Have you noticed that when we find ourselves in the crosshairs of slights, snubs or outright attacks, we suddenly feel small and vulnerable? Our typical instinct is to go hide somewhere—like under the bed. While that may be a child’s response, full grown women and men can come under attack from a bully at a moment’s notice. Why is that behavior so common and what makes people of any gender or age turn to bullying others?
Bullies aren’t evil, according to “5 Ways to Help Children Deal with Bullies Compassionately” from Fractus Learning. Bullies are unhappy. Bullying indicates inner turmoil. The author behind the info graphic, psychologist Chiu Lau, says that there are many reasons people behave badly. One reason is that they may feel bad about themselves, so by making others feel bad, they feel better. Some people learn that being mean to someone is a way to get what they want. Others bully because they have been bullied, so they try to protect themselves by scaring others. The list continues, but the point is there isn’t one simple answer. In general, the bully lacks something and perceives he or she will gain from acting badly. So how can children (and adults) deal effectively with bullies?
There’s a lot of advice about this. One is to understand that it may not be about you, unless you’re standing in the way of the bully’s pursuit of a coveted job, love interest, or other perceived desire. Even if the bully wants power over you, it’s still not about YOU; it’s about how it makes the bully feel. Some just want to win and feeling power over another person makes them feel powerful. But fighting back only adds fuel to the bully’s fire. Anger and aggression beget more anger and aggression. Running away also is not a positive option unless you’re in physical danger. Then it’s the best option.
Although it’s an unpleasant situation, maybe you should actually thank the workplace bully for giving you a chance to grow, suggests Marlene Chism, author of Stop Workplace Drama. She says it gives you an opportunity to examine your personal boundaries and figure out what you’re willing to accept from another person and also why you’re avoiding confrontation. Most important, Marlene recommends that you take this opportunity to reinvent and realign. If you see yourself as a weak victim, you definitely need to change your perspective and invent a new YOU who is a powerful creator. She advises changing your communication style starting with how you communicate to yourself.
However, if you feel personal danger, you should immediately seek help. Tell someone you trust, suggests Fractus Learning. In a child’s case, it could be a favorite teacher or parent. Whoever you tell, remember there is power in sharing your stories. If a bully is bearing down hard and you fear for your job, your safety or even your life, don’t try to handle it alone. Even if you don’t have a trusted person you think might help, explaining your situation to someone else will help you understand your own feelings so you can get some perspective on the situation. Leading Women co-author, Bridget Cook-Burch talks about how changing the story you tell yourself can transform your life. In the situation she describes in her chapter in the book, she feared for her loss of livelihood when a client began to harass her. Sometimes, the threat can seem so severe that we can’t see a way out and try to avoid or ignore it. But this kind of fear only compounds itself if it’s allowed to fester inside. Bridget’s powerful story tells how to overcome the fear to reinvent and realign your life, much as Marlene suggests.
Elaborate studies have been performed to determine if bullying is cultural or inherited. Bullying not only crosses cultures and time periods, it also crosses species, according to Hogan Sherro, who analyzed it for Scientific American. Therefore, he concluded that it must be a human trait––part of the human condition–– which is used to intimidate and control the balance of power in social situations. In fact, some companies develop an entire culture based on bullying, according to Bullying Statistics. This develops because management doesn’t admit to or deal with underlying problems. The same article lists the unproductive outcomes from bullying, including stress, high turnover, absenteeism, loss of motivation, etc., all of which can result in a costly impact on the bottom line. The author urges victims to document the bullying behavior and report it to management. “Companies with good anti-bullying policies usually hold meetings from time to time to remind employees what workplace bullying is, how to report it, and the consequences for bullying,” she writes.
Whatever the social situation, it’s important to name the behavior accurately. Identifying bullying, whether it’s on Facebook, in the classroom or at work, is the first step. Then, advises Fractus Learning, treat the bully with compassion. If you’re strong enough to come out from under the bed, invent your own story and become a powerful creator, this might indeed work. The bully is unhappy and feels powerless. When you’re sincerely kind to people, they feel valued. Being an example of kindness may be difficult in the face of someone telling you that you’re ugly, but that’s what Chiu Lau (and Mother Teresa) recommend.
“If kindness was simple, then everyone would be kind and no one would experience meanness and bullying,” writes Susan Swearer, Co-Director of the Bullying Research Network. She challenges us to imagine a world where kindness is the norm and then create it by teaching, modeling and rewarding kindness. Punishing bullying behavior doesn’t work. Instead, she says, “it makes better sense to focus on teaching and modeling pro-social behavior, like teaching kindness.” Pro-social behaviors include being respectful, creating gratitude activities, volunteering and giving service, and fostering working together. She outlines this teaching plan with the intention of presenting it to children.
But imagine if we grownups did the same thing in our workplaces. Suppose we encourage each other to help out when one of our workmates seems stressed or overwhelmed. What if we hold employee meetings to brainstorm ways we can reward one another for good work, support each other’s ideas, and even-out the workload? Apply that same model to any social situation—committee, community event, city council, or foundation—kindness begets kindness and toxic relationships cannot thrive in its midst. It’s not easy to always be kind when you’re under pressure, and it may be impossible in a heated moment with a bully bearing down on your neck, but it feels a lot more satisfying and rewarding when you achieve it. And when you practice it on a daily basis, thrown in with a dose of gratitude every day, you diffuse the power of any potential bully by setting out the best example of the human condition. Yes, there are just as many studies that report kindness is also part of the human condition. And these random acts also span centuries and species, just as bullying does.
Kindness is actually intuitive, reports Melissa Dahl. It’s only when we think it over, that we become selfish. She cites studies where college students’ first inclination is to share, not hoard, and heroic acts where people risk their own lives in a matter of seconds to save the life of a stranger. Overwhelming evidence of everyday heroes blazes across the front pages of every crisis. In each case, people reach out to help a neighbor they may never have met, possibly one who shook a fist at them in traffic. So kindness is a matter of choice. YOU can choose how to react to bullying behavior. You can focus on resenting the bully or YOU can try to help a powerless person to get beyond their feelings of loss. Even though it may take practice, remember that your first instinct as a human being is to be kind.