5 Ways to Talk to the Bully at the WorkPlace

Our guest blogger today is Mark Gorkin, The Stress Doc.

Bully.buttonHow to Talk to the Bully:  Five Strategic Tools, Techniques, and Tips 

Now that we have a definition of bullying and some key psychosocial conditions that encourage this often demeaning, ego- or power-driven, and manipulative process, let's continue with the final segment…How to engage and set limits on the bully and bullying interaction by employing absurdity and metaphor:

  •  Be Affirming with Realistic Expectations
  • Be Courageously Absurd and Use the Power of Metaphor
  • Announce an Intention to Bring in a Third Party
  • Facilitated Confrontation or Conflict Mediation
  • Purposefully Walk Away to Fight Another Day

 2.  Be Courageously Absurd and Use the Power of Metaphor.  A quick review of synonyms for.  "absurd" include ridiculous, silly, strange, illogical, meaningless, bizarre, and incongruous.  If "reasonable" is its antonym, then absurd, while "unreasonable," may also border on the paradoxical and the imaginative if not the "out-rage-ous."  And creatively transforming fear and paralysis is one way to surprise an antagonist while nurturing hope, heart, and courage!

 Years back, I was engaged in some family therapy with a single mother and her ten-year old son.  Curtis,  a quiet, shy, overweight artistic youngster hardly saw his father.  Not surprisingly, he was emotionally tied to his mother.  A caring mom and a talented seamstress, Joanne radiated both loneliness and anxiety. The presenting problem was that kids in his class frequently teased Curtis, calling him a "Big Butterball Turkey" (then a popular TV commercial product).  With eyes downcast, he nodded when asked if this bothered him.

Early on in the interview Joanne mentioned that the school psychiatrist thought she really had the problem; Joanne made a point of saying she was not going back to see him.  It was clear:  mom was putting me on notice!  I recall acknowledging my needing her as a consultant to help me work with Curtis.

 Just so happened, it was approaching the end of October and a wild notion hit me.  Prefacing my idea as a bit strange, I asked:  "How about for Halloween going to school dressed as a Butterball Turkey?  Predictably, mom quickly dismissed the idea, saying the kids would just tease him.  When I countered, this was going on anyway…I asked Curtis what he thought.  For the first time, giving me hope, his eyes animated the heretofore mostly dour countenance.  And when I said, "I bet you and your mom could come make a great costume"…even Joanne was coming around.  Clearly, mom preferred being part of the solution to being labeled a major problem.  I also affirmed that while taking courage, working as a team, he could do it.

 And sure enough…Curtis was the star of the class costume party.  His classmates, being so surprised, instead of laughing at him, were now laughing with him.  Suddenly, in the face of conflict, Curtis saw that by poking fun at himself, he preempted the aggressors.  He made himself less vulnerable, less of a target for teasing or bullying.  The empowering covert message:  "I can tease myself a lot better than you all ever can tease me!"  Magically, being a "Big Butterball Turkey" became a metaphor for being imaginative and daring.  Now, others' words lose much of their capacity to hurt; they no longer are "sticks and stones."  (As a final aside, I recall eventually turning this therapeutic experience into a circa 19th c., Eastern European, "Wise Old Rabbi" tale, with me in the role of the venerable sage and Benjamin as the young Jewish outcast.   My closing punch line:  You might even say that Benjamin, by being a "Big Butterball Turkey"… was no longer a "Little Kosher Chicken!")

 Making Fun of the Frenzied

 Here's another unexpected benefit of humor — the power of distraction.  The setting:  seated in a movie theatre about to watch Terminator II: Judgment Day.  Actually, the lights had just turned dark in the theatre and Terminator I highlights were on.  Suddenly, a technical difficulty occurred.  The sound went off and the picture kept rolling.  Well, as you would expect from a Terminator II crowd, the audience was a model of patience and civility.  Yeah, right!!  The place started erupting.  People are whistling, shouting, stomping their feet and, very quickly, throwing everything you can imagine.  It's getting a little scary, especially as there's no sign the projectionist or theatre management have a clue.  An impulsive idea hits.  I take a deep breath, screw up my courage, stand up (with objects whistling about me) and shout:  Terminator III: The Movie Audience!

Well, I must have had an impact, as the bedlam slows and laughter breaks out.  I had momentarily distracted the mayhem…just long enough, luckily, for the technical glitch to be repaired.  I consider this one of my most dramatic group and clinical interventions:  getting a Schwartzenagger horde to return to its pre-pandemonium, latent state of aggressive hypermania without resorting to involuntary medication.  Today's moral:  When the unexpected occurs, keep your finger on the absurdity trigger.  You just never know when you'll have to distract a mad creature or quickly disarm a maddening crowd.  Once again, seek the "higher power" of Stress Doc humor: May the Farce Be with You!

 Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a national keynote and webinar speaker and "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations.  A former psychotherapist, “The Doc” is a training and Stress Resilience Consultant for the national TrainingPros and The Hays Companies, an international corporate insurance and wellness brokerage group.  He has also led “Resilience, Team Building and Humor” programs for various branches of the Armed Services.  Mark, a former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service and is a recognized Critical Incident/Trauma Debriefing expert.  The Stress Doc is the author of Resiliency RapPractice Safe Stress, and of The Four Faces of Anger.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" –www.stressdoc.com – called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-875-2567.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Legal Careers RX, www.LegalCareersRX.com and President & CEO of C.B.Estrin & Associates, the Legal Technology & Paralegal Staffing Organization that launches next week! President and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP), Estrin has led the drive for the eDiscovery Certification Exam and the International Practice Management Association. An author of 10 legal career books, she has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, ABA Journal, Newsweek and other prestigious publications. She can be reached at chere.estrin@theolp.org.

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