Last year, I wrote an article on LinkedIn called Leadership Lessons from Hillary Clinton (Whether You Like Her or Not) that was viewed by over 40,000 people, shared over 1,000 times, and garnered over 500 comments.
Now, I’m no idiot. I recognize Hillary Rodham Clinton is a polarizing figure, but as someone whose work revolves around advancing women into higher levels of leadership, I find her journey fascinating. Do I agree with everything she does or says? No. Do I think she’s demonstrated grit and resilience over time? Absolutely. So a year ago, before the vitriol reached the fever pitch we now enjoy, I felt compelled to share my perspective. So I did.
What followed was a shocking illustration of what many have coined “adult bullying.” Those who disagreed with the premise that Hillary is a leader at all blew up my comments section, calling me “stupid”, “crazy”, and my favorite – the B-word. My husband said of the worst offender, “He better hope I don’t run into him in an alley.” It got that bad, people.
Since then, I’ve experienced my fair share of online bullying – being torn down for an alternate point of view, having my general intelligence questioned, people devaluing my experience or expertise, and the list goes on. It’s usually those who have little experience themselves in the fields within which I work, but it doesn’t seem to matter.
Some will read this and think classifying personal attacks online as “bullying” is exaggerated. Well, I’m old school. You know the adages: “If you don’t have anything nice to say…” “If it’s not kind or useful…” And my favorite, “Better to have people think you’re (fill in the adjective) than to open your mouth and prove them right.”
People have their reasons for acting this way. If you’ve experienced unnecessarily rude behavior from others lately, I offer you these five reasons why it may be happening. (Hint: none of them has to do with you.)
1. Bullies are trying to be relevant.
People often insert themselves into conversations when they want to be heard, which is human. But when they do it with meaningless negativity, it’s a transparent attempt to get attention. Ignore them. Responding only gives them what they want. It also drains your energy, which is too valuable to waste.
2. Bullies lack emotional intelligence.
Some bullies aren’t aware of how they show up. They don’t realize when they’re being confrontational, or mean, or flat-out offensive. If you think you may be dealing with one of these people in real life, it’s best to confront them about their behavior, and provide them an opportunity to adjust. If they don’t stop, put them in a “love bubble,” and watch it float away.
3. Bullies are just plain miserable.
Sometimes people are rude because they’re truly unhappy. Misery not only loves company, but also has a difficult time seeing beyond itself. I gave up trying to please people who can’t help but find fault with everyone and everything. Let them swim in their junk. Take your toys and find someone else to play with.
4. Bullies want to establish themselves as experts, and the only way to do it is by publicly contradicting you.
I value diverse points of view. Healthy discourse online (or anywhere else) has the potential to refine our thinking and broaden our views of the world. I actually like to mix it up with people – to engage in thoughtful debate. But when one’s first entrée into a conversation is an insult, followed by a diatribe about why their opinion is better, I can’t even. Create your own value, in your own spaces. Bye.
5. Bullies have nothing better to do with their time.
I sometimes wonder if there are those who troll for a living. It appears they spend their days searching for content to throw up on. When you encounter these people, pray for them. They need a purpose, a job, or a hobby. Or all three.
I understand participation in social media or being a thought leader of any kind positions us to be challenged. I’m okay with that. But being mean or disrespectful just because you can? That’s not okay. In some circles, basic respect is a lost art, but I refuse to accept its obsolescence as inevitable. I truly believe we are blessed when we love and respect other people, even when we don’t agree with them. I also believe we are in for a rough road when we treat people poorly.
I’m committed to love and respect. If you’re with me, please share. If you’re not, feel free to respectfully disagree. (Anything else will be ignored – see reason #1.)
Tara Jaye Frank is Corporate Culture Advisor for Hallmark Cards, Inc. and the author of Say Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose, written to help women from all cultural backgrounds chart a career course they can believe in and achieve. Tara also consults and speaks on women’s leadership and diversity and inclusion. Follow her on Twitter @tarajfrank, Instagram @tarajayefrank, Facebook at Facebook/tarajayefrank, or visit her at tarajayefrank.com.