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How to Deal With a Bully

by Julie Fuimano-Donley

Most of us have come face to face with intimidation at some point either at work or in our personal lives. It’s never easy because at the moment it occurs, there are two big things to manage:
  • YOU and your emotional state and
  • The other person’s behavior

You have to assert yourself in a way that defuses the bully and his or her anger while at the same time managing the rage that is exploding inside you.

A bully’s power lies in their ability to “get to you.” And when they do, you become angry, enraged, embarrassed, perhaps appalled, but as soon as you become emotional and you allow that emotion to hijack you, you’re done. They’ve got you.

And once they have your number, they will dial it whenever they want to have some fun – at your expense. Intimidation is their greatest weapon. Bullies like to instill fear and trepidation in their targets. This gives them power and feeds their self-esteem.

Manage yourself first

Before you do anything, you must manage yourself. If not, you may lash out and react in a way that does not reflect the best of you. It is essential that you remain professional and respectful – and in control – even in your personal life.

I often hear people say they behave differently at home versus at work. But in reality, everyone you meet deserves your respect, especially those who love you, and even if they do not show you respect. You can only control you and just because someone else behaves badly does not mean you should.

You teach others how to behave well and how you expect to be treated by how you behave and by how you treat yourself. In other words, your behavior speaks volumes. People will learn to mirror you when they witness you dealing with things appropriately, calmly and respectfully.

Two strategies for dealing with bullies

  • Express boundaries by teaching them what acceptable behavior is and
  • Employ empathy to understand what they are going through.

1. Express boundaries

Address the behavior directly and in the moment. Tell them very clearly in no uncertain terms that their behavior is inappropriate. Ask them to lower their voice. Tell them stop yelling at you. I often will lower my voice or whisper if someone else is loud so that they have to calm down to hear me.

It is best to pull them aside and address them privately; however, if they are that difficult or problematic, you may find it best to do it right then and there and have witnesses if they are the type to lie and twist things around. This is one reason self-management is essential; you don’t want to lash out and get ugly.

Point out the behavior that is a problem for you. Do not go into a long dissertation. Women in particular will explain on and on… the message is then lost. Use few words and get to the point. The goal is to get the person to stop.

In addition, you may need to teach them how to behave differently. Their behavior is telling you that they do not know any better; you may need to teach them by giving them clear expectations for appropriate, alternative behaviors.

Speak up for what is right. This isn’t easy, especially when the behavior is tolerated by others. Often, the intimidating behavior has bee going on a long time and management, or even you personally, have permitted it. If you decide to change, instruct the person and explain that although you have tolerated this in the past, it is no longer acceptable. It is habit for them to behave this way so you’ll need to remind them every time the behavior occurs giving them a chance to learn new skills and improve.

If management permits the behavior, realize that they may be intimidated and not know how to deal with the person. Regardless, you must stand up for yourself. Just because the behavior is accepted by others does not mean it is acceptable for you. Silence gives the behavior permission. You must feel strongly enough about yourself as a human being and respect yourself enough to be assertive and require people behave with civility in your presence.

If the behavior is so intolerable and it does not change with your assertiveness, you must remove yourself from that environment else it will eat you up inside and stress you out. There is no reason to put up with mistreatment.

However, when you start speaking up, others may follow your lead. People’s fear and lack of skill holds them back from being assertive; your strength and modeling assertiveness behaviors lead others to find the courage to stand up for themselves.

Employ empathy

Step into their shoes for a moment. Bullies live in fear – fear of losing control, fear of not having control, fear of being found out… Bullying serves a purpose whether it’s a need for power or to boost self-esteem. It /represents a wall to keep people at a distance. By asking a question, you can learn about the bully and often diffuse their anger.

Intimidation is mean. There can be several reasons why people mistreat other people. It is learned behavior, a function of low self-esteem, and fear. It is never about you. It is always about them and where they are developmentally. They do not know better, even if they do know better. They may not care or they may not know how to behave differently. Empathy affords you the opportunity to learn what is going on for them.

The only way I can mistreat you is if I feel badly about myself. If I behave badly and it is never about you, then it is about me. It is a reflection of how I feel about myself. So when I disrespect you, I am really telling you how I feel about me.

Empathy allows you to show the person compassion. It helps you access the humanness in you – have you ever behaved badly? How would you like to be treated in that moment? Perhaps if they feel you care, just maybe, they will let you into their world, behind their wall of fear and self-loathing.

This does not mean you allow bad behavior; you still may need to express your boundary. By starting with a question or acknowledgement of the unwanted behavior, you can diffuse them while you calm yourself down and manage the fear or anger you feel. “You seem really angry. You don’t usually raise your voice or speak to me like that. Are you okay?”

Once they respond, then you can say something to the effect that talking like that is not professional or appropriate.

Assertiveness repels bullies

It is not easy to toggle between empathy and boundaries while maintaining your emotional state. If you become too emotional, walk away. Accept responsibility for yourself and your actions and tell the person, “I need to walk away. You are acting inappropriately and I need a moment before I can address this.”

Care for yourself first Treat yourself with respect and loving-kindness. In this moment, your first need is to restore harmony within you. Then, you can plan your response either on your own or with your personal coach or a trusted peer. If you do nothing different, then nothing will change. If you run away from dealing with it, chances are great you will meet up with another bully that tests you in a similar way.

There is a lesson here for you. Learn it now. The longer you wait, the more you suffer. The good news is that the more you respect and honor you, the less you attract these people in your life.

Julie Fuimano-Donley, RN, MBA, CSAC is named one of the TOP 100 THOUGHT LEADERS in personal leadership development. Your happiness and success is her business! Her coaching clients experience dramatic and profound results in their productivity, level of confidence, and their relationships. As a certified coach, accomplished writer, and motivational speaker, Julie empowers your personal best and teaches you simple, practical tools for meeting your goals, communicating effectively with others, and enjoying yourself at work and at home. Visit www.NurturingYourSuccess.com to learn more about working with Julie or contact Julie@NurturingYourSuccess.com to have her speak at your next meeting or conference. Subscribe to her blog at www.NurturingYourSuccessBlog.com.

Some Related Articles:

Six Steps to Managing a Negative Coworker
Handling a Coworker's Taunts and Snide Comments


How to confidently talk and make friends - especially if you're shy


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