The inner troll is that nasty voice in your head that criticises you, whispers that other people will be judging you, and encourages you to give up on your good intentions. We all have one, though some people’s are nastier and louder than others. I’ve written elsewhere about dealing with your inner troll. But what about if you have an outer troll?

I’m currently working with eight amazing women on my group programme to help them set up or develop their ELT business. We’ve been doing a lot of work on their inner trolls, and their ability to deal with these pesky creatures is growing fast. However, the reality is that if they become more visible online, as I’m teaching and encouraging them to do, they may attract the attention of an online troll.

Online trolls

There seems to be something about posting online which disconnects some people from the hurt or harm they are causing. That’s the generous interpretation. In some cases, it is clear that it’s simply a great opportunity to throw a grenade and stand well back.

That said, we should always consider the possibility that we are reading too much into the comment or post. People who disagree with us are not necessarily trolls. Even if the way they express their disagreement is rather too blunt or forceful. I would always assume good intentions (or at least not bad ones) until proved otherwise.

When the intention is clearly to wound however, it’s inevitably upsetting. That’s just human nature. But as with any kind of unwarranted attack, it’s almost always much more about the person doing it than it is about us. It may be a case of professional jealousy, or what we’re saying may trigger something completely unintended in them, or they may feel the need for attention, even negative attention. In all these cases, what is happening is that their inner troll is trying very hard to get your inner troll to come out and ‘play’. But we don’t have to let that happen.

How to respond to a troll

One possibility, if it feels appropriate, is to respond with kindness and openness and try and explore what they are saying. The actress Sarah Silverman famously did this with an internet troll who had called her a c*** on Twitter. Looking at his timeline she saw that he was a chronic pain sufferer, and she responded by sympathising and ultimately helping him. He ended up not only apologising, but also raising money for others with the same issue as him.

Sometimes the troll is so determined to start a fight that any attempt to interact on a human (non-troll) level will fail. In that case, we can simply ignore the comment and be glad we’re not going through what they are,. If they’re behaving like that, they’re going through some dark stuff, trust me.

The same advice applies to those people you interact with in real life whose trolls want to get your troll out to join the party. First, ask yourself honestly if this is your troll being over-sensitive and wanting to get something started. If not, then respond from your non-troll human part, with compassion (for yourself as well as them).