Imagine a bully is targeting you at work. You’ve tried ignoring him. That didn’t work. You tried thinking about the situation in different ways so that he wouldn’t get under your skin. That has become exhausting. This bully is way over the line. It’s time to step up your response. It’s time to confront.
Before you go storming off to let the bully have it, I’d suggest you read a little more. You need a plan. You also need to prepare. Ignoring this advice is likely to lead you to do or say something that may create even more trouble.
To create an effective plan, you must first understand the situation. Here are some questions to answer?
- What specifically is the bully doing?
- When does it happen?
- What might be setting off the bad behavior?
- What’s the bully want or need?
- Why am I the target of his aggression?
You may not know all the answers, but do your best to form theories, leaving open the possibility that they may be wrong. Also, consider doing some reconnaissance. Use the next couple interactions you have with the bully as an opportunity to figure out what’s going on. Instead of reacting, remain neutral, friendly is even better. Engage in conversation that might help you uncover the answers to the questions. You’ll be most successful if the bully doesn’t know that you are researching the situation.
Another source of information is to observe how the bully acts toward others. You might also talk with coworkers about this person to see if they’ve experienced any of the same behaviors or can offer you insights about what is occurring.
Once you’ve got the best possible understanding of the situation, determine how you will approach the bully. Start with gentle approaches and work your way into tougher language only if softer language doesn’t work.
Let’s say your boss, Bob, is hyper-critical of your work. You’ve been planning on saying something and today he provides you with the opportunity when he says, “My first grader could have done a better job on this than you.” Here are some examples of what you might say.
- “It’s clear you see problems with my work. Let’s talk about your specific concerns and then figure out how to correct them.” This is a very non-threatening confrontation technique. Using this approach you re-frame the insult and turn his statement into something more productive. You may need to use this several times before it has any effect on Bob’s behavior.
- “Hold on a minute. I understand you are concerned with the quality of my work. What I don’t understand is why you are insulting me. What’s going on?” In this statement, you acknowledge the insult and give the bully a chance to explain his behavior. Most bullies will not like this conversation and may think twice before bullying you in the future.
- “I’d be happy to talk about your concerns with my work, but first I want to talk about the things you’ve been saying to me. Comparing me to your first grader is demeaning. I want to be treated with respect and am asking you to refrain from making those kinds of comments.” Here you’ve called out the behavior and asked him to stop. You are direct, honest, and respectful. That’s the goal.
- “We’ve talked about this before. I’ve asked you to please treat me with respect. You have chosen to ignore my requests. I want to work this out between just the two of us. I’m not, however, going to stand for it any longer. I need you to know that if you insult me just one more time, I am going to escalate my concerns to someone that can help resolve this.” In this statement, you are telling the bully there will be consequences for his continued bad behavior. He’s likely to see this as a threat and things could get ugly. Use this as the last thing you try before reporting the behavior. If you believe this kind of statement can only make things worse, then don’t do it, and seek help after trying statement #3.
Now in the perfect world, Bob gets the message and changes his ways. However, we don’t live in perfect worlds. He may deny the charge, ramp up his attack, or pretend to value what you said and then find a new line of attack to get you back later. All you can do is try and hope for the best possible outcome.
To up your chances of success, keep these tips in mind.
- Start with low intensity, simple tactics.
- Stay cool and collected. If you can’t keep emotions under control, delay any kind of confrontation until you can.
- Remain honest, sincere and positive.
- Your goal is behavior change, not payback or punishment.
- When possible choose the time and place.
- Go easy on yourself if things don’t work out as planned. Manage your expectations with the knowledge that these things are never easy to resolve.
- Regardless of how the bully responds, remain skeptical and vigilant.
- Anticipate the bully’s next move.
People are rarely comfortable having these kinds of confrontations. Still, in most cases, they are worth the effort prior to reporting the behavior.
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.