Be Prepared: What do you say to a Workplace Bully or Harasser?

thinkredshirtAre you prepared to face, confront, and repel a bully or harasser? If you are like most of us, you’re not! Why? Who wants to think they have to prepare for a bully? We have a social contract with the world. That is ‘I treat you with respect, you respond in kind’. But, many people don’t respond to our plan for a healthy workplace. Many people have an agenda different from our own – an agenda to harm, intimidate, or control. Sometimes simply an agenda based on fear of the unknown and a bit of paranoia, and poor leadership and communication skills.

Handling confrontations and attacks that come from bullying and fear and incompetence requires PREPARATION!

Physical attacks draw one of 3 responses – Freeze, Flight, or Fight. Physical Self-defense training is designed to create muscle memory so that your body and your mind can respond to an attack without pause. With muscle memory you can manage your flight and freeze responses, you can skip over the emotions and get down to action. With training you have OPTIONS, you can see opportunities you didn’t know existed, and you can react quickly and effectively.

Verbal attacks require the same training and attention –Verbal Self-Defense, if you will. You need words, and attitude, and confidence on your side. As a coach who works with targets and aggressors of bullying, I’ve gathered some helpful practice drills for developing your verbal self-defense muscle memory.

What to say when you’re a target of bullying:

  •  Excuse me?
  • Can you repeat that? I’m not sure I understand the relationship between what we’re discussing and your comment about my (insert-attitude, behavior, education, race, creed, etc.)
  • Is that what you believe to be true?
  • That’s quite an assumption you’re making. Where are your facts?
  • Are you sure you want to continue this conversation?
  • I’m not asking your permission.
  • What do you think was just said here?
  • What if what was said just now wasn’t intended the way you think?
  • We were just discussing (insert topic of the moment) but we seem to be on another topic now. What just happened?
  • We seem to be off-topic; I suggest we return to the agenda.
  • I’ll return to discuss this matter after you calm down.

What you want to have is a nimble mind, a ‘in the event of a loss in cabin pressure’ strategy, if you will. You’re going to come across a workplace bully. They’re the same persons who bullied people in the workplace. They’re going to be educated, professional, and sometimes beyond reproach, and they’re going to be your boss, colleague, supervisor, or employee. The better prepared you are to handle yourself in such situations, the less likely you’ll respond with intense emotions, and the more options you have. When you’re facing a bully, you need to keep control of yourself while you maintain your confidence. Preparation is the key. For more information, on bully preparation training, contact Kathleen Bartle.