Adult Bullies: “I Love Lucy” Reveals How to Uncover a Bully’s True Intentions
Did you ever watch “I Love Lucy?” In that famous situation comedy from the 1950s, Lucille Ball plays a character that is often getting into trouble. When she tells Ricky, her husband, about what she has done, she tries to cover her mistakes by endlessly explaining. Finally, when he can’t take it anymore, he begins asking her questions. Little by little, he gets the facts from her and pins her down. The audience laughs. Lucy apologizes. Ricky forgives Lucy, and the episode ends.
Naturally, all this is done in good humor and affection.
However, would it surprise you to know that adult bullies use Lucy’s tactics when they cover the truth and their true intentions with words? Of course, adult bullies go much farther: they make vague accusations and veiled threats that insinuate the target has done something incorrectly. Like Lucy, though, if bullies are specific, they risk being wrong; if they create a “fog of words,” they leave confusion, which is safer.
Make no mistake. This is not done with good humor and affection. It’s done with malice.
But you can take on a bully by exposing her to reveal the true nature of her remarks, just as Ricky does with Lucy. Try the following tactics:
1. Clarify by paraphrasing her statement. To paraphrase, you re-state what she said in your own words. Ask:
- Is this what you’re saying? (Paraphrase).
- Did I hear you correctly? (Paraphrase)
- Let me be sure I heard you correctly. Is this what you mean? (Paraphrase)
If the bully says, “That’s not what I said,” respond with another paraphrase. If the bully says, “That’s not what I meant,” ask her what she did mean and paraphrase that.
2. Demand clarification. Bullies know they are safer when they cloud their criticism in vague generalities. Corner the bully to clarify her intention by using simple, direct statements:
- So you think that I’m being _____?
- So you’re saying_______?
- I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.
Don’t let a criticism go unanswered. Bring the criticism out in the open, and address it before moving on. Don’t allow the bully to change the subject. Keep the focus on her until you understand her criticism and have dealt with it.
3. Aggressively question the bully. Bullies don’t cut their targets any slack. Targets shouldn’t go easy on bullies either. In “I Love Lucy” Ricky Ricardo breaks through Lucy’s clutter of words and asks pointed, direct questions—one after another. Although we all think Ricky Ricardo is funny when he’s questioning Lucy, he presents a good model to follow here:
- Keep the bully off guard. Ask questions rapidly. You don’t have to be “fair” to the bully and give her time to answer.
- Cut the bully off and ask another question to further keep her off balance.
Life isn’t a situation comedy, and being the target of adult bullies is certainly no laughing matter. You can learn some tactics that work when you want to reveal a bully’s true intentions.
It’s important to remember, however, that you are simply serving the “Bully Ball” back into her court where it belongs and demonstrating that her tactics do not have a hold on you. Don’t expect to “win” or engage in open communication with a bully. Those are simply not part of a bully’s script.
Valerie Cade, Founder
Bully Free at Work