People don’t typically want to interact with those they consider to be bullies or tyrants. Yet contrary to popular belief, bullies are not bad people. It’s their behaviors that are appalling. They act out their pain, loneliness, insecurities, and so on in the most offensive and unkind ways. But as I’ve stated repeatedly, behavior is only an outward expression of one’s internal issues. Having said that, many people are hesitant to interact with them, uncertain of the bully’s reactions or if they will be safe in doing so. Others label bullies in a very derogatory manner, stating that they are not worth their time and effort.
With the exception of those times when you or someone else is in imminent danger, there are some steps you can take to reach out and intervene with a bully.
HA-HA SORB Method stands for help, assert, humor, avoid, self-talk, own it, reach out, and befriend.
H: Help. Whenever we encounter a bully, we have two options regarding offering assistance: we can either go for it or give it. If we witness someone being mistreated, we can intervene if we feel qualified and comfortable doing so and if there is no immediate or severe threat to the self. An approach that is composed, confident, thoughtful, sincere, objective, non-threatening, and understanding can often diffuse the situation, give the bully pause for thought, and can prevent the situation from escalating. In the event the situation is of a more serious nature, one can call for or go for help, enlisting the assistance of those more qualified to intercede. We are called upon by God to be stewards for one another and either approach is a morally righteous one.
Ex: One can, “What’s going on here? Is something wrong/is there a problem? Can I help either of you?” Or, “You need to stop right now or I’m calling for help.”
A: Assert. Bullies, whether adults or children, seek to gain power and control over their targets by instilling fear in them through intimidation, threats, coercion, or manipulation. Any sign of weakness on the part of target affirms that the bully has authority thus enabling them to continue their aggressiveness. Assertive actions send a clear message to the offender, by the target, that they have the confidence and skills necessary to impede their efforts as they remain emotionally unaffected by their demands.
Ex: “I have no interest in arguing with you.” “I will not allow this to happen.” “What you are doing is unkind/illegal/against company policy and needs to stop right now before matters get worse.”
H: Humor. Humor is one of the most powerful tools for deflecting anger, neutralizing aggression, calming tensions, and diffusing a bully. However, there are some caveats. One must be certain that humor is appropriate for the situation and that it is never directed at the other party but only at the self or the circumstances.
Ex: “I can be a dork sometimes! In fact, my name is listed in the dictionary under ‘geek’ It says, ‘See Janet’.” “I can’t believe I did that – how embarrassing!”
A: Avoid. If there is someone who you know is a tyrant there is no shame in avoiding them whenever possible. Why put yourself in harm’s way or invite drama into your life when a simply change in your course of direction can alleviate any undue stress? In doing so, not only do you protect yourself but you are actually giving an unintended gift to the persecutor by not providing an opportunity for them to misbehave and possibly get in trouble.
Ex: If you know that individual always arrives at work precisely at 8 pm, either arrive slightly beforehand or enter through another doorway.
S: Self-talk. Our internal dialogue is responsible for all of our feelings. What we say to ourselves (our thoughts) determine how we feel and thus how we react or respond. Reminding ourselves that no one is born a bully, that it is a learned behavior and/or a defense mechanism, we can be more compassionate and understanding that this individual is dealing with issues of insecurity or low self-esteem. Their behaviors are an attempt to protect themselves from a perceived threat or to raise their image among their peers. Self-talk will either cause us to be fearful and angry towards them or be more understanding while boosting our self-confidence in how we deal with them.
Ex: “John’s not a bad guy. He’s a devoted father but seems insecure about his job. I can forgive him, set some boundaries, and find a way to get along with him as best as possible.”
O: Own It. If you are being targeted, take ownership for who you are, any mistakes you’ve made, any imperfections you may have, or for the simple truth about yourself. Doing so illustrates your awareness of truth, ability to feel comfortable and accepting of it, and diffuses the bullies authority over our feelings and response.
Ex: “Yes, I am grossly overweight and I know it puts me at risk for all sorts of health issues. Hopefully one day soon I’ll take action to improve my health.”
R: Reach Out. This is a difficult step that few are willing to embark upon. Reaching out to the aggressor puts one at risk for rejection, ridicule, retaliation or more. However, it is the first step to breaking down the barriers of fear they are struggling with and hopefully building some level of trust in the relationship. Undeniably challenging, this will no doubt take time and skillful effort to accomplish. Start small; be consistent; and like water running over a jagged rock and eventually smoothing the stone’s sharp edges, in time a level of trust can occur and the offensive behavior will subside.
Ex: First encounter: “Hi, John.” Second: “Hey, John. How’s it going?” Third: “John, have you seen Sharon? I need to ask her a question.”Fourth: “How was your weekend? Did you see the Yankee’s game on Saturday?” (Re: persistence and patience pays huge dividends.)
B: Befriend. As you establish a pleasant, non threatening relationship, the other party begins to see you as someone they can trust. In time, you can be a friend, on a limited basis if you choose, who can be influential in their progression from being an intimidator to a confident, secure, more approachable individual.
Ex: “My wife baked cookies last night. I brought some in for you. Hope you like them.” “Can I help you with that project?” “We’re having cake for Martha for her birthday. Won’t you please join us in the lounge?”
I want to reiterate that bullies are not bad people; they are the product of fear and insecurity.
“Those who are the most difficult to be kind to and befriend are the ones who need it the most.”
Many bullies have histories of having been mistreated or abused. What they need more than condemnation and exclusion is understanding, fair guidelines in the relationship, reasonable consequences for their offensive behaviors, and a strong support system. In this way, they can begin to heal their issues, get along better with family and peers, and lead morally upright lives.
“The only way to defeat your adversary is to make him your ally.”
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