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Fighting off bullies

Gain control by standing up to intimidation

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in Leaders & Managers

The biggest problem with having bullies in your workplace isn’t their unlikable personalities or their unrelenting nastiness. The real harm is the distraction and disruption caused by their very presence.

Try these techniques to keep an office bully in check:

Stand fast. Projecting a strong, authentic image is like spraying yourself with bully repellent—they’ll stay away from you. That means if a bully leans into you, don’t lean away. Keep still and don’t give ground. If you’re insulted, don’t laugh it off or sidestep his remarks. Say, “That’s not called for. I can’t let your lack of professionalism pass unnoticed.” Bullies feed off of others’ insecurities. They thrive in an environment where workers are paranoid or afraid to take a firm stand.

Identify bullying traits. It doesn’t do much good to say, “Stop being a bully.” Instead, isolate the behaviors that the individual must stop. Examples: interrupting, ranting in a loud voice and making threats. Once you know exactly what you want someone to stop doing, you can manage the behavior, as opposed to the person. Say, “In the past week, you’ve intimidated your coworkers three times by yelling at them. We cannot and will not tolerate that kind of behavior.”

Intimidate using “opposition force.” Bullies expect to push people around. You can push back without escalating the conflict or inviting a confrontation. Here’s how: Respond to the individual in the opposite manner. If he’s talking fast in an angry tone, speak slowly in a neutral or even slightly friendly tone. If he’s smiling, maintain a tight-lipped look of seriousness. If he’s seated, remain standing. Bullies often expect others to react fearfully to them. By not mirroring their behavior, you show that they cannot rattle you.

Harness a bully’s fury. The same traits that make a bully so unpleasant to deal with can actually work to your advantage. For instance, ask the individual to prepare a game plan to attack a competitor’s strategy. By directing the bully’s attention to a tough business problem, you can tap the person’s negative energy in a way that won’t harm you or your team.

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