Four ways to beat the bully

Nov 01, 2016
Bullying behaviour is unacceptable, yet many people suffer in silence. In this article, we give you the skills you need to stay calm and come out on top using examples from the US presidential election campaign.

While the recent presidential debates in the United States (US) have become a source of great amusement for many, they also serve to remind us that bullying doesn’t stop at the school gate.

The Democratic campaign has capitalised on Donald Trump’s alleged bullying antics and whatever your political leanings, it’s hard to attribute Trump’s behaviour − denigrating and criticising others, name calling, interrupting, attributing blame and getting personal − to anything other than textbook bullying.

As Trump’s campaign rolled on, his behaviour took a more sinister turn. In particular, the second presidential debate highlighted a different type of bullying by Trump − a more insidious kind − which created a very real sense of discomfort among viewers. The Saturday Night Live sketch, while poking fun at both candidates, illustrates these behaviours.

Behaviours include the non-verbal running commentary on what Clinton says (pursed lips, rolling eyes etc.), hovering, lurking, and following her around the stage in an attempt to create a power imbalance.

Non-verbal behaviours are among the most difficult behaviours to address as they can be almost imperceptible and impossible to describe. Imagine trying to explain these behaviours in a work scenario: “He repeatedly sniffed while I was talking, he rocked back and forward on the balls of his feet and stood close to me.” Because of its subtlety, it’s a very powerful way to maintain a constant level of intimidation or threat.

While employers should have processes in place to deal with bullying, this type of behaviour isn’t limited to the workplace. It can be encountered in many other situations where there’s no recourse to such action, such as volunteer committees or social groups.

So how should you respond to bullying behaviours?

1. Don’t take it personally

The bullying is not about you. Every bully I’ve encountered has had significant insecurity issues, but you shouldn’t ignore the behaviour. While it’s tempting to do so, it implies that you tolerate being treated in a particular way.

Over time, we teach people how to treat us. It’s why bullies prey on those who are unlikely to stand up for themselves. In the end, we get what we tolerate.

Clinton recited Trump’s unacceptable behaviours and beliefs, and even released a video on the topic. However, don’t respond emotionally, as this will only inflame the situation. Most bullies just want to rise you so they feel they have control − deny them the satisfaction. If you don’t feel equipped to speak out, however, focus on not giving the bully the reaction they want.

2. Play them at their own game

By the second debate, Clinton had learned to respond with her own non-verbal gestures. She occasionally grimaced before answering, smiled tightly and tilted her head back.

3. Maintain self-control

Most importantly of all, Clinton held her head high no matter what the provocation. At times, she must have been disturbed by Trump’s aggression, though she appeared remarkably unflappable. The message was clear; she was the more statesman-like of the two candidates.

4. Display confidence

Clinton’s demeanour was measured and unrushed. She radiated cool confidence. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, believes that it’s possible to “fake it till you make it” arguing that “it’s not about what your body language says to others, it’s about what your body language is communicating to you: your body language is changing your mind, which changes your behaviour, which changes your outcomes”.

Of course, sometimes situations are more complex and at times there can be a very real danger to your physical and mental wellbeing. In such circumstances, it’s important to access the appropriate supports.

If you would like to read more about the supports available, click on the following links or contact Chartered Accountants Support: