Usable Insight – How to Shrink a Bully
Bully (to me during a confrontation with him having road rage): “I’m going to beat the crap out of you for cutting me off!”
Me (said firmly but not angrily): Shh… Wait a moment! (as if I’m hearing something else)
Bully (a little off balance): What??
Me (said strongly): I’m sorry I cut you off. I have had a terrible day, and I know you’re about to beat the crap out of me which will be easy because you’ve got me by 80 pounds, but who are you really angry at?
Bully (now confused and annoyed): What?
Me: C’mon! Let’s face it. I just annoyed and insulted you by cutting you off and I was the last straw, but who or what are you really pissed off that you can’t do anything about?
Bully (now slightly calmer and intrigued): What do you mean?
Me: C’mon… you know as well as I do that I am nobody in your life, but someone or something in your life is really ticking you off and you’re at your wits end, which is why my cutting you off pushed you over the edge… Right?
Bully (thinking about what I said): Uh
Me: And beating the crap out of me isn’t going to make that other situation any better, so what haven’t you tried in that other situation that might make it better?
Bully: I don’t know.
Me: Why don’t you do what I just did, why don’t you go up to whoever is pissing you off and say in the same tone of voice I am using, “Hey, what’s really going on and why are you treating me the way you are?” You never know, might be worth a try.
Bully: Well, I don’t know.
Me: C’mon, give it a try. And by the way, sorry I am cut you off.
Bully: Um, uh… no problem (smiling) I’m kind of glad you did after all. By the way, thanks.
And that’s how a psychiatrist and former FBI and police hostage negotiator got out of being beaten up.
Now you may be saying, “Well that’s easy for you to do, you’re a shrink and a hostage negotiator trainer to boot. I could never do that.”
Hey, wait a minute! Not so fast. Maybe you can do more than you thought.*
Here are the elements of that which you might try.
- Anyone who’s upset at you above and beyond what you have done or failed to do is being hammered by someone else in their life or by some overly perfectionist, OCD type thing going on in their head.
- Realize that if the above is true and then using that understanding to stay cool and calm, it can prevent you from becoming fearful (which invites them to attack) or aggressive (which prompts them to escalate).
- So let them say whatever they say and then pause (for at least three seconds), feel yourself being centered and calm and then say in the tone that a big brother or big sister might say to a kid brother or sister, “Whoa! what’s’ THAT all about?” (inviting them to vent more).
- As they vent more, imagine it going over your shoulders instead of between the eyes and then say, “And THAT too! I mean you’re really upset. What that all about?”
- Sooner or later you will see them calm down, you will not be agitated and with a little luck you’ll be able to turn that confrontation into a discussion and maybe even a dialogue.
* Of course don’t try this in every bullying situaiton and don’t do this when you are in immediate physical danger. Nevertheless I hope that some of the elements might be helpful to you.
P.S. This a sample of the coaching I give high performing women who frequently have to navigate male egos who are overly controlling and confrontational, not to mention smug (just to add insult to obnoxiousness).