Stand Up! How to Respond to Bullying, Aggressive Behavior & Unpleasant Situations


There are quite a few suggestions for handling difficult situations including breathing, counting to 10, lavender oil, and meditation. Okay, fine but really not so fine. Difficult situations require a Response to the Problem Plan with two stages: Focus, and Action.

Here are guidelines for each stage.



            Set Goals:

What do you want to happen as a result of the conversation? Is the goal realistic or pie-in-the-sky? Are you willing to accept baby-steps?

            Plan your Context:

How do you want to ‘be’ during the conversation?  For example: Do you want to be open to responses, or perhaps forthright? How about calm, centered, and empathic? what about tough and demanding? (Suggestion: if the situation is really contentious, then you’ll have to get to a SHOW NO FEAR mindset BUT avoid aggressive threats which will make everyone involved defensive and thus escalates the problem.)

            Think about Boundaries:

            What are you willing to risk to have this conversation?

            What are you NOT willing to risk?

            Include your Desired Results:

How will you know if you have moved toward your goal or achieved your goal? Hint: What might be different? Are any of these differences measurable or are they totally subjective. Are they realistic steps forward or are you trying to leap ahead to near perfection? (Hint: Incremental improvement is the answer. Rome was not built in a day!)


Take the information above and use it to plan your conversation. Put it into the following model.

Set an Appointment.

If they are not available at that moment, then don’t push your agenda. Rather, set an appointment for up to 10 minutes.

         During the Meeting:

Describe the problem in neutral terms using a specific incident. Instead of using phrases such as ‘you said or you did’ try: Just wanted to discuss what happened at the meeting’,

Avoid debating what happened – Once you start debating the merits and demerits of the incident, then you’re in an argument, about intent. That starts the blame game and you’ll find yourself trapped.

Exercise empathy by acknowledging the person’s anxiety. Oftentime conflicts happen because someone is afraid. They’re worried about performing the job, making a mistake, competing for scarce resources, being embarrassed or attacked. If you are able, listen without defending your actions.

Reduce the anxiety with reassurances. One of the most powerful weapons for reducing conflict is to remind the other person that you are actually on their side.  Beside fear, isolation is another cause of conflict. Leaders, rightly or wrongly, feel they are the only ones taking risks and those around them are failing to carry their weight. If you are ble to understand that, you can have a great impact on the  outcome of the conflict.

Set limits on their behavior with an example of what you do want. If someone’s behavior feels out of bounds for you, you can try setting limits. However, ‘you can’t do that again’ doesn’t work. If you are going to set a limit, you have to have a consequence you can enforce. If you won’t tolerate yelling, and you can leave the room when someone’s yelling, then say so and follow through.

This is not easy and often requires coaching to clear out the emotional stuff and get down to what really needs to happen. Be that as it may, pre-planning is critical in these difficult situations. Without planning you are at the mercy of damning behaviors including defensiveness and judgment as well as contempt. These do not help your cause and will most certainly make things worse. Even if the bully eembraces conflict it doen’t mean you have to.