Over the years, we have coached countless adults who are being bullied in the workplace as well as bullies whose dysfunctional behavior had finally caught up with them. We’ve learned a lot from them in the process. The sad truth is that many bullies often don’t ever grow up nor do they really change. They progress from successful bullying on the playground to bullying in the boardroom.
Bullies often have keen insights and are able to quickly spot and exploit the vulnerabilities of others—bosses, peers, directs, and customers. They gain power by stirring up emotions in others. While it is not always apparent, bullying is fear-based. While bullies appear to be strong-minded, confident, and highly assertive – they are generally very fearful.
How do we manage bullying behavior?
Tactic #1: Stop Labeling – If you continually refer to the person with whom you have the most difficulty as a “bully,” then you have reinforced that s/he is and will, forever, be a bully. Start thinking and referring to this person as a colleague.
Tactic #2: Don’t React – Bullies will try to exploit your vulnerabilities. Learn to detach yourself emotionally. Readily acknowledge areas that you are sensitive. When a bully points out a weakness to trigger your defensiveness, you might say, “Yes, you’re right. That’s true. I’m working on that trait.” No shame for you; no gain for the bully.
Tactic #3: Ask the Bully for Help – To deflate a bully’s dysfunctional power, capitalize on one of his/her key strengths. For example, “Jack, you’re good at reading people. What do you think I should do in this situation?” If you tap into what they are good at then you are reinforcing positive attributes that you want to see continued.
Obviously, it is much easier to talk about what bullies should do, than it is to find the steely courage to do something about them.
Keep in mind that every time you back down from a bully they gain power.
But every time you effectively diffuse a bullying person’s aggressiveness both of you are able to grow.