How to handle an adult bully

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Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith will use her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the oft-times stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life. Her Conflict Coach column appears every two weeks.

Faith WoodQuestion: I recently attended a weight-loss boot camp program exclusively for women over 35. The owner/operator was a bully. On two occasions, she attempted to shame, intimidate and humiliate me in front of the group.

Do you have any suggestions how I might handle this type of behaviour in the future?

Answer: It would be nice to think that once you’re out of school, you would be done with bullies for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, that can be far from the truth, as anyone who has ever had a bullying boss, co-worker or friend can attest.

We all know what bullying looks like as a kid: name calling, pushing, meanness, just to name a few. But how do you know that someone is an adult bully?

Often, in the name of security and keeping the peace, we may let bullying just roll off our back. But if someone you know is a bully, they may take subtle actions such as:

  • Ignoring you. This is a form of disrespect and aims to control you by keeping you guessing and never knowing. You make a request or ask a question, and don’t get a response.
  • Being late or not showing up at all. This is another form of disrespect, but it can sometimes have more serious consequences, such as missing an important appointment or being late for a meeting.
  • Starting rumours. The bully who starts untrue rumours is seeking to sabotage you and your reputation. Seeing you react (or overreact) to hearing lies told about yourself is what they thrive on.
  • Passive-aggressive behaviour. Backwards compliments, deliberate procrastination, having to have the last word – these are all examples of passive-aggressive behaviour that a bully might exhibit.

These are only a few examples of how a bully might act as an adult to control a situation. How you handle each situation is the key to taking away the bully’s power.

First and foremost, if you find yourself being bullied a lot as an adult, take a close look at whether you may be playing the victim. Often, a bully will instinctively aim for the person who’s demonstrating a victim mentality. If that’s you, you’ll need to learn to stand up for yourself and become more assertive in the face of the bully.

Separating yourself from a bully is both tactical and helpful. This may be more difficult to accomplish in a work situation but be creative. Try to create space between you and the bully. The less you’re around them, the less emotional harm they can inflict.

Sadly, we teach people how to treat us. Throughout their lifetime, a bully has learned that their aggressive tactics grant them a feeling of power or super confidence. Perhaps they’ve learned that their behviours keep challengers at bay.

Others start bullying to cover up low self-esteem and a fragile sense of self-worth.

When you start asserting yourself, you begin to put a stop to those learned behaviours. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll show them that they don’t have to behave that way to get what they need out of their days.

Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. 

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bully, conflict

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