A highly efficient company secretary came to me with a minor problem. Sensing there was something else on her mind, I asked her what it was. She broke down, and admitted, for the first time, that she was being bullied at work. Having been bullied as a small boy I know how miserable this can make you, and I had every sympathy. Bullying is one of the greatest causes of misery, causing half of all stress-related illnesses at work, and sometimes leading to suicide. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, and this includes doctors (remember there is no bigger bully than a doctor who refuses to listen). Men tend to be less open than women about being bullied and are often reluctant to admit to themselves that there is a problem. But you can do something about it, and it does not take a radical shift in your behaviour to alter another person’s attitude to you. Certain principles apply across the board:
• The first thing to remember is that bullies are weak or insecure people. Their aggressive front crumbles when they think they are facing someone stronger. Most people work on the assumption that if they do nothing about an unpleasant situation the bully will shut up and life will continue as normal. Nothing could be further from the truth. This simply reinforces the bully’s view that throwing your weight about gets results. Believe in yourself, be confident in your own abilities and don’t listen to snide or malicious remarks. It may help to memorise a few positive affirmations – ‘You cannot touch me’ and’ I am winning’ are my favourites.
• Second, keep calm. The more bullies feel they are losing the argument the louder they will shout. Do not be deflected from what you are saying if they try to shout you down – it shows that you are winning.
Body posture and non-verbal clues are important in helping you stand your ground. Never smile at a bully, and do not let them see they are upsetting you. Stand up straight and look the bully directly in the eye. This can be difficult, because if you are angry with some one who you have trouble dealing with, your natural reaction is to lower your gaze in order to hide your true feelings. Take a deep breath and keep your nerve. Bullies will be deeply disconcerted by this, as they feel power is being taken away from them.
If you find it difficult to deal with a bully at work, especially if they are in a position of power, take formal measures. Write down your grievances, make an appointment to see the bully, and then calmly state the reasons why you want their behaviour to stop. If necessary, take a colleague with you as a witness. Follow this up with a letter repeating what you have said and why. Do not forget your legal rights and the relevant complaints procedures. Above all, be as objective as you can.
Memorize and rehearse strategies for dealing with bullies. Soon it will become automatic. Remember to:
• Make eye contact.
• Write down what you want to say beforehand.
• Keep calm.
• Keep from being deflected.
Bullies are fundamentally weak, and will move on if you can stay calm, consistent and courageous.