How To Deal With A Negative Member?


(Suzi Nelson) #1

Hi everybody!

So I have a member in my community who is super negative all the time. Instances have included…

  1. derogative comments toward a new member asking for encouragement (he made a comment on how he’s “slept with more women than everyone in the group combined” - this was removed and I talked to him privately about rudeness.

  2. every time our CEO makes a post, he has something negative to say. We announced our website design, he didn’t like it. We announced we’re opening up a new office abroad, he said it was a terrible idea, etc

  3. a member posted that she hasn’t been around for awhile because her husband passed away. he send me a message complaining that her post was off topic and demanded it be removed.

I’ve talked to him several times about his behavior. He feels like he has a right to behave however he wants because he has been a member of the group for a long time. His posts and comments are largely ignored by other members, but it irks me that he just doesn’t understand the collaborative and encouraging environment we want in our community.

How would you handle a member like this? Is it time to boot him or is there another method of communication I can try?


Can you use negativity in a positive way?
(Sarah Hawk) #2

Hey @Suzi_Nelson – sorry to hear that you’re having to deal with this. Sadly it’s almost a right of passage in our industry these days. This topic discussing intellectual bullies will offer you some good insight.

@alenarybik was having trouble with toxicity in her community recently (although on a bigger scale – not just a single member). Any pointers Alena?

@Alexandra_Anna_Bowen it would be great to hear from you on this also.

We used to come up against this sort of behaviour relatively frequently at SitePoint and it was stressful (right @ralphm?). Things would get difficult if the toxic person was ‘valuable’ – i.e. they knew a lot about the topic so frequently solved problems for other people.

Bottom line – if they’re harmful to other members then they need to go. It doesn’t matter how much value they add in other areas, communities only work if they are healthy, and a healthy community needs to be welcoming.


(Ralph Mason) #3

Yeah, this is such a miserable issue to have to deal with. You feel terrible kicking them out, because it feels so tyrannical, and you know it really should be unnecessary. Often these troublemakers can be offering really good content at the same time, which makes it extra disappointing to have to show them the door.

We’ve often tried to reason with them, but in my experience, it’s like asking a cat to be more like a dog. Their behavior is mostly pretty ingrained.

One thing to watch out for is that the more difficult cases often come back in another guise—sometimes like the Hydra, with more heads the more you cut off. It’s a pretty depressing cycle.

Bottom line, though: if their behavior is repeatedly coming up as an issue, they don’t belong in your community.


Dealing with a difficult CM or site admin
(Travis King) #4

Yeah this is my finding as well. I’ve tried the gentle method as well but it rarely works when a user has no intention to change. You’d be surprised how toxic users can infect community sentiment when they’re coddled. It’s a slow poison that that needs to be taken care of.


(Richard Millington) #5

My perspective on this is relatively blunt, I’d say “sorry, this isn’t the right community for you” and remove them.

It might feel tyrannical, but so is letting a single person cause so much harm to other members.

Your time, effort, and emotional energy is better spend on the overwhelming much larger percentage of members who you can help and support.


(Gear Buzz) #6

Needs to be removed.

Can he demand you be fired?


(Margaret Bost) #7

I’ve unfortunately had a crash course in this recently.

We’ve had some very vocal and negative members. We’re totally ok with constructive criticism (we recently changed our site platform and design and had a lot of bugs and broken bits) but the problematic folks were just vaguely negative. “This is terrible!”, “Everyone hates this new design”, “Bring back the old site”; that kind of stuff. I posted and asked them to contact me directly to let me know what they’re specifically unhappy about because we do actually use that input. I’ve not heard from many of them; maybe 1%. But there is a small core group of negative posters who keep popping up like a Whack-a-Mole game. It’s very annoying and just tiresome because we are here ready to listen to constructive input, only they don’t really want to have a better site, they just want a public place to complain.

I took a page out of Richard’s book and told one member that maybe this place wasn’t for him and he should probably move on to another forum. It had just gotten ridiculous… he was posting every day saying our site is terrible and he’s going to move to another, better one. When we said, ok sorry to see you leave but that’s probably for the best, he didn’t want to leave and ended up toning his public criticism down considerably, and he offered some really helpful input (via email). It’s YOUR community, you don’t have to have him as a member. The average member of a community is only a member for about 2-3 years so maybe it’s time to accept you had a good run with that member and cut your losses.


(Sarah Hawk) #8

This.

I think we all forget (and I’m one of the worst for this) that communities are not a democracy. We don’t have to look after all of the people at the expense of others. If this was an offline community we wouldn’t put up with someone that made everyone else miserable all of the time – we’d find somewhere else where people are positive. You don’t want that to happen.


(Suzi Nelson) #9

Thanks so much for the input, everyone! Negativity has got to go :slight_smile:


(Travis King) #10

Just read this article on Medium that deals with online abuse. I definitely think some of the points can be applied to dealing with negative members.


(Bo McGuffee) #12

Sometimes individuals don’t mesh with a community well. In a situation like that, it’s best for all involved that the individual find somewhere else to belong that resonates with them.

Sometimes, you have what is an “identified patient” in a system. That is a person who has become an outlet for deeper systemic issues that need to be addressed if the community is to become healthy. Simply getting rid of such a person is little more than a form of scapegoating. Sure, it will give the illusion that everything has been fixed. However, since the act of removal has treated a symptom rather than the cause, the negativity will emerge again. The goal here is to look past symptoms and uncover the deeper dis-ease within the community so that you can address it effectively.

How do we tell the difference? I would start with a conversation about behavior and see what comes up. Your goal for the conversation is twofold: actually having a conversation about appropriate behavior, and probe for other information that may help you discern what you’re working with. In the end, you may discover that you have a larger issue you need to deal with, but the member still needs to engage in appropriate behavior (identified patient or not) if s/he wants to remain in the community.


(MHCommMgr) #13

Are you referring to having a conversation with the individual about appropriate behavior? Or with the whole community?

And how would you suggest starting these conversations? What questions would you ask?


(Bo McGuffee) #14

I would have a private conversation with the individual. Public conversations would be too much like calling the member out, which puts them on the defensive. I want them to feel validated and safe. So, let’s pretend that we have a policy here that is to let threads die if they don’t receive a reply within three days. And, you have done this “8 days later” reply three times this week, two times last week, and 1 time in the previous four weeks. It’s really starting to cause a problem in the community (who doesn’t want to see necro’d threads). Also, let’s pretend that you have been really short with others in the community as of late. Here’s what I might send through the PM system to you.

Hey MHCommMgr,

I noticed your activity has been increasing lately. That’s awesome. I’m glad to see you find value in the community enough to add your two cents where you see it needed. Sometimes I wish others would take that kind of initiative. It can really get things going.

Btw, I’ve noticed that you’ve recently been raising threads from the dead. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but we prefer to leave threads that haven’t seen activity for three days alone. When you reply to them, it bumps them in the feed. Since the conversations are effectively closed, it becomes really confusing to other members who want to see fresh content. If you have questions you want to ask related to dead topics, I have some ideas that might help you to present them so that you can get the best responses. Just let me know if this will help and we can walk through one together.

I also noticed that in a couple replies (most recently your reply to Whatshisface), you came across as really harsh, maybe even angry. Did Whatshisface do something that I missed? Is there an issue here that I need to know about? If so, I would appreciate you filling me in. I can’t be everywhere all the time, and would appreciate any help I can get in understanding the community better. I look forward to hearing back from you.

What I’m doing here is (1) validating your membership, (2) letting you know that I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt regarding your behavior, (3) bringing in the effect of the behavior on the health of the community, (4) assuming a lesser status position to draw you out, (5) playing dumb in order to see if you are going to blow smoke at me, (6) giving you a blank check to say whatever you want.

What I’m looking for is (1) whether you blow smoke, (2) the language you use to identify the level of conflict, (2) are you willing to step out of your perspective and look at things from the perspective of what is best for the community, (4) the degree to which you will be willing to work with me, and (5) information regarding Whatshisface and possibly others that I can measure for validity against recent behavior to see if we have a wider problem.

Does that help, @MHCommMgr ?


(MHCommMgr) #15

Thank you for the script. Totally helps!


(Sarah Hawk) #16

Are you dealing with something similar?

And on this note, how did you go @Suzi_Nelson?


(Bo McGuffee) #17

You’re welcome. Glad you found it useful.


(Suzi Nelson) #18

The dude is gone!!! Thanks for your help, everyone! :smiley:


(Sarah Hawk) #19

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