We are taught that bullying happens when we are young. Indeed, it does. But the reality is that there are plenty of people who experience bullying as adults in their work, friendships and even family.
When I was younger I got bullied, physically and emotionally. Personally, I always found the emotional bullying by far the worst. I could deal with a knife to my throat or being choked or punched. What killed me was when I was insulted and humiliated in front of others or when I was ignored and isolated.
As you grow up, most bullies realise that bullying is wrong and they stop doing it. The different groups they find themselves in mean that they are no longer in the ‘cool’ or ‘tough’ gang. Given the changing circumstances, it resets everything when you enter college and then, later, the working world.
Still, though, there are bullies in college and business. They would never see themselves as bullies as often bullies don’t. They just see themselves doing what they can to keep respect, power or status. They often see it as ‘playing the game’. For example, a new employee is made to feel uncomfortable by the team leader. Perhaps the team leader feels insecure because of the new recruit or threatened by them.
Whatever the situation, bullying occurs. It is in the form of snide remarks or social isolation. It is used as a way to control you or position you in a particular way. There is little worse than going into work every day and feeling anxious or nervous about your fellow co-workers or boss. Since we spend so much of our lives in our careers, the ability to handle such bullies is an indispensable skill.
There are a number of different options when it comes to handling bullying and I will outline some of them now. Different circumstances require different kinds of action.
Let me start by saying if this is a work situation, there may be specific HR policy issues to bear in mind. You may need to go through certain procedures outlined by the company with respect to bullying. Also keep in mind that every time you point out bullying, it will have consequences in the wider world. Sometimes they may escalate the bullying, sometimes they will stop, sometimes they will suffer punishment and want revenge and sometimes they will be incredibly hurt. All of these are the potential results of reporting bullying. So, reporting bullying is one option which is sometimes the best option.
Another option is to start standing up for yourself. This means that the next time they try and intimidate you, you respond with strength. You need to be mentally prepared for this and get your head ready for the feeling of confrontation that often comes with this kind of response. Again, the possibilities here are that it can escalate things or it can show them that you are not to be messed with.
The next choice you have is to laugh it off. This means dismissing their attempts to bully you by laughing at it all and refusing to show that they are able to get to you. So often, bullies get a kick out of knowing that they are successfully getting to you. When they learn that they cannot they eventually stop.
Options that are almost never a good idea are avoidance and showing you are upset. Showing you are upset shows them that they are winning and makes you look weak. Avoiding simply delays the inevitable and keeps you feeling the same kind of fear.
There is one simple strategy however which is always a good idea and that is change your perspective about what is happening. In order for us to feel bad because of someone else, we have to think certain thoughts about them and ourselves. You have a great degree of control over what happens inside your head. It is essential that you recognise what really goes on when someone bullies you.
The games these people play come from a deep anxiety that they have inside about them not being enough. Often, they are getting bullied by someone in their life. They feel inadequate and insecure. They, therefore, try to compensate by directing their anger toward themselves outward to others to try and feel powerful for once in their sad life. Recognising this when you think of them gives you one of the greatest qualities you can feel… compassion. This quality changes the emotional charges that happen when you interact with them. The very attitude you hold with them will influence and impact their state.
Keeping this in mind, what if they use one of the more adult and ‘subtle’ forms of bullying such as isolating you… how do you deal with that? Well, often people will follow the leader because they, too, are terrified of being left out. To handle this, the key is to remind yourself that everyone is scared and acting out of fear and kill them with kindness. Be ultra-friendly to them regardless of how they are and treat them as if they are likeable and nice. They will start to soften up and become much nicer the more relentless you are. The key is with this to avoid showing any neediness and act comfortable and confident in yourself. Be prepared to do things on your own and remember that you are waiting for them to gather up the courage to respond nicely to you. The bully will not be able to cope with relentless kindness.
When they snipe, you can highlight what they are really saying by asking if that is what they mean. Then they will be forced to accept they are attacking you or deny it. If they accept it, it makes them look bad. If they deny it, then they will tread carefully after that because they do not want to be seen to be bad.
A final strategy is to ask the bully for a small favour. This may seem completely insane but can work really well in so many situations. It does so because when you ask someone to do something for you they tend to feel like you like them enough to ask therefore one potential insecurity that drives their nastiness is taken away. Second, when they actually do something nice for you, they need to stay consistent with that kind of behaviour in the future and are more likely to become nicer to you overall.
Of course, not everything will work all the time and bullying will sometimes get to you no matter what you do but hopefully there are a few ideas here which will help you to handle bullying better and might help you the next time someone tries it on.