We all know the bully, right? The bully is the one who yells, throws things,interrupts people, insults them, criticizes them, belittles them, even swears at them. They are often erratic in their behavior — that is, perfectly charming until crossed, at which point they explode. They often are in managerial positions; in fact, they often are bosses. Though I prefer to think that bullies would only act this way in private, over the years I’ve encountered several of them in professional settings and it’s never pleasant.
According to the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute (WBTI), the top 10 bullying tactics are:
1. Falsely accusing someone of “errors” not actually made (71 percent)
2. Staring, glaring, being nonverbally intimidating (68 percent)
3. Discounting the person’s thoughts or feelings (“oh, that’s silly”) in meetings (64 percent)
4. Using the “silent treatment” to separate the target from others (64 percent)
5. Exhibiting what seems like uncontrollable mood swings in front of the group (61 percent)
6. Making up own rules on the fly that even she/he does not follow (61 percent)
7. Disregarding satisfactory or exemplary completed work despite evidence (58 percent)
8. Harshly and constantly criticizing, having a different ‘standard’ for the target (57 percent)
9. Starting, or failing to stop, destructive rumors or gossip about target (56 percent)
10. Encouraging people to turn against the target (55 percent).
The interesting (and bedeviling) thing about bullies is that if you respond with a show of anger, your situation usually gets worse. Bullies feel fully entitled to their behavior and if you challenge it, they bullying gets worse. In fact, some bullies want you to get angry, because it gives them an excuse to get an angrier, which allows them to blow off steam.
(I once heard a Buddhist monk describe such people as “anger-eating dragons.” As he put it — and I paraphrase — “the more anger you show, the bigger and meaner they get.”)
Best strategy? The goal of most bullies is either to dominate others or to displace their own aggression by projecting faults onto others. Neither motive is laudable. But both can be dealt with by staying calm. Look the bully in the eye. Don’t get riled up and don’t respond with anger. In fact, if you can sit down and relax, you can help prevent your body from getting flooded with stress hormones. Wait for the bully to finish venting, then respond calmly and clearly with a boundary (e.g., “it is totally inappropriate for you to talk to me that way”) and a positive expectation (e.g., “I plan for us to be able to work together in a productive manner.”) Then get the conversation back on track (“in terms of the website launch, let’s look at what pieces need to be in place before we get the design department involved.”)
Remember that a bully’s temper tantrum really isn’t about you — it’s about the bully’s lack of ability to cope with normal, workaday frustrations.
If the bullying persists, consider confiding in someone you trust and asking for their advice. Be sure to keep a record of the incidents — whether it’s handwritten notes or copies of emails. And avoid losing your own temper — because then you’re as much to blame as the bully.