Verbally Deflecting the Bully: Less Is More
Hi there, and welcome to June’s edition of Bully-Free Workplace Monthly. And this audio edition is dedicated to talking. There’s a saying, “Less is more.” In fact, there are some people that say the only way that you could say less was to talk more. Sometimes when we are nervous or we are emotional, we are scared or wondering, we often come back with the defense of talking too much. So today, we’re looking at responses to adult bullies and how to increase your power by actually talking less.
The most common question I get is “What can I say to the bully?” So we’re going to look at how to be friendly, firm, but not familiar. What can you say – but really it’s not so much what you say; it’s the exact words that will give you the power and then moving on. My name is Valerie Cade and I’m the founder of How to Have a Bully Free Workplace. And by the way, if any of you have questions regarding anything with bullying in the workplace; feel free to always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our book, Bully Free At Work, clearly highlights the aspect of making sure that you are proofed well. But many people say, “Well, that’s fine, and I’ve done that.” Or they think they’ve bully-proofed themselves and now they’re moving into “I still have to work with this bully. What can I do specifically?” You’ll note that the last few editions of our newsletter have also focused on the “How To’s” – what one can do.
So once again, I like to start off with some statistics that puts our frame of mind into the aspect that bullying really is something that needs to be stopped. And I’ll read to you some of the statistics for the month of June. You know, so many times we just grin and bear it, we go back to work, we try our very best to just get back in the game, but maybe this will startle you. Anxiety was reported as the #1 health or psychological impact suffered by targets. And 94% of people who are bullied (the target), have suffered from anxiety. 84% of targets say they suffer from sleeplessness. And if you think about it, these are all things that we are not seeing in our co-workers at work. These are all things that they experience either internally or off the job site. So therefore, it’s even harder for us to know if someone is bullied.
If you’re being bullied, it’s hard for people to know that based on your behaviors, because often these are things that you’ll be suffering silently with. 76% of people who are targets, actually obsess over the situation. Now, what is obsession? It’s going over and over in your mind, “What could I have done differently?” And actually, in reevaluating your own behaviors, even your motives, even your morals, you’re questioning yourself, which causes self doubt. And then your self esteem and self confidence is lowered. You see how this is now spinning into a negative effect; as opposed to coming forward, making your boundaries clear, bully proofing yourself, and actually confronting the bully by saying something.
Well, if you’re actually obsessing over the situation, obsessing means you’re worried about what you’ve done and what you could do better. 41% of targets are suffering from clinical depression. Now here’s an interesting thing: those are the people who actually have taken the time, gotten checked out, and have been diagnosed as clinically depressed. How long did it take to be actually diagnosed? Many have reported months, even years. So I want to say that there are many people being bullied, who be clinically depressed, and they might not even know it. My advice to you is, if you are feeling any of the effects of bullying, it does not hurt to actually be assessed. Because once you can name it – that you are being bullied, you are depressed – perhaps then you will feel that, “This says more about the bully than it does about myself. And there’s something that I must do to reverse the energy, instead of obsessing over what I could do better.” And in taking the onus on your own shoulders, you’ll then work towards bully-proofing yourself and then actually setting up a boundary such that the bully does not even look at you as a target anymore. They may even move on.
Self destructive habits: 35% of targets increase their use of substances such as alcohol, drugs, food, any addiction, in order to actually self medicate. And 22% of targets have had suicidal thought. Once again, a target is someone who is usually quite nice, well liked, popular, perhaps good looking, has poise, is gracious, and is kind to others. The bully looks at this and wants that power for themselves. And so, if you can understand that, you can still be nice, gracious, kind, etc., and have a boundary. It’s “How do I treat this bully in a win-win way without sacrificing my own values?” That’s the key here.
I just want to finish off the statistics this month with by saying that panic attacks, heart palpitations, raised heart rate are experienced in 48% of targets. Headaches, from mild to migraine headaches, are experienced in 23% of targets. There’s an increase in connective tissue diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome and connective tissue and joint pain in 43% of people. 23% experience irritable bowel syndrome. Weight swings, 40%. Chest pains, 21%. Exhaustion, 45%. And stress-related skin changes are sure to come such as shingles, eczema, etc. It comes later in the game, but that’s 28%.
My thought is this: If someone is waiting until “later” without actually taking a step toward the bully, toward actually solving the problem, to bully-proofing yourself – why are we waiting so long? As we said in this podcast, we want to look at at least one specific thing that you can do so that you could have that in your toolkit. We did say that when people are nervous, they tend to talk more. Have you ever tried to get yourself out of a situation where you knew you were wrong; or trying to convince someone of something – like trying to convince your parents to borrow the car? Did you not have your six-point test all ready to go? The 6 reasons why you can be trusted with the car? Most teenagers would. And throw in an extra two if you’re from my neighborhood. And then finally your parents broke down and gave you the car. But usually, it wasn’t because you talked so much. There’s another factor in here. Usually, when people talk less, it shows confidence. And that’s exactly what we need to show the bully in order for the bully to stop considering you as a target.
Now you might say that, “Well, that’s never really solving the problem in general.” And you are right. I just want to reiterate, when you’re in the workplace, solving the problem in general lies in the responsibility of the leaders of the corporation. It’s a systemic problem, where policies have to change, where legislation perhaps changes within government. But within a workplace, the leaders are responsible for setting and enforcing policies. If that has not occurred, you are only left with bully proofing yourself.
I will now add one other startling revelation, and that is, many people say, “Well, I’ll just talk to my friends, my co-workers.” But then after a while they realize their friends and co-workers actually tend to turn on them. And so, after being very curious about this and after much study, I’ve found that friends often do want to help, but they don’t know what to do. When people don’t know what to do, they often go numb themselves, because they can’t imagine feeling that pain without actually helping. And so they start to tell themselves, “Well, I don’t know what I can do.” They start to actually self justify, maybe minimize the problem, so they do not have to deal with an unsolved problem. This tends to be true more for men than for women. Men tend to want to fix problems when they hear them. Women tend to build rapport. Men report. I’m not saying this would happen in all cases, but if your confidant is a man, and he feels he can’t solve the problem, he may become quite frustrated and try to at least move on to some kind of solution. And that may be not talking about this at all, and hoping it will go away.
When you tell your co-workers, or maybe even your boss, they may be faced with the same thing -they’re not sure exactly what to do. So what we are seeing is that you may find yourself all alone with this problem. And if that occurs, you might even feel worse. You’re thinking, “Gosh, if I was a better person, these people would listen to me. They would do something for me.” That’s not the case. You are a good person. And now it’s in your court, and what can you do?
Here’s the lesson: Always say less than necessary. I will read to you something from a book called The 48 Laws of Power. It’s a national bestseller written by Robert Greene. This is a book you might want to invest in. I’ve always enjoyed when people have studied what causes power and how it actually manifests in the workplace. So it is with “always say less than necessary.” Here’s what Greene says: “When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear and you also appear less in control.” Even if you were saying something very smart or very intelligent, it will seem original if you take it in a vague, open-minded and cavalier sort of way. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish, or to open up a wound in which the bully can jump right in and expose you right away. Less is more.
The other thing he goes on to say is, “Do not be afraid of silence.” Many times, when the bully is bombarding you with verbal abuse, you might be quickly thinking, “What can I say to really combat the bully this time?” And when you are left with not having anything to say back, you feel like you’ve lost. Why not decide that you’re not going to say anything, no matter what they say, and you are standing there confidently? Decide to be confident.
So then what are the keys to power? Power is, in many ways, a game of appearances. And when you say less than necessary, you inevitably appear greater and more powerful than you are. Your silence will make other people uncomfortable. In fact, if you are standing, these are some very high-powered ways to think about what your body language is doing. We might not even be aware of our body language, so just make sure that this is occurring. First of all, if you’re standing, stand on both feet evenly. Have a space between your feet. That will take up more space. The more space you take up, the more power you have. If you’re sitting at a table, what tends to happen when people are shy and less confident, is that they hunch over, they put their elbows on their lap. If this is the case, then someone can zero in, saying “There’s an open target.” But what you want to do instead is put your elbows on the table and take up as much space as you can without looking foolish. By taking up more space, that executive position allows the bully to think you’re confident and you’re solid as a rock.
The other thing to know in body language is if anything in your body is bent – your knees, your arms, or even tilting your head to the side – this shows a lack of power. Even doing that physically, one thinks to themselves that they are powerless, more sensitive, more alluring. When you look at magazine ads and you see pictures of men and women, very often women are photographed with their head slanted, or their knees crossed, their legs crossed. It’s supposed to allure you in to an attraction. However, what you really want to do is show your confidence. For women, you might think, “Well, I’d like to be feminine and confident at the same time. Who cares when it comes to the bully?” Bottom line: decide to be confident. Don’t worry about not being feminine at all. You are not losing your personhood by being confident and standing tall.
You know, humans are actually like machines. We can program what we look like in our body language. And often when we take the stance to be firm, then our own confidence goes up without us even knowing it, and then all of a sudden everything else falls into place. The way your eyes look, the way your head is held high, your tone of voice; and the need to keep talking diminishes. When you are carefully in control of what you reveal, the bully cannot pierce your intentions or your meaning. You don’t want to give the bully anything to have hooks into. Your short answers and silences will put them on the defensive. And they will jump in, perhaps nervously filling in the silence with all kinds of comments that will reveal valuable information about them and their weaknesses. They will leave a meeting with you feeling as if they have been robbed. And they will go home and ponder every word. This extra attention to your brief comments will only add to your power.
Saying less than necessary is not only for kings and statesmen. In most areas of life, the less you say, the more profound and mysterious you appear. As a young man, the artist Andy Warhol had the revelation that it was generally impossible to get people to do what you wanted them to do by talking to them. They would turn against you, subvert your wishes, disobey you out of sheer perversity. He once told a friend, “I learned that you actually have more power when you shut up.” Interesting. Later in life, when Warhol employed this strategy with great success, even his art reflected it. Simple pieces of art that were saying one message only. It’s very clear. His interviews were exercises in oracular speech, very simple and to the point.
Many speakers in time have been noted for their short but impactful speeches. Winston Churchill comes to mind. Less is more. If you believe that less is more, then it will be more. And it all starts with how we believe. It’s important to know that we have this tendency to think we’ve got to talk more, but why? The tendency occurs because we have such a deep need to be understood. And when we think somebody else understands us, then we feel accepted, “Good, they get me. If they get me, then I’m okay.” Well, we have to know that we are okay, even though somebody is choosing not to get us. So walk into the situation with a bully, knowing that there’s no way they’re looking to understand you. You could be the second coming of Christ, you could come in walking on water, and they would say, “You know what – you’re getting your shoes wet.” They would simply not understand the power that you have. So no matter what you do or how high you jump, it will never be enough.
The last point on power also pertains to “Less is more.” And that is, when being directly questioned by a bully, it is okay to pause and think, “What do I want to say?” It’s okay to say, “Great point. I’m going to get back to you.” It’s okay to say, “Give me a minute.” It’s okay to say, “Now is not a good time. I’ll get back to you later.” It’s okay to say things based on your timelines. If they keep pushing you, then use what we call the Broken Record Technique, in which you keep repeating the main message. “No, I need some time. And I’ll get back to you by four.” “No, I mentioned that I’ll get back to you by four.” “No, I need some time. And I’ll get back to you by four.” Allow them to go on and on, but by saying the same thing, phrased a little differently, you’re just being very firm. You’re showing them that what you originally said still holds power. And that their attempt to try and push you off of that stance is not working.
It is okay to repeat yourself. In fact, how many of you are parents? Your children are going to bed and you say, “Michael, time for bed.” And Michael keeps playing Nintendo. And what do you say next? You say, “Michael, time for bed.” You repeat exactly what you’ve just said because you know, as a parent, that you’ve exercised your power. So Michael keeps playing Nintendo. And what do you do now? Well, you yell a little louder perhaps, and you just say, “Michael, time for bed.” When Michael finally responds back, he says, “Listen, I’m 42 and I can go to bed when I want.” Now hopefully you’re not doing that with somebody in your household that’s 42. Maybe you are. But the Broken Record is what actually allows people to finally hear what you’re saying.
But let us remind ourselves one more time. Is there still a piece in your mind that is saying, “But I just want to say this to the bully, and then they will see the light.” Not so. Let me remind you one more time: the bully is not your friend. They have a targeted agenda, and that is to knock you off balance. That is the agenda from Day 1. No matter how good you are. In fact the more good you do, the more likely you will be a target. Why? Because you possess things that the bully wants from you. So, we must continually tell ourselves that, “I am not able to rationalize with a bully.” Once we truly understand and accept this, we will realize it is not worth trying to figure out what to say to the bully. For those of you who are still looking for responses to adult bullying, remember “Less is more.”
I’ll finish off by saying this: there’s a word that I’ve come to realize that has been very powerful; in fact, extremely powerful. I’ve used it many times myself, it has been used on me, and each and every time, it has taken the air out of the hot balloon. When someone comes toward me, very demanding, I will listen to them, but I will not make eye contact. I will stand firmly on the floor, if I’m standing, or perhaps if I’m sitting, I might stand up. I will not face off directly to this person; I’ll stand with maybe half my body facing them. I might not even look in their general direction. So I will hear what they say, and then I will pause. And that could be like the longest time in the world, and then I might say something as brilliant as, “Interesting.” It doesn’t mean a thing, does it? And that’s exactly what you want. It doesn’t mean a thing. Feel free to use that. I’m sure you can all say it. If you can’t, practice it. It’s only one word. Put that one word in your pocket right now. I challenge you to use it even tomorrow. Interesting. How about this? Interesting, and then walk away. Interesting.
So, what other phrases could you come up with, in terms of just acknowledging what was said, to take the hot air out of the balloon, but without committing yourself and falling into the trap of the bully?
So for this June edition, maybe the pressure is off. For those of you that want to stand up and say something to the bully, you do not have to write out scripts during the night defending yourself. Less is more. And I would just say, isn’t it interesting that it can actually be so simple if we decide that it is. As you know, at Bully-Free Workplace Monthly, we have a monthly podcast along with a few articles. As our membership increases, we’re also looking for feedback from you. Once again, if you have any questions or feedback that you’d like to share with us, things that have worked, or you’re still wondering about, feel free to email us at info(at)howtohaveabullyfreeworkplace(dot)com. If there’s anything you’d like to hear on these podcasts, we welcome your feedback as well. For those of you that have been listening for the last few months, we are now also going to be expanding into an interview format, and there are a number people that have come forward that have actually been bullied and have come through, not around, the whole situation with being a target. Their examples can be an encouragement for us all. So we look forward to sharing that with you as the summer months go through here, and we look forward to hearing from you.
Lastly, just remember that you are not alone. In this entire world, 1 out of 4 people are not affected by bullying in their lifetime. That leaves 3 out of 4 of us that are. And so to the 3 out of 4 of us, let’s stick together and make sure that we do something to preserve the kindness, and the gentleness that you were born with, because you deserve it.