Every science class you’ve ever taken in your life will confirm the following biological truism:
What feeds, grows. What starves, dies.
The secret is to show bullies that you’re not an easy target. Ideally, they’ll eventually become tired and move on.
If you don’t, taking their bait is letting them get away with it. Growing up with an older brother, I can attest to that.
Bullies want attention and a reaction from you. And if you don’t give it to them, they can’t win. Because reactions feed mean people. That’s what they want.
So, instead of getting sucked into their vortex, consider these suggestions:
1. Preface and reciprocate. An excellent technique from The Verbal Art of Self-Defense is to say, “OK, let’s talk about this. You go first and I won’t interrupt. Then when you’re done, I’ll see if I have any questions.” Wow.
2. Ask for clarity. This will frustrate the person who relies on clouding every interaction to feel in control. Try asking, “Can you give me a specific example of that?” Odds are, they can’t.
3. Change the pattern. If you don’t give him the response he expects, you will disrupt his rhythm and break his patterns. This is best way to get someone’s attention. Then, as a result, HE will have to react for once. Ha!
4. Yuk it up. The secret to taking the sting out of potentially threatening remarks is found within your own humor. Especially when it’s used in a safe and unassuming way, this keeps you at protective distance that can’t be breached.
For example, if someone comments, “Ginsberg, you’re such an idiot! You can’t do anything right! What do you have to say for yourself?” you might respond, “Oh, you’re just jealous…” or, if you prefer a more extreme response, “Hey! It’s not my fault my mother ‘experimented’ with crack while she was pregnant with me!”
Such humorous comments prevent the launch of your biochemical “fight or flight” stress response. Most importantly, they allow you to remain in control, to remain intelligent and to preserve the dignity others will attempt to take away.
5. Don’t show a tolerance for interruptions. Get people back on track by counting behaviors and making them aware of their conversational narcissism. Here’s a handy guide I published about how to handle the office interrupter.
6. Remember that clueless people don’t want to see clues. Jerks are defensive, and being defensive means they’re afraid of letting new ideas into their mind. The secret is to drop hints, not bombs. Introduce clues slowly and give them time to respond.
7. Reframe their nastiness. In the book How to Make Piece with Anyone, author David Lieberman suggests the following language: “Thanks for telling me. Most people would be afraid to tell me because they think I’d get all upset and defensive. Where did you learn so much about (X)? How would YOU have handled it? You have such great (X) – I wish you’d tell me your secret.”
This response pattern works for several reasons. First, it’s complimentary. And gratitude diffuses defensiveness. Second, it proves that you’re not taking ownership of the other person’s emotions. Third, it appeals to the other person’s ego (which is exactly what they want anyway) by asking for their expertise. Remember: Don’t defend and don’t complain against it.
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How do you approach the office bully?
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur
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