Everyone has met a bully. Perhaps you have one in your workplace, on your school board, at your volunteer organization, or in your family.
Bullying behaviors by people in positions of influence can make even the simplest tasks a headache. Studies show bullying in our society is on the rise. A 2019 Monster.com survey found that nearly 94% of 2,081 employees polled said they had been bullied in the workplace, representing an increase of 19% in the last 11 years. We could blame social media or our polarized society, but whatever the cause, bullying needs to be stopped.
What can be done to disarm bullies? Here are seven strategies.
- Understand the Bully’s Agenda. This may seem counterintuitive, but the more you understand about the bully’s agenda, the more you can mitigate their behavior. People who bully others are often insecure. They use toxic behaviors to try to make themselves appear more powerful and important. They may not feel appreciated or valued or respected. Somewhere along the way they learned to compensate by being a tyrant. Frequently, they have been victims of an abuser themselves. If you try to combat a bully with aggression, chances are you will lose.
The best strategy is to win without them knowing it. Make them believe you support them and are open to their agenda. This will defuse their behaviors, because it’s difficult to browbeat someone who is being compliant. If nothing else, you’ll make them work a lot harder trying to find something else to throw at you. For example, even if you disagree with a bully you’re forced to work with, try using phrases such as, “I think you have an important point,” “I’m open to looking at this from all angles,” and “Your opinion is fair,” and move quickly to table the current discussion and set up another meeting. This may defuse the bully and, once removed from their audience, they may be less confrontational.
- Understand the Bully’s Tactics. Do they micromanage? Do they raise their voice? Do they conspire with others behind your back? Bullying behaviors can take many forms and require different approaches.
When faced with a bully who is intent on keeping you from accomplishing the task at hand, don’t say “it’s not your business”; rather, flood them with information. It can be time-consuming for you, but this bully’s micromanaging comes from insecurity that no one can do the job as well as he or she could and from feeling left out. The more details you provide, the more you assure them you are capable and that the situation is under control.
If you encounter bullies who raise their voice, you’ll never outshout them. Instead, speak more softly. Studies have shown that responding in a soft voice de-escalates yelling. If you raise your voice in response, you are escalating the combative situation. Include anti-bullying techniques in your association leadership training to give your volunteers the tools they need to stand up to the bullies in their lives.