feel vulnerable. Remember that if this happens to you, it’s going to be a much bigger deal to you than to anyone else, so you have to work on it not being a big deal.

I added the lessons learned above to my notebook that I keep especially for learning points.

Remember that when people get upset like this or reject you, it’s usually not about you at all. It’s about them. Here are some great tips on separating out these two facets of the story, from Nick Price.

Do you want more ideas for building a successful company?

I’ve written dozens of ideas and how to guides here at the Joy of Business to help you to build your business.

Some of them are in my Secrets of Business Success downloadable guide – see the bottom of this page for how to get your hands on this. And here are some more articles you’ll find invaluable for creating the kind of business you want to be known for:

Tips for using Zoom for meetings and conference calls

How to respond to feedback

The difference between being a space rocket and a donkey


Photo credit – fighting bears by Tambako the Jaguar, who has some amazing animal photos on Flickr, and Vervate