Did you know that emotions aren’t a direct result of what happens to us, but rather a consequence of the beliefs and thoughts about what happens to us? It’s an important distinction.
To deal with a bully, most of us believe we have to get the bully to change his or her behavior. Sometimes the odds of that happening seem remote. In those cases, there’s got to be an alternative. And there is. Change the thinking so the bully’s behavior doesn’t cause as much suffering.
Obviously, if the bully is inflicting physical harm or attempting to generate irreparable career damage, a more active approach is required. But when the damage is primarily emotional this can be quite an effective strategy. Think of it as the I am rubber you are glue option.
The internal thinking game can be a challenge to pull off, but it is usually worth trying prior to moving to more active response options. It’s safe because at this point you are working to resolve the problem without involving others.
This Sort of Thinking Will Create Problems For You
Here’s how it works. Let’s suppose a coworker who’s been on your case of late passes you in the hall. Because you have a cheerful nature and good manners, you greet her anyway with a friendly, “Hi Susan.” She responds with an icy glare and continues on her way.
At this point, many people would believe that the hostility of Susan’s behavior will automatically create a bad feeling in you. It probably will if your attention focuses on the following questions and thoughts:
- What have I done to deserve this?
- Why does she hate me so much?
- I’m helpless and can’t do anything to stop these attacks.
- I don’t deserve this.
- It isn’t fair.
- Nobody can help me.
Replace Those Thoughts With Better Ones
This is where we get back to the idea of influencing our emotions by controlling our thoughts. Imagine how you might feel differently if your thoughts now focused on Susan’s behavior being her problem and reflecting on the options that you do have. Here are some examples:
- Wow, Susan’s having another bad day. Her life must be miserable.
- If Susan doesn’t like me, that’s her problem, not mine.
- She better knock it off or I’m going to have report the behavior.
- I’m going to figure out what to do about Susan because her behavior is getting old.
- Her bad mood doesn’t have to affect my mood.
People who successfully use this strategy typically are good at their jobs and make sure others are aware of their positive contributions. They have a strong network of supporters. They are good at keeping the external manifestations of their emotions in check, so that they don’t accidentally fly off the handle at the bully in their attempt to work through the situation. In other words, healthy levels of self-esteem facilitate the use of this option.
In many cases, the bully will need to be confronted or reported, but before taking those steps this is a good first one to try. Use it with bullies that rarely target you or whose opinions matters little to you. At the very least go to this strategy temporarily to buy the time you need to develop a more permanent solution to the problem.
Here are more articles in this series.
- Defining the problem
- Understanding the problem
- Response options
- Change your thinking
- Confront the bully
- Report the problem
- Leave the situation
- Defend your coworkers
I’d also welcome your call to discuss your situation. Grab a slot on my calendar with the link below.