Handling an Intellectual Bully

(SketchUp Community Manager) #1

Hey everyone, I was wondering how some of you may have “dealt” with a user who is an intellectual bully? We are a software company and have a forum for people to get support, ask questions and connect with other users. This person G is a great software user (advanced) and does post great responses to questions but is very abrasive, rude and many, many users complain about him and leave the forum because of him. Our forum has a “reputation” because of him… Any thoughts behind “banning” and “warning” users? He is a power user and usually helpful.

From some of my users: “He has appointed himself Forums Etiquette King, and is trolling around squashing posters if they do not ask questions with his perceived correctness of style, punctuation, grammar, etc.”

" …obnoxious prick. I was trying to be polite to you. Your own tirade proved my point. Your historic response to anyone that challenges you is to go off on a tirade. You are a disgrace to any open forum. I have seen time and again when your intelligence level was challenged that you resort to name calling and abuse. If anything happens to be outside your comfort zone, you rule it to be trivial."

I do like the “Official Warning” feature on the forum - is that a good first step?

When is enough, enough…? Your opinion would be greatly appreciated.


How to PM staff when PM is disabled

Wait until he calms down, then approach him and present him with his own words. Ask him if that’s how he’d like to be seen on the forum. His issues lie elsewhere, offline, inside his own mind echoing a broken past. Often times we fight what we don’t accept, projecting out onto the world that which we disown. We all have growth left in us, until our last breathe. That being said, sometimes the best gift you can give someone is to walk away, and in the position of moderation, that card is played out by a ban. Your choice.

(AstonJ) #3

If that has actually happened then you have a very good reason to warn him - if he persists a ban or temp ban is in order.

(SketchUp Community Manager) #4

I have confronted him and this is how he responded:

But never mind. I have allowed myself to speak frankly, and if circumstances warrant, harshly to others on the forum, not because I think you might let me get away with it but because I have no reason not to. There was a time when I was a paid troubleshooter, helper-outer, and hand-holder, although I like to think I never got saccharine about it. It would have been unprofessional and carreer-limiting for me to speak candidly to people every time I felt like it.

Now, I’m an unpaid volunteer. There’s nobody I need to ingratiate myself to, and no one’s really got anything on me. It’s most liberating.

So your concept of positivity in thought and deed doesn’t do much for me. Imagine how disturbed I am at the thought that I might turn someone off. I like the way I’m doing it.

p.s. he has been a user on the forums for over 10 years - pretty much at our companies infancy.

(Jeff Atwood) #5

Present it along these lines:

you have great information to share, but the way you sometimes share it is causing people to leave

Ultimately if they do not change their behavior, they are net negative to the community… existing people leave, new people do not stay, etc.

(Kane York) #7

Sounds like you’re justifying your lack of action with the sunk cost fallacy?

You probably need to re-evaluate the situation, from a “blank slate”. What would be lost from pushing this person out? What do you have to gain - or rather, not lose?

Wow, did you have to try to be that passive-aggressive, or is that just how you are all the time?


I’ve seen people like this many, many times. I understand your dilemma – they offer a lot to the community.
I think you need to weigh up the value he offers vs the damage he is doing to the reputation of your community.
You say that he is already affecting that reputation, so I think you need to mitigate that damage.

[quote=“AlexAB, post:4, topic:28313”]
It’s most liberating.
[/quote] and

imply that he is not going to change. He’s on a crusade. Warning him is unlikely to have any affect.

If it were my community, I’d talk to him (which you have) and if he continues, I’d ban him.
No one person is worth damaging everything for.

(Stephanie) #9

Most communities have some variation of the “don’t be a dick” rule. This guy is clearly on the wrong side of that.

(Dev Jyothichand) #10

He sounds like one of those people who has too high an opinion of himself/herself and relieves stress by shouting at other people.

I would say that even if he’s an old member, and a knowledgeable one, this can’t continue. Unless he really plays an important role in the community, punishing him for his actions is the best thing you can do. I remember that the Dark Mod forums punished jtr7 by banning him, even though he’s very knowledgeable about the Thief games. This is a similar situation.

Do keep monitoring him though, and make the punishments gradual.

(Sam Saffron) #11

On the other hand I have seen bans in the past as a very effective way of reforming users. Even reasonably short ones like one week bans. So I would warn, and then if ignored do a one week ban.

(Jeff Atwood) #12

Well yeah because otherwise there is no enforcement! Asking nicely has its limits, eventually you must take action.

(Lee Dohm) #13

I think this is the crux of the issue with this user. (I’m assuming they’re just a user and not a moderator or admin.) Circumstances never warrant speaking harshly to people on a software forum, in my opinion. This is sometimes a hard rule to live by, I break it myself on occasion … and do my best to apologize when I do without covering it up. Even corrective actions such as warnings and bannings should be delivered with respect and care, even if it isn’t deserved in some people’s opinion.

Only a moderator or admin should be making the decision of who should go and who should stay … and only then when they are calmly, logically and consciously making the decision. Not some general member of the community who likes abusing people. Because that is what is happening, this member of your community is deciding that they will abuse people until they leave or conform to their rules, not the forum’s rules. In ten years, you’ve most likely lost at least a few people that could have replaced this troublemaker’s expertise and not had to use your forum as an outlet for their frustrations and pent-up rage.

I’m currently crafting a conference talk on my experiences as a moderator on a software forum. One of the headings is “The Community is More Important Than You” (meaning the moderator). That goes for any single member of a forum as well. If a forum member, no matter their status or privilege, is damaging the community, they need to go.

(SketchUp Community Manager) #14

Wow THANK YOU ALL!! This is such a great community, I knew I would get great feedback coming here!

I really appreciate it, I will keep you updated but I think I am going to try a warning first, and then see what happens. I am wondering if I should tell him I will ban him for a week after the warning and then indefinitely if he continues? Or do I just do it?

Seriously, again, many thanks! :smiley:

(cpradio) #15

I’d phrase it as a “cool off period” that will last X days (then you suspend his account for that number of days).

A ban is more permanent and has major negative connotations. Use that as a last resort if you want to try and reform this individual.

(SketchUp Community Manager) #16

I would like to see that talk! Be sure to share it hear. Thanks so much, your post was very helpful.

(SketchUp Community Manager) #17

This is what I posted: (I combined a lot of your feedback)

Hey G…,

I have had multiple people consistently reach out to me on the forums (and even offline), as well as leave and express that they will be leaving the forum because of you.

Due to circumstances, I am going to give you a “Cool Off” period that will last until Monday 5/11. You have great information to share, but the way you sometimes share it is causing people to leave. I would rather not, and I think the community/forum would rather not loose you, but I hope you take this time and think about how you would like to be seen on the forum.

I am going straight to the “Cool Off” stage because the earlier gentle “warning conversation” we had was not embraced by you:

[quote=", post:1, topic:10833, full:true"]
“Often times you are not in the wrong, and have valid points, but I want to stress that tone and positive, constructive feedback goes SO much further. I just hate to see people get “turned off” by you because of a few ill-placed words or remarks, because you have a lot of great things to say.” [/quote]

I will “Cool Off” your account by the end of the day today until Monday 5/11.

Thanks G…, I look forward to having you back soon as a great member of the Community!

(mountain) #18

Some consider me an intellectual bully.

But here’s the thing: I know when I need to slow my roll and settle down because of the “holier-than-thou” aggression. I don’t need someone to temp-ban me. I’ll do the right thing and excuse myself, say apologies and get out the door. Or if I think they are attempting to silence me because they know I’m right and I’ve already apologized after the fact, then I bail and never come back (I got better stuff to do).

I can give you some insight from someone who may understand what this user is thinking.

First, this is pure aggression. Aggression is an emotion tied to similar reactions such as anger and frustration. In short, it’s a by-product of motivation. You said this user posts a ton of great content and is very helpful? I am the exact same, and it mostly applies on other communities I frequent (at Meta I’m listening more than talking). And I can tell you point blank the aggression I get is from a combination of “these people don’t get it” and “I just want to suddenly gain psionic powers and manipulate their mouse cursor via bandwidth”.


It is a desire to help. Or he wouldn’t be there. But at the same time he probably sees everyone else as stupid. I’ve had this before and after being mindful of it I stop myself and apologize.

It’s when his internalized ideals become THE ideals and everyone else is wrong, beyond the scope of your community’s subject. Since everyone already sees him as a guru that only proved his intuition on the matter, he’s furthering it and now enjoying the responses. I like to call it “poking the animals in the cage”.

Your response is good, by the way. Overall, my personal suggestion would be to explain how you truly appreciate his contributions. You want to help him so his character and outward appearance on the forum matches the quality of his content.

[quote=“AlexAB, post:1, topic:28313, full:true”]
I have seen time and again when your intelligence level was challenged that you resort to name calling and abuse. If anything happens to be outside your comfort zone, you rule it to be trivial.[/quote]

If that is an accurate description of his behavior then that is a very big warning sign of insecurity. Those who assume they know best have their own personal problems. I know I’ve got mine related to mental health issues but I have therapy for them and that allows me to swallow my ego and say I did wrong. Whatever those issues are for this user, they aren’t your problem. As others have mentioned above, you truly have to weigh the pros and cons of keeping him if he is abrasive despite the content he gives.

If this guy really thinks you are all numbskulls and he’s got better stuff to do with his time than lay down this great information for free to those who aren’t grateful then he would have left already on his own accord (and I’ve done that many times). Him staying shows that insecurity.

But he still is a person. If you tone your replies so it sounds like you want to help him (and you do for his sake and your own!) then he might at least cooperate. No one is perfect. Knowing when you did wrong, apologizing and stepping away from the situation is knowing ‘the imperfect’ and working around it for that civilized Discourse.

(SketchUp Community Manager) #19

I am trying to hard to help him recognize his value enough to want to tone it down a bit. But I can’t hold his hand, because it is a time and energy suck.

I can only state things as clearly and gently as I can, and I feel the rest is up to him at this point. I really appreciate your response. I try to make sure he knows that I like/appreciate his positive and constructive contributions by “liking” posts that are appropriate and helpful.

I am absolutely positive that he feels like that guy in the video clip :slight_smile: haha Great find!!

Thanks for your feedback on my response. I am never sure how to word things, and then when you communicate behind a screen and with text only…well, that increases complexity and intentions can be misconstrued.

Thanks again, I hope it turns into a positive experience for both of us! I will keep you updated and may seek your advice again :slight_smile:

(mountain) #20

You shouldn’t have to. And he shouldn’t have to either.

What it all boils down is that he needs you as much as you need him. If you push aside all the nouns and make the verbs a bit more vague, it rolls into something like “You want his expertise and he wants to feel like he’s contributing and he means something somewhere to someone.” At some point his ego was stroked to validate the inner voice that Does No Wrong and now he truly feels that you all need him and he can do whatever he wants. The entire thing about him not caring is completely bunk because if he didn’t then he wouldn’t have to say it. He’d just leave and go on his own way.

If you remind him that if he truly does feel liberated by acting as he wishes, then why doesn’t he just do his own thing and leave the community? That questions the motives of his true reason for staying. “Why the hell am I here if I am unhappy enough to prod people like animals in a cage and get flack for it? Like they don’t appreciate what I’ve done the past ten years?”

Do that and he might just leave on his own without a word. If he stays then you have to tell him that the community doesn’t revolve around him, as @lee_dohm mentioned. If he truly wants to help others then he has to do it because he cares about the users and the community, not because he thinks he’s saving them from themselves and he’s the gift for you all. By that kind of basic logic his ‘liberating behavior’ is countering his attempts to help, if he truly is there to help. Again, by talking to him at this angle you force his ego to question itself and must react based on its own personal values and morals. This is the exact same self-talk I give myself when I feel the same as he probably does. Nowadays I don’t last ten years. I last a couple of months before suddenly disappearing as if I was never there in the first place.

Also, sometimes the holier-than-thou intellectual talk is natural. I know when I do it I truly am not attempting to downplay with big 5-dollar words and intricate, eloquent writing style. I have written constant stories (in RP) since 2001 and by now I’ve proofread dissertations. I’ve had the same situation as your user there where I get highly-positive comments on my writing ability and my constant outpouring of help for those who want to reach that level. I could have gone the route of your user there, if I allowed all that ego-stroking to become validation for who and what I am. But I didn’t, because I knew deep down people would suddenly look at me like you do to that user, in massive droves. My donated help and stories would be rendered moot. I might as well stop the attempt to go into communities or even make comments on the internet if I felt every single person was incapable of meeting my level of integrity and quality.

Sorry for the sudden text wall but this guy reminds me of myself if I went completely to the dark side, as it were. Nowadays the claims of ‘grandiosity’ and ‘intellect-throwing’ go in one ear and out the other for me because I have the ability to walk away before it turns into what you’re dealing with.

Dealing with a toxic user on our Discourse forum
(Michael Downey) #21

My esteemed colleague Donnie has a great talk he likes to give that sums up this problem quite well, and uses data: