October is anti-bullying month and I know we’ll be hearing and reading about bullying in all forms. As a business communication skills expert, I’d like to look at how bullying shows up in the work place and among “friends” and colleagues and share some tools that might help fend off the bully in your midst.
First of all, I have a confession. To know me or listen to me speak, you might not think I’d be susceptible to bullying. But I am. There’s one particular type of person that can push my bully victim button. This particular type ambushes me when I’m least suspecting and the powerful, confident persona I’ve spent years developing crumbles.
It’s one thing having to deal with the blatant, mean-spirited schoolyard bully type; it’s quite another being bullied by a “well intentioned” colleague or associate. And those types of bullies are prevalent in the office, the PTA and among pseudo friends and associates. If you’re familiar with the DISC profile, my bully button pusher is the high “D” the Director/Driver type. In other vernacular it would be “A” type personalities or Alphas - the stereotypical bully personality type. - Please note: ALL A-types aren’t bullies and all bullies aren’t A-types. - Around these types of Alpha men and most especially the Alpha women, my seemingly diamond self confidence grinds down into a pile of fairy dust. Is it that these people are being mean, ruthless and opportunistic? Is it that they are trying to undermine my self-confidence? Sometimes but not always. So why do I a strong, confident individual allow them to bully me?
The truth is, most bullies are just being who they are. The problem is, we allow them to get away with being ALL of who they are while we become LESS of who we are.
Do you have a bully button that is easily pushed? How can we avoid stumbling into the bully’s lair or climbing out of it once we’ve been trapped? As I said, most A type bullies are just being true to who they are – they like to be direct, in control, and right. Heck, who doesn’t want all those things. But for bullies, the one way to make sure that they are in control and right is to make other people feel out of control and wrong. So when faced with an Alpha bully the first thing to remember is to become even more of who we are (read this post for a few tips on how to do that) and to develop some of these 4 bully-busting habits.
1. Breathe: Sounds simple but taking deep belly breaths will help ground you and remind you to stay in your body and not let your mind drift away to past bullying exchanges that ended badly.
2. Match their rhythm but not their tone: Most bullies speak quickly, forcefully, abruptly and loudly. The tendency is to either shut down and say nothing or counter their rhythm by speaking more slowly and quietly which is a green light for bullies because they interpret it as a sign of weakness. Or sometimes we try to match their abrupt or brusque - sounding tone which encourages them to get out the gloves and go for the jugular.
Instead, when responding to a bully, try to match the volume and rhythm, but not the tone. Speak powerfully from your diaphragm, use short sentences, hit your consonants and use a strong yet not combative tone.
3. Acknowledge their emotions: Most bullies, would rather be right then liked so our attempts to get out of the confrontation by disagreeing with them or countering their argument only makes them come on stronger. Even agreeing with a bully doesn’t usually work. They like the thrill of a fight and a quick agreement doesn’t feel like a satisfying enough win. However, if you say something like, “Wow, you sound frustrated with me” or “It seems like you’re really worried about this,” it sounds like you are empathizing with them which is unnerving for most bullies and takes some wind out of their sails. (It’s often recommended to use “I” language and talk about how they make you feel. Problem is: Many bullies don’t care about your feelings. Remember: they want to be right more than liked.)
4. Bully proof your body language: Our first tendency when dealing with a bully is to avoid eye-contact. This signals insecurity and gives them an edge. No matter how much they intimidate you, force yourself to look them in the eye (or seem like you are. If someone really intimidates you, look at their forehead, they’ll never know.)
Other body language skills to keep in mind: positions like covering your torso by crossing your arms, holding one arm, touching your neck and crossing your legs can signal hiding and insecurity and make you seem weaker. So stand straight, lean forward and keep your head up. Adopting some uber confident body language skills can also have the added benefit of pre-empting a bully encounter. At your desk, spread out in your chair taking up as much space as possible. This will both make you feel more confident and may send a “don’t mess with me” message to your bully.
Trying all or some of these techniques might help you deal with the “well intentioned” or even some not well intentioned bullies out there. If you’re dealing with a hard core meany, you may need to confront him or her by having “Crucial Conversation.” Check out this article from the Vital Smarts Crucial Conversation website. Bullying at Work. I love their stuff.
And remember: Don’t take a page out of the bully playbook and fixate on the fact that your behavior is right and theirs is wrong. Concentrate instead on something you have in common (like getting work done) and the benefit that will result from the two of you being able get along and communicate more effectively.