Trolls Are In Your Workplace – growing and growling

Posted on July 28, 2016. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Trolling is appalling and we all know it. The faceless, often nameless, keyboard warriors who jump online when they are angered to vent their spleen and vitriol to the target of the day. In a recent podcast Tara Moss quoted global research that of the top 10 most trolled and targeted online profiles in the world 8 are women and the other 2 are black men.

If it happens in society then it is happening at work

Many years ago employees were expected to “check their brains at the door” but now (and rightfully so) we are encouraged to bring all of ourselves to work. Workplaces are set up and governed by legislation to be respectful and responsive to the employee and all of their life. (Think carer support provisions and parental leave).

Therefore logically, if people are being abusive and threatening online then they are doing it offline as well. And if it is happening in their private lives at least some of it will be crossing over into our workplaces.

Have I just taken logic a step too far?

forbidden-151987_1280This post is being written while a family grieves for the loss of their second son and a sister who has lost 2 brothers in tragic circumstances. (one of the news articles is here) Their son Thomas Kelly was the victim of a random one punch (or coward punch) attack in 2012. Stuart Kelly was 14 at the time and became an articulate, passionate and relatively vocal supporter of changes needed to prevent another family going through the grief and loss that he and his family had experienced. The result of which was the vicious targeting of him and his family by online bullies. A website they had set up to raise awareness and money to support other victims and prevent more harm was targeted and hacked so many times it had to be shut down.

What ever happened to respectful argument? When and how did we start to allow the nasty comments to go unchallenged to the point where some people feel that they can say what they want, when they want and how they want without any consequence?

Managers and employers are governed by policy that says they have taken “reasonable action” and in a “reasonable way”. Sure there is anti bullying policy (and in Victoria we have Brodie’s Law to punish bullies).

But where is the prevention rather than the punishment?

We have the right to disagree and the responsibility to do so respectfully

If a person is unable to speak (or type) passionately about their views without descending into abuse, threats and vitriol in one context then isn’t it likely that they will have the same struggle in another context? If someone sits at home trolling others then they are likely to be communicating at work in a similar way – at the very best their at work communication will be a diluted version of what is said online.

Diluted poison is still poison. It may not be fatal in one dose like undiluted poison, but it will kill you over time.

As technology infiltrates our workplaces and more emails and texts are sent than phone calls made, isn’t it possible that we are losing proficiency and practice with our interpersonal skills? That the people we are communicating with and messaging are faceless. It is easier to generalise about the faceless and nameless than it is to make a specific face to face comment to a person.

Is the keyboard isolating us from others because what we see when we type is only our words, not the facial expression of the person that message is going to.

When we lose focus on the interpersonal aspect of communication we are close to  losing the leadership plot. Not being aware of or caring to notice the response or reaction of the other party is a fast track to tension and miscommunication. Our words have power and when typed they are read (or interpreted) in terms of the mood of the reader – NOT the writer.

From a leadership perspective why is this relevant?

1. Whatever is put in writing at work needs to be typed with careful consideration. Mark Twain said

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

What that means is that writing takes thought, care and time to ensure that what you intended to say is written clearly and in a way best assured of being read by the reader in a way that is consistent with the intention.

How many of us type a text or an email when we have plenty of time? Please answer that honestly.

Most of us send an email when we are busy with other demands on us. And yet as leaders, every thing that you say and do is important to them, including you being a role model.

2. From little things, big things grow.

(thank you Paul Kelly) As a leader it is the small things and the individual comments and actions that over time come together to create a culture or at least an impression that what is tolerated is acceptable.

When you as a leader or a co-worker remain silent when someone else makes a crude comment or an inappropriate “joke” (ah yes, many a true word is spoken in jest). So many awful things have been said and brushed off as a joke (we could go in depth on the recent Eddie MacGuire and Carolyn Wilson)

It’s also in the power of our words and the meaning and association behind them. Listen to the Tara Moss podcast with Dumbo Feather and let me know if she is wrong – sure her topic is focused on women and girls, and she is right. Scarily so. Yet we can change some phrases because the same principles apply to members of our LGBTI community. In fact, to any group who is either perceived as a minority or who is disrupting the status quo.

3. What you overlook becomes your acceptable norm

As leaders we have responsibility and ownership for what goes on around us. The things that we pay attention to are what our employees and our communities pay attention to. Whatever we do not pay attention to, or are seen to ignore, becomes the accepted standard. If an employee in your team “teases” another employee and you say nothing then it is likely that the employee commenting AND other employees with think it’s ok to make those sots of comments in the future.

Perhaps even worse, the employee who is the target of those comments will probably believe that your silence means that you agree with what is being said.

For every one of is who is upset at the trolling on social media, this is a wake up call to be attuned to what we see and hear around us in the real/offline world.

Too many people take refuge behind the barricade of a keyboard to say awful and hurtful things. Personally, my motto is that I would not type what I would not say in person, and if I ever type something about an individual I type it after I have spoken with them and if that was not possible, then I type using the same language and phrasing that I would use to the person’s face.

Accountability – absolutely necessary.

 

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