There's power in recognizing and labeling bullies. If we don't recognize what's going on, if we see hostile aggressive people as normal people, and think that somehow we're the problem because we keep them from getting what they want or deserve, we will let them take advantage of us. When we recognize and label bullies, we get the courage and strength to stop them in their tracks. We protect our boundaries; we clean up the trash in our personal ecology. We've all been frustrated waiting in line. Last week, I was being waited on at the post office during the Christmas rush, when a large, 30-something man carrying a bunch of letters got behind six people waiting their turn. He called out to the clerk, "I want to go next because I have a quick question and I don't want to wait." He started to move to the front.
Everyone in the post office froze. Tension and hostility were so thick you could cut them with a knife. I could see the frustration and anger on the faces of everyone in line, while they thought of what to do. They were in a hurry too.
There's a lot we don't know about the situation I watched unfold. Notice that he didn't ask any of the people in front of him if he could cut in, he asked he harried clerk. What could she do?
If you were one of the six people ahead of him in line, would you say something or would you let him go ahead of you? If you think of him as a merely jerk, you'd probably let him push ahead and make you wait.
Why do I label him a bully and what happened?
A tiny, young woman (18-20 years old) said politely, "Wait a minute. Wait your turn. I have only one package. The rest of us have only a few things and we've been waiting also."
Since the boundary pushing bully originally asked the clerk, not the people in line, I had seen one of the early warning signs of a bully. Now, the bully acted blatantly. He started walking to the front of the line while saying to the young woman, in a hostile, belligerent tone, "What, are you some kind of smart a--?" Now, that's a bad attitude on a difficult person.
That's also a moment of truth for everyone on line! What would you do?
One person in line just looked away angrily, pretending they weren't being abused. Another victim said sarcastically, while giving way, "Well, if you insist." But the young woman responded, "You still can't cut in ahead of me. Get to the end of the line or come back later." A middle aged woman said, "Yeah. Who do you think you are? We're all in a hurry. Get to the end of the line." An older man said, "Wait your turn like the rest of us."
Amazingly, the boundary pusher didn't attack with more hostility, nor did he curse and leave. He stepped back in line to wait his turn. It was as if the bully was just pushing whatever boundaries he could, until someone stopped him in his tracks. Suddenly, the line got cheerful. The three people who stopped the bully, started talking to each other. The person who looked away, thanked the three for being brave. The victim who was willing to give way also thanked them saying, "I hate being polite to hostile, rude, obnoxious people, but I never want to make a scene. I was taught to be nice to everyone."
This is a minor incident. But these abusive people cause hostility at school, and with families, children, parenting and relationships. They also create a hostile workplace. The point is clear. Bullies push boundaries until you stop them. If you allow bullies to trash your personal ecology, you'll feel belittled, victimized and a little dirty. If you recognize and label bullies, you'll find the energy to stop them in their tracks.
You can develop the will and improve your skill to stop bullies in their tracks at work and in your personal life. Use my expert, individually customized coaching, consulting, speaking, books and CDs.
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