The digital world, much like the physical world, is full of trolls and hecklers.
I know this because I’ve had to confront them professionally since starting my first job and I haven’t stopped confronting them since.
What kind of work environment would require a 12-year-old to confront trolls and hecklers you might ask?
Little League baseball.
As a young man, I umpired little league baseball games for $15 each. I called pitches from behind the plate, hustled around the field to make calls on fly balls and I’d run the pitching machine during games played by the younger baseball players.
During my summers as a 12 and 13-year-old, I was yelled at by angry parents. I argued with grown men who were modeling behavior for the on-looking crowds, spectators and players alike. I even umpired people who are still older than I am.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning an invaluable skill that would be applicable to my future profession as a digital marketer.
The confrontations I experienced as an umpire taught me how to confront trolls and hecklers. The same methods I learned to confront trolls and hecklers then are methods I still use today.
One method I used to confront those who caused problems was to stop their aggression with a display of aggressive confidence.
Trolls and hecklers are not always prepared for opposition to their attacks or cause for chaos. They expect to be the unexpected in order to influence an outcome they would like to see occur. Addressing a troll or heckler with aggress of your own can stop them in their tracks.
Using this method will often make an otherwise offensive person go on the defensive and begin to either calm their tone or remove themselves from the situation altogether.
Beware this method if you are not certain you are right.
If you are not in the right when dealing with a troll or heckler and you confront them head on you’re likely to escalate the situation to a level you’ll be unable to control. Additionally, the troll or heckler may be able to garner audience support for their troll or heckle. This could result in negative repercussions for your organization, business or brand.
The other method you may use to confront a troll or heckler is the “acknowledge and wait” method.
If you have the patience to sit out the yelling and the insults, whether you’re right or wrong, acknowledging a troll or heckler’s argumentative behavior and then waiting until they exhaust themselves is a viable option for you.
On the baseball field, I would stand face-to-face with a grown person and let them yell. I would not acknowledge them through conversation, but instead through nonverbal communication and simple verbal communication.
A series of nods and hums of “mhmm” go a long way in this scenario.
Eventually, the audience, whether or not they agree with the troll or heckler, is apt to want to move on from the issue and get on with life.
Right or wrong, the troll or heckler becomes the odd one out.
In a digital space this method involves phrases like “Tell me more?” or “What can we do for you?” You do not remove yourself from the confrontation with the troll or heckler. Instead, you provide them a steady stream of minimal attention. They often find themselves running out of energy to pursue the troll or heckle.
A caveat I offer to this column is that no outcome is guaranteed when dealing with trolls and hecklers. Methods of confrontation, calming or ignorance aren’t guaranteed to work, but they’re a good start.
Hopefully, you’ll seldom have to use them.