On Twitter, Be Nice. Until It’s Time To Not Be Nice

For the most part, Twitter is a friendly place. There’s something about the connecting process between two strangers on a social network that encourages both of them to act in a polite and civil manner.

(As an aside, this can often contrast quite sharply with how our so-called real friends behave.)

However, from time-to-time, often regardless of how well you conduct yourself, things are going to get ugly. Indeed, it’s fair to say that the better you get at doing it right, the more likely it is that you’ll start to develop a sub-following of critics and haters, all of whom will gladly go out of their way to tell you that you’re actually doing it wrong. At least, in their opinion.

For you, this is actually a positive. It means you matter. As Colin Powell once said:

“Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It’s inevitable if you’re honourable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity. You’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you’ll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset.”

While it’s often true that haters are actually some of your biggest fans in disguise, a growing number of them will be unpleasant, often seemingly bitter people, arguing endlessly and clearly for the sake of it. It’s a trap, and no matter how hard you try, sometimes you’re going to get caught.

It’s these folks I want to address in this article, and in doing so I’d like to pay homage to the words of the great philosopher James Dalton, whose guidance seems very appropriate here.

When push comes to shove, you’ll need to ask yourself – what would Dalton do?

All you have to do is follow three simple rules.

1. Never Underestimate Your Opponent

Opponent perhaps seems like too strong a word, but sometimes you’ll come up against individuals on Twitter who are so hostile and so aggressive that it’s almost like you’ve been shoved into a verbal boxing match – and you’re the only one wearing gloves.

Okay, so he’s wearing a denim waistcoat. It doesn’t mean you
shouldn’t do your research. If anything, it’s even more essential.

Expect the unexpected. Often your attackers will arrive seemingly out of nowhere, swinging wildly and dismissing your every response. In these instances, you have to remember a couple of things. First, stay calm. Second, take a moment to evaluate the aggressor. Visit their profile page – is this their normal and consistent behaviour, or are they saving it just for you?

Next, go to Twitter search, and analyse the tweets they are receiving from users in their network (to:username). How do others engage with them? Is it friendly? Confrontational?

Do a Google search for their name. Have a look at their blog.

You’re doing all of this to build a picture of the person. Who are they? The who can often tell you a lot about the why.

Then, consider the basis for their reaction. What exactly are they unhappy about? Have you behaved appropriately, or do they actually have a point? There’s never any real excuse for rudeness, certainly from the start, but if there is a chance you have caused genuine upset through an ill-conceived remark then it’s important that you address that.

I did door work for two years. (Prior to this, I was a bond trader, but I’ll save those stories for another time.) To qualify for this enviable position, I had to do a course (and an exam). This lasted about a week, and actually taught me quite a lot about the psychology of the profession.

One of the key concepts you learn is the cycle of conflict. This instructs you in how your attitude and behaviour can impact (and potentially degrade) a physical confrontation.

What this means is that if you maintain a professional but detached approach to the confrontation, even (and especially) against all odds (i.e., the other party ranting and raving), then you significantly reduce the risk of your bad behaviour influencing (and worsening) theirs.

(I write more about breaking the cycle of conflict here.)

Research pays, and all of this only takes a moment. If after making some checks you realise that the person barking at you is clearly not of their right mind, quickly move on to step three.

2. Take It Outside

This is a no-brainer and non-negotiable – whatever you do, don’t do this in public. And by ‘this’, I mean a full-on, back-and-forth argument. (Even if you want to refer to it as a ‘debate’.)

Consider how it is going to look to other people. The last thing you want is other haters wading in, or people who you like and respect (or wish to influence, market to or hire) opening a box of popcorn and watching the two of you go at it.

If this is you, you’ve gone too far.

If you want to engage somebody who has a problem with something you’ve said or how you’ve behaved, ask them to take it to direct message or, better, email, as soon as possible.

If the other person refuses to do this, and tries to keep everything public and open, quickly move on to the next section.

3. Be Nice (Until It’s Time To Not Be Nice)

Be civil. Be polite. As much as you can, be understanding.

But, the harsh reality is: some people are jerks. Nothing more, and no attempts for you to rectify the situation will change the way they think or behave. They’re always going to be jerks.

Others will continuously get offended at everything and nothing, simply because they can. They’re always going to take offense.

You’ll probably find as much as 10 per cent of your network is made up of people like this. Collectively, however, and because they’re so loud and persistent, it can seem like a lot more. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Some of these guys were rude. The guy in the middle took offense.

Well, almost nothing. What you can do is block them.

Don’t hesitate. Assuming you’ve done your research (step one), tried to appease (step two) and, most importantly, been nice, then it’s the right thing to do. Block them. You’ll feel a lot better for it.

Afterwards, please don’t check their profile every five minutes to see if they’re still shooting angry messages your way. Just block, and let it go.


The better you do, and the more remarkable you are, the more people you will reach. Most of these interactions will be positive – often, hugely so. As said, about ten per cent or so will be the exact opposite – unpleasant, often scathingly vicious attacks and criticisms that can leave you feeling a little bewildered.

(Flipside: if 90 per cent of your interactions are negative, then it’s you who is the problem.)

And if ever find yourself wondering ‘why me?’, it’s because you’re making waves. This is what you wanted, right? Well, there’s a little bit of downside with all of that up. It evens out.

By following Dalton’s rules, and by being nice, you’ll very quickly diffuse a lot of heated situations, and be in the learned position to dispose with aggressors once it becomes evident that you’re wasting your time trying to reason with them.

Five minutes later you’ll have moved on, confident that you behaved impeccably. You’ll put everything behind you, irrespective of what has been said.

After all, pain don’t hurt. Especially when you come prepared.

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