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What to do about bullying behaviour

What to do about bullying

  • Remember they are behaving like a three-year-old - once you are clear about this, life becomes a lot easier.
  • Get their attention by using their name - their attention is much more likely to be focused on themselves than you, since bullies tend to be very self-centred.
  • Repeat their requests, using their own vocabulary - this will let them know you have listened and help to change their emotions.
  • Find out what they really need to achieve - the bully will usually have just jumped to one solution, often an ineffective one, to get what they think they need. But this is a want, not a need.
  • Ask questions to expand their understanding - bullies focus mainly on their own desires and on themselves, which leads to many misunderstandings. Help them to see others? points of view by asking them questions such as 'What do you know about what I was doing yesterday?' or 'What do you think we need to achieve?'.
  • Never use 'why' questions - these could be interpreted as threats or attacks.
  • Listen carefully to their answers and summarise them, using their own language and intonation - often they won't really know what they need and you will have to help them work it out.
  • Help them to feel safe - most bullies feel threatened and frightened. A basic need is to feel safe. It's much easier to behave in an adult way if you feel safe. Work out what you think might be causing them concern and do your best to reduce the worry.
  • Ignore any personal insults - the priority is to focus on what needs to be achieved.
  • Check whether you have done anything they could perceive as a threat - we often do this without meaning to. When you are in a position of authority it is easy to behave in a way that may come across as aggressive or threatening. Ask a trusted observer to give you some feedback.
  • Be clear about what is and is not acceptable - like small children, bullies need to know what the rules are and will keep pushing till they know. You must enforce the rules. If you say 'No' you must mean it.

Return to the main article The art of dealing with difficult people.