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Office Bullies: Insulted in Public? Unmask the Bully!

For office bullies, every day is Halloween. That is, office bullies wear masks. They fear exposing their inner weakness. You can use this trait to your advantage when a bully insults or criticizes you in front of others. Try these steps:

  • Take a deep breath and allow yourself time to process the comment. Recognize the insult for what it is—and is not. It is not a constructive suggestion for change. It is a bully’s challenge, designed to embarrass you.
  • Give yourself time to quiet your natural desire to defend yourself. Defensiveness puts you in a weaker position. Instead, allow silence to form around the bully’s words.
  • You can experiment by asking the bully direct questions, such as “What makes you think that?” “How do you see that quality in my action?” This puts the onus on the bully to respond. Since there’s likely to be little data or back up to support their original comment, the bully may have to back down.
  • Use the “broken record technique,” that is, repeat your questions until the bully responds. Stating your question firmly and with confidence is key. There’s nothing a bully fears more than being unmasked. When you remain calm, in control and ask questions, you’re likely to expose the bully’s weakness—her ability to think clearly and support her conclusions.

Confronting a bully’s criticism in public takes self-control and practice. When you’re ready, try another strategy:

  • Repeat the attack in your own words (paraphrase) and ask, “Is this what you mean?” For example, suppose the bully says, “These weak sales figures are your fault.” After you recognize the insult as bullying and allow silence (see numbers one and two above), say, “Are you saying that I alone am responsible for a five percent drop in sales in the first quarter?”
  • Ask the bully to tell you specifically what you did and ask for a possible solution, for example, “Can you be more specific…?”
  • State what you will do to implement the solution.
  • If the bully persists with another “helpful” suggestion or attack, clearly state again what you’re willing to do and end the conversation. For example, “I’ll take your suggestion and follow up with you [in a specific time period]. Let’s move on.”

There’s something else to take into account. Targets often believe that everyone in the office is against them, especially the bully. This is usually not the case. The squeaky wheel does not necessarily earn the respect!

When you stand up to office bullies and unmask them, you are acting not only for yourself but for others, who know they may be the next ones singled out. Most folks want to spend their time working, not dealing with a workplace bully. Once you have established that you can hold your own in the face of a bully’s criticism, others will side with you.

Make sure that Halloween is a part of your office celebration only once a year. Learn how to unmask the bully.

Valerie Cade, Founder
Bully Free at Work