Assert yourself when facing a bully

Forcing someone to see things your way makes you a bully. Right now, there are a lot of issues that are emotional on all sides, whether it’s wearing a mask or not, school in person or virtual, peaceful protests or terrorists, a pandemic or a hoax and more. Many people are entrenched in their perspective and see anyone who disagrees as “the enemy” which leads to bullying, berating and belittling.

In these uncertain times we can all do ourselves a favor by being curious, being kind, and being humble. There is no one who has all the answers, situations are changing daily, more data is pouring in so stances shift, and stress is climbing for everyone. The confusion about what to do to return to work and school has stressed parents, communities and organizations. When we focus on finding information, seeking new perspectives and actively listening we can help reduce our stress.

Giving into the stress and fear can drive us to become rigid and unable to consider options. This leads to emotional reactions, some of which can be over the top. We’ve all seen the overly emotional reactions to mask mandates and school districts decisions. While the strength of the emotions is not surprising, the expression of them is shocking on occasion. There are stories about employees not wearing mandated masks and intentionally getting into other’s space to make those complying uncomfortable. Other antidotes share how leaders who believe it’s all overstated are ridiculing employees who ask for safety measures, often as mandated by law. 

What can you do if you are confronted by a bully? Do you fight fire with fire? Do you retreat to your corner and hope they go away? Do you stand firm in your belief? Do you hold your ground while seeking to understand their perspective? The best approach to handling a bully is to be firm but fair, be assertive.

Here are several tips to help you stand up to a bully without becoming one yourself.

  1. You get to decide for yourself. Just because someone feels strongly about a topic and are very vocal about it does not mean you must change your mind. Listen to their perspective and see if you learn something new. Weigh what you know and decide.
  2. Remember they have a right their opinions. You get to make up your own mind and so do they. Learn to accept that their opinion isn’t yours and they are entitled to it.
  3. Stand your ground. If someone is pushing their opinions at you, stand firm. You can acknowledge their opinion while asserting yours. A great phrase to use is “That is your opinion and I believe …….” Or “I understand you feel that way and I feel differently about it.”
  4. Disengage. It is perfectly fine to walk away from the situation. Firmly state “I hear what you are saying, and I am not willing to discuss it with you at this time.” Then walk away, change topics, or disengage on IM or social media.
  5. Escalate the issue. If the person is making it difficult for you to do your job by interfering with your work or making it unsafe for you to do your job take it to your boss, a trusted leader or HR. Keep the conversation about how you can’t effectively work given the behavior not about how you feel about the other person or their ideas. You have the right to do your job without being harassed which can happen when people start bullying.

Feeling strongly about an issue is not an excuse to force ideas on someone else. Being passionate is great, bullying is not acceptable. Everyone is entitled to believe what they want and it’s okay to agree to disagree about any or all topics. The key to keeping your sanity is to remember their opinion is theirs and you are required to accept it. Be kind, be curious and be fair. If we stop forcing others to listen it will be easier to hear what people think. From there we can move forward to a better tomorrow.


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