We have all been told to ignore bullies and they will go away. And, we all know, this doesn’t really work all that well. So what can you do besides just walk away?
If you have read my book, The Bully Vaccine, you know that the best way to get a bully to stop is to stop rewarding their bad behavior. Most anti-bullying advice translates “stop rewarding them” into “ignore them and they will go away.” The two phrases aren’t equivalent.
If you have been walking away and want to be more proactive and stand up for yourself, I’ve got good news for you. Doing that works really well.
So what should you do instead of just walk away?
- Have something you can say. Your goal is to not reward the bully. Bullies want to get an emotional reaction out of you. If you deny them an emotional reaction, you deny them their reward. Walking away is one way to do that but it isn’t ideal because it can be read by the bully as fear. Instead, standing your ground and saying something to them in a calm, neutral tone of voice, has a much bigger impact. You clearly aren’t afraid and you aren’t upset. Have something you plan to say that is short, polite but makes it clear you aren’t bothered by whatever it is the bully just did or said. What you say is less important than the fact you stood there and said it in a calm tone of voice. My son likes to say “Thank you for that information, it’s very helpful.” Whenever he is insulted. I’m more likely to say, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” if someone insults me. The point is that whatever you say, say with a smile on your face and remain calm. Most people have to practice this to do it – so have a friend role play with you.
- Make eye contact. Look directly at the bully. They want you to emotionally respond and to be afraid of them. Eye contact is a very bold thing to do and people who do it are showing by their behavior that they are confident. Most bullies wilt under the glare of direct eye contact. If you are not comfortable doing this, practice! If eye contact is too intense for you, find someplace else you can look – like at the top of their head, or their ear. Just don’t look down. Looking down is submissive. You want to appear confident. Make eye contact or at least look someplace relatively eye level.
- Stand your ground. The phrase is stand up to a bully. So, don’t back off, unless they are threatening to physically attack you. If it is verbal, look them in the eye, say your bit and stand there. Staring at them. This should make the bully uncomfortable and they will probably make an attempt to get you to back off. If you stand your ground and keep making eye contact and repeat our statement whatever it was, the bully will probably break off the interaction and they will think twice before they challenge you again. If you decide to break off the interaction, dismiss them as not worthy of your time before you do so. Something along the lines of – I have other things I need to attend to. THEN walk away.
Please note that there are important caveats to this advice. Specifically, if there is a threat of violence or actual violence – you need to protect yourself. Also, if you have been bullied for a while, doing this will likely trigger an extinction burst and will cause your bully to escalate their behavior. You need to be prepared for that and that means you need to learn what a bullying extinction burst is, why it happens and how to control it and for that, I recommend my book. But if you are only occasionally challenged, this technique should work quite well.