Bullying incidents between students are well publicized. Less often though do we hear about the more discreet experience of professionals who suffer at the hands of a colleague. Statistics on the number of bullied teachers are hard to come by, but a 2010 study reveals that one in three teachers claim to have been bullied at school.
Many of us rack our brains trying to figure out why bullies do what they do. Are they threatened by us? Jealous, maybe? Do they victimize us because they were once victims? Trying to figure out “why” is exhausting and more often than not, futile. What you can control is how you react and whether or not you inadvertently feed a bully’s motivations. Below you will find a few strategies to help you disarm bullies.
Make an abrupt exit
Bullies count on their victim’s politeness and exploit it. There are simple ways that you can still be courteous and assertive. You may need to tailor your response to the situation, but try a variation on one of the below responses. In the middle of the confronter’s sentence, calmly and without emotion say,
“Excuse me, but I am expecting a phone call.”
“I’d like to talk more about this, but now is not a good time.”
If the confronter calms down and agrees to speak later, set up a specific time to speak. If he or she continues talking, calmly make your exit and say, “I’ll plan on speaking to you tomorrow at the agreed time.”
Why ask “Why?”
A more assertive approach is to repeatedly ask “Why?” You’ll want to vary the phrasing, but here are a few examples:
“What makes you say that?”
“I hear what you’re saying, but can you help me understand more?”
“When did you start feeling this way?”
“Can you be more specific about ________?”
“Can you define what you mean by ____________?”
Turn a one-sided confrontation into a conversation that you can continue to control with Socratic questions.
Use reflective listening techniques
Most psychologists use reflective listening techniques for a couple of reasons. First, because they let the client know that the psychologist is paying attention; second, they provoke clients into further developing their thoughts. All you have to do is paraphrase what the bully said and repeat it back to him or her.
“So what I’m hearing you say is that…”
“So you believe that I should be doing…”
“I want to make sure that I understand: You’re saying that…”
“So you feel that…”
Things not to do
Don’t act defensive: Acting defensive suggests that you did something wrong.
Don’t be timid: Timidity suggests that you are insecure and can be easily manipulated.
Don’t be fooled: Accepting what a bully says at face value will make you appear naïve.