Online "Trolls": 5 Step Coach-Like Process to Help You Deal With Them

childrenMH900442223 300x200Running a coaching business is hard enough, and to run a successful business these days, most coaches now have a social media presence whether it's Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ or something else. And the last thing we need is some cyber-bully, thoughtless or insensitive person giving us grief online with a hurtful or hateful comment. And yet, the chances are this will happen to you (if it hasn't already).

In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I posted something on Facebook and as I reviewed the comments, suddenly "Bam!" there it was, a "troll-like" comment, accusing me of being divisive and telling me I was part of the problem and even giving my comments a technical name which I had to look up on Wikipedia! (I now know that trying to show people up like this is called "flaming" - a form of cyber-bullying!). As we went back and forth a couple of times (me explaining what I meant, them refusing to read what I had actually written so they could continue to misinterpret what I was saying), it became clear to me that this person had already made up their mind and they were only interested in proving their point. At this point I disengaged with "I'm sorry you feel that way", and said nothing further. But it definitely shook me up a little.

While cyber-bullying (the name for online bullying) may still be a new phenomenon it's really an age-old issue that has expanded in the online environment. It seems that many people find that sitting behind a phone or computer screen gives them the "protection" to say online things they would never say to someone in person. And with it being Anti-Bullying Week around the world this week, it seemed a good topic to explore.

So, what is the difference between a "Hater" and a "Troll"? Well, it was hard for me to find clear definitions, but it seems that a "hater" is abusive - and as suggested by the name is fuelled by hate - expressing views that are phobic to an identifiable type of human eg. comments could be racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-fat/skinny/rich/poor/famous people etc. A "troll" on the other hand loves to start an argument - to light the touch-paper and see what happens. They want to shock, and their aim is often the spectacle of it all. At a high level, a "hater" is abusive and possibly dangerous, whereas a "troll" is perhaps the lesser of two evils - attention-seeking, inconsiderate and sometimes just plain rude.

But, what should we do, in these situations? What if you receive a troll-like or hateful post on YOUR social media account or business page? After all, how we handle (or don't handle) these comments can damage our reputation and businesses...

Well, I believe we need to stand up for ourselves. Bullying is bullying whether it's in person - or online. And nasty or inflaming comments are no less hurtful simply because they're on a computer screen. So, what should we do?

First, How to Deal with a "Hater" Comment:

If the person is a "Hater" - the process is much clearer. Do NOT engage in any ONGOING conversation - nothing you can say will change their mind anyway. You probably want to "Block" them, so you don't have to deal with them again. Then, you have 2 decisions to make:

  1. Respond or Delete? You can a) Respond firmly to the comment (once only, stating you find their viewpoint offensive and that you won't engage any further!) or b) Simply delete the comment. Also, while deleting removes the offensive material, if people have already seen the comment and/or replied themselves you may need to publicly show that you disagree with the "hater" comment to maintain your reputation.
    *Tip* If you think it's serious, keep evidence before deleting a "hater" comment. Then should the abuse continue or the police get involved, you have a record. Take a screenshot including the date (eg. use the "print screen" button on your  keyboard and paste it into a document, use a "snipping" tool or even take a photograph). Then if you need evidence later to prove who, what or how long it has been going on you have it. (Thanks to Adrienne for this tip)
  2. Will you report them? Deleting a comment often flags it to the social media authorities - but not necessarily... If you want the person to be dealt with more seriously, then make the effort to "flag" or report the comment to the relevant social media authorities. Not sure how? Find the help section and type in your question there.

Second, A 5 Step Coach-like Process to Deal with "Troll-like" Comments Online:

  1. Notice (and ALLOW) How You FEEL. Take a moment to simply observe the impact of the comment on you. Are you confused, disappointed, mad, outraged, sad? All of the above? Be KIND To Yourself. Don't judge yourself for WHATEVER you feel (however unprofessional or un-coachlike it may seem). Just observe, and take a moment to process how you feel. Then, once you've moved through your initial anger/hurt/disappointment, you can choose how to respond in a more measured and professional (business-like) way.
  2. Have COMPASSION If You Can. First, let's be clear, having compassion does NOT mean the bully's behaviour is OK, it simply means you see the person underneath the behaviour. Perhaps the bully was bullied themselves, has serious self-esteem issues - and making other people feel small helps them feel better, has no idea of how hurtful their behaviour really is or has a boring life and needs excitement. For some people, finding compassion for the 'bully' can be enough for them to let go and move on. Note: While having compassion for the 'bully' can be helpful, don't beat yourself up if you're still too hurt or angry to feel that way.
  3. Is it Worth Your Time? Ask yourself, "How important is this to me really?" And as we also run a business (where our personality forms a key part of whether someone comes to us for coaching), you also need to ask, "How does this affect my business and how I am perceived professionally?" Tip: A useful clarification to make is to figure out if the unpleasant comments are aimed at your opinions or you personally. You may want to behave differently with comments that attack your point of view - as opposed to those that attack you.
  4. Decide what you will do and Take Action. Remember that you don't need the approval of a bully! There are 4 key actions you can pick and choose from:
    1) Ignore: Silence is a powerful tool - take back your power and choose not to be drawn into "conversation".
    2) Block: Block this person from the social media page, profile or website in question. Simple and effective.
    3) Report: Most websites have an administrator you can report bad behaviour to. This step is for serious and/or repeat offenders.
    4) Respond: If you decide to respond, do it for YOU (not to placate them). Tip: Assert yourself but don't try to change their mind or get them to apologise - it's a battle you will lose. Instead, reclaim your power and respond with no expectations as to how they should behave as a result. It is possible that a "troll" may turn out to be a normal human being under a temporary enchantment called "stress" or "misunderstanding" and apologies may follow, but this is by no means guaranteed...
  5. Finally, Let Go and Move On. Once you've decided on your course of action - whether ignoring, blocking, reporting or responding (or some combination), it can be helpful to make a conscious decision to let go. It can be as simple as pausing and breathing out as you hit the 'delete' or 'send' button. Or you could print, then rip up or burn a printout of the conversation - just find something that works for you.

Remember: Bullying is bullying. The best way to empower yourself is to own how the comments make you feel. Choosing to face any fears or discomfort you may have over the situation is empowering because it means you take back control. Then simply decide what next steps you will take to deal with it - ignore, block, report or respond to them - and do it!

If you liked this article on cyber-bullying, you may also like:

Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>


  1. TL James

    OMG! Thank you so much for this article. I was never bullied in school so then I got 'trolled' or 'hated' i didn't know how to respond. I knew that if I didn't have a business I would have responded one way (but then again if I didn't have a business, I was probably not be on social media). I had to think about my business and my reputation. I blocked and reported the person. I deleted the entire post and reposted. But thank you for the article.

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear TL, thanks for taking the time to write a comment. It's great to hear you found this article helpful and affirming! It's a new world out there - and we have to learn how to navigate it professionally and with integrity. It sounds like you did! Warmly, Emma-Louise

  2. Adrienne

    Thanks for useful article. Might I suggest an additional move? Always keep evidence before deleting it. Screenbgrab or take a photo. This may turn out to be the start of a campaign directed at you and you may need evidence later to prove how long it has gone on and also to help trace the person. Some time in the future if you report it to the website, service provider or even police, you need to have preserved the evidence, so never delete without preserving.

  3. Nathan Segal

    Unfortunately, I am well acquainted with trolls and haters. These people can make your life Hell on Earth. They tend to pop up more frequently if you are a product creator and will abuse you for everything under the sun. In some cases I've had to report them to their ISP.

    As for bullying, that's another matter which can also cause major damage to your life if you don't know how to deal with it. Here's an article from my blog on how to deal with adult bullying:

  4. Mark

    I came to the conclusion years ago that arguing with people on the internet is one of the most useless activities you can do in life. Those people need to get out more. 😉

    By the way, thanks for this site. I've enjoyed reading your articles!

  5. sue

    Thank you so much for this. I've experienced what I now know is 'flaming' in a couple of forums that I visit. I have already stepped back from these forums a little and feel much better for it. Life's too short.

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Susie (I'm guessing you're Susie from your email address)!

      Thank-you for taking the time to comment. It takes courage to acknowledge and step-back - good for you! And you're absolutely right - life is too short. Trust how you feel!

      Warmly, Emma-Louise


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.