With the attention on Harvey Weinstein specifically, but also questions swirling around generally pushy, boorish behavior, there comes the question, just how do you handle a bully? How can you best react when someone seems determined to inflict his will upon you?
While the traits of a bully are often attributed to men, it is certainly possible for either sex to display bad behavior. For this discussion, I’ll set that portion of the issue aside and zero in on how your communication skills can help you react.
To begin, most of the bully’s actions are focused around control. The tactics may involve sex or competition or popularity, but really the core of bullying behavior is about control. If you begin with that understanding, it is possible to take some steps to slow the bully’s behavior and level the field.
Voice: Your voice has more power than you might realize. When someone tries to throw you off with bullying or inappropriate behavior, combining your voice with strong eye contact can take the bad actor by surprise. Change your delivery, perhaps lower your voice and look right at the offending party. Inside you might be shaking but a slower, lower sentence can make it clear you “wont’ back down.” (Maybe Tom Petty’s song can be playing in your head. These days that song has added meaning!)
Volume: Combine the above suggestions with a change in volume. A whispered offensive comment can be met with a purposely louder response, letting everyone know this will NOT be a quiet conversation. If the bully instead is the loud one, don’t play that game. Lowering your volume says you are going to react your way, not anyone else’s.
Very clear messages: When you hear the repeated themes in the behavior attributed to Weinstein for example, we also hear the disbelief that the events even unfolded. Power or charm or influence can cloud our decision making. People like Weinstein play on just that fact. How can we be prepared for such occasions? Having ready-made messages can help. If any of us can quickly describe our personal code of conduct it won’t solve every issue, but can give us a place to go in an uncomfortable situation. The bully is counting on catching us off guard, with nothing to say to their surprising behavior. How you say it or what you say is a personal call, but having the right words at the ready will help.
There are no perfect solutions for these difficult situations and it is frustrating to know they exist. My hope is these few steps can help put the bullies on notice: their behavior is not going to go unanswered.
Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer
Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.