The Cool Communicator: Dealing with Adult Bullies
My wife and I are part of a condominium association, and we traveled to where our condo is for the annual meeting. This year the meeting was well attended, more so than in previous years, because of the activity that had occurred throughout the year on the part of the manager of the property management company. One of the issues is that this “manager” is also the developer, lives on site and keeps the place looking nice. He has quite a large sense of entitlement and an apparent ego to go with it; however, it was his ethics that began to be called into question. Often with a sense of entitlement comes the belief that we are worth more than others and therefore deserve more than others. This can lead to the slippery slope that we see so many slide down, similar to the Bernie Madoffs of the world.
The reputation of this manager is that he bullies, intimidates, shames and humiliates others to get his way. He also has been known to manipulate facts and information to his benefit. At this meeting, he began by commanding, “This is my meeting,” when it was truly not his meeting, it is the meeting of the owner/members. Here began the onslaught of bullying, manipulation, probable lying and self-serving obtuseness in a five hour rant that promoted his arrogance and ignorance. There were some that spoke up, but almost as quickly as they spoke up, they became silent again, almost fearful of retaliation, if not from him, then from others supporting him.
So you may be thinking that Dr. E… has a beef with this guy… Yes I do, but I have a bigger beef with how people responded to him, including myself. That is what I want to address. Here is my concern. In the world we live in, we are crying for change. We live in a world where there are egregious abuses of power from our families to our schools, to our government, to our board rooms. But when it comes down to it, too many times we don’t step up when we have the chance.
Bullying is a problem that is gripping not just our children but all of us as a collective society. What I saw at this meeting was a bully, and I saw people from many walks of life taking it and some also feeding it. Mind you, these are successful people, lawyers, doctors, business owners, mothers, fathers…and no one stood up to say, “Enough.” People knew that what he was saying was not true, but they did not challenge him. What’s worse is that after this manager bullied his way through the meeting, he then called for the vote to re-elect himself as manager, and people let it happen and then re-elected him as manager. Even when I went to the board to ask them to stop the vote, they did not. After all, this was not his meeting. It was the meeting of the condominium association.
Why did no one speak up, and why does this happen time and again? I believe it is fear. Fear of being wrong, fear of being attacked, fear that we may lose something, fear of what others may think of us, fear of the consequences if the bully “wins.” Even at the core of every bully is fear, which is why they behave as they do. Fear does have a positive side, in that its job is to protect us from harm, but in many circumstances it is out of balance. What do we all stand to lose when we let the bully “win?” Everything!
From Victim to Victor
I believe that this action of not confronting only reinforces this behavior in all of us. In the bully it reinforces the idea that he/she can continue to act as he/she does. In his “victims” it reinforces the belief that they are powerless. The truth is that no one can take our power away unless we give it to them. I believe that we can be victimized by others, but I believe even more that we often remain victims by choice. This is just one example of what goes on around us every day and it has been happening for millennia, which is why people feel so helpless to change it. I believe that there is a further potential for us to seek a higher standard and more empowered outcome.
People often want to excuse bullying behavior when the “bully” is good at what they do in their skill set. To me, it is not a matter of how good a job a person does when they are not in integrity and they do not treat others with respect. There is no excuse for this behavior, and we, as individuals and a society should not have to endure the entitlement of others, that’s what got us into this mess.
No matter how old we get, we still feel like little kids inside. Well, so do the bullies. The bully’s behavior is no more than a temper tantrum to gain control of others. People bully others because they have something to hide: insecurity, inadequacy, lies, fears, failures… and too many times we do not see through them. When we don’t challenge these issues, we are lead like lambs to the slaughter. Is that the bully’s fault? No. We choose not to see and/or we choose not to act. I chose not to act more assertively that day, and I wish to not make that choice again. What will you choose?
So I think we all can say that we have been bullied in our lives. Some of us fight back, and many of us don’t. In my last installment, I discussed the potential consequences of not standing up and speaking out. Standing up to the bully does not have to be with a fight, and does not have to be done alone.
To understand our reactions to bullies, as kids or adults, we have to go back in time. We may not want to realize it, but as I stated in the last installment, we often feel like kids when we feel bullied. Bullies also often isolate and divide to conquer. When you think about your past, how many times did you feel singled out by a bully? Even if you were part of the crowd, the bully would often point out flaws in different people, and too many times we just felt happy when it wasn’t aimed at us. Did we want to say anything that could possibly bring their site to be aimed at us? No.
So, just what can we do to support ourselves and not leave others out to dry?
Step 1: Don’t pick a fight back with bullies. They can become unpredictable, and the more they feel that they may be losing a conflict, the more erratic they may become. There are also those circumstances that bullies shy away from a confrontation, but then that can deteriorate to the victim becoming the bully and kicking the bully when they are down. Bullies don’t often need to be “taught a lesson”; they often became bullies because they were treated harshly in the past. Even if they have lived a life of entitlement, running roughshod over others, it is important to model the behaviors you would appreciate in return.
Step 2: Become clear on what you are really feeling: fear, shame, guilt, embarrassment, humiliation, failure… whatever the emotions are, you want to be clear on what is going on within you before you try to address the issue. If you need to write these out to become clear about it, it is a valuable exercise. Ask yourself, “What age(s) do I feel?” and really spend some time on this. Help yourself to see that you are stuck in other situations, and it is these parts of you that are reacting to the present situation, often not the “you” that is in the present. When we understand that our emotions are often stuck in past issues, we can make more knowledgeable choices on how to behave in the present.
Step 3: If you have time, script out what you might want to say and/or role play with someone. Make sure the person that is role playing the bully is willing to play “the bully” to push your reactions so you can discuss it and practice it. If you don’t have time to script it or are caught in a bullying situation, use these guidelines: 1. stay calm and don’t allow yourself to be baited into the conflict. Remember, no one can take away your power unless you give it. 2. Stay focused on your and their behaviors. 3. Point out solutions for everyone’s behaviors that can lead to a positive outcome for all. 4. Be willing to walk away and offer the opportunity to revisit it later if they do not calm down, and/or be willing to ask them to leave if they cannot behave respectfully. 5. Set and discuss ground rules for future interactions and remain firm in following those guidelines.
Step 4: See this as an opportunity to help yourself and possibly someone else. I see these situations as opportunities, not obstacles. We all have chances for change. As I said in my last post, what troubled me more was not the actions of “the bully”, it was the actions of those, including myself, who allowed it to go on. We can learn from these situations, and if we don’t allow this behavior to occur, bullies will have no choice but to change their actions.
Step 5: Don’t come to the rescue of someone else who is “being bullied” merely to come their rescue. You may not know all of the details. Furthermore, your response is often more about you than it is them, and if you are not there to follow up to see what happens after you leave, it can often lead to the bully taking their frustrations out on this person when you are not around. We have to learn to teach “victims” to stand up for themselves and support them in the process.
About the author: Erik Fisher, PhD, aka Dr. E…, is a licensed psychologist and author who has been featured on NBC, CBS, FOX and CNN. Visit him at www.ErikFisher.com to learn more about his books “The Art of Empowered Parenting” and “The Art of Managing Everyday Conflict” or to check out his blog.