I have a theory: bullies in the playground become bullies in the boardroom.

A number of years ago, we went out for dinner with some relatives, one of whom was a 13-year-old young lady. In chatting, she revealed that she was being bullied at school. The principal and a police officer had spoken to the three perpetrators and then, it happened again. This young girl was taunted due to her religion (pennies being pitched at her, and fingers raised to their noses as moustaches and arms gesturing in a Hitler-like salute). Sad thing was, it was a completely different group of students doing it. The principal was shocked. I’m not.

Bully behaviour spreads and if it’s not publicly stopped, it’s copied by others.

Sadly, bullying on the playgrounds often translates later in life to bullying in the boardrooms. As both a child and a professional, I have experienced the stinging lash of bullies. I have learned from it, changed what I could, and sometimes voted with my feet and left what I believed to be toxic workplaces. 

What I learned is that leaders don’t always take action as quickly as they could, and even when they do, the impact may not be lasting or as far-reaching as they had hoped. Therefore, it’s important to have coping strategies if you are the one being targeted. 

Have you ever had a bully boss? How about a bully employee or peer? Here are some tips to handle them:

Keep your cool.

  • If you lose your temper, you lose control and the bully wins. Step back if you need to, remove yourself for a moment, an hour, a day. Give yourself time before you respond.
    Remove the emotion. As tempting as it may be to name call or burst into tears, focus on the message not the emotion. Tighten your muscles and release, take a breath, and use neutral language.

Speak up and against the bully behaviour.

  • Let bullies know when they cross a line. It’s completely OK to draw boundaries. In fact, many bullies will respect you when you do. Sadly, other bullies won’t listen to you at all and in those circumstances, focus on building your positive support. Get people behind you who understand your perspective and share your values. If all of you speak out, you are better heard. There really is safety and comfort in numbers.

Remain respectful.

  • Even though you can’t stand the behaviour, respect the position. Find something, anything about the bully, that you can respect and keep that in mind. Acknowledge the bully’s contribution — however small it may be. Their bully behaviour may have little to do with you and everything to do with the bully. You just happen to be the unlucky target. This is an explanation, definitely not and excuse for bully behaviour. We all behave as we do for a reason, whether that reason makes sense to others or not, or whether that reason manifests itself in healthy behaviours or the opposite. There’s always a reason. 

No healthy workplace has room for bullies. If you find yourself working with one, get a plan and deal with it. Feel free to seek help from authorities, peers, counselors, or coaches to help guide you. In doing so, you will grow and truly be a leader who speaks out not just for yourself, but for others who don’t have the courage to do so.

That’s what leaders do.

©2023 Marion Grobb Finkelstein (MarionSpeaks)

Marion Grobb Finkelstein
Keynote Speaker / Corporate Trainer / Author
Recipient of APEX “Award for Leadership in Service Innovation”
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Leadership communication expert, Marion Grobb Finkelstein shows leaders at any level how to build resilient and respectful workplaces by changing how they communicate. Chat with her at www.facebook.com/MarionSpeaks or
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Marion Grobb Finkelstein

Marion Grobb Finkelstein helps leaders use their natural communication strengths to build resilient teams that talk.

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