Standing Up To Difficult People And Workplace Bullies The Right Way

Don’t interfere with somethin’ that ain’t botherin’ you none.
Country proverb

It’s a well-known fact that more people leave their bosses and their coworkers than they do their jobs. After all, some of those bosses and coworkers are just plain difficult people or workplace bullies.

But what should you do if you like what you do and you’re good at what you do? What should you do if you don’t want to leave your job but you just can’t stand the people you do it with?

Try a few of these ideas and strategies. You can even apply these tactics to the difficult people in your friends-and-family network. One of the techniques may work well with one difficult person while you may need to use several of the techniques on some workplace bullies.

1. Sit on your ego.

Don’t let the other person get to you. As I teach in my program on “The Partnership Payoff: The 7 Keys To Better Relationships And Greater Teamwork,” if you let another person anger you, he controls you. You must be an actor … who thinks before you respond … who thinks about what kind of response is most professional and most likely to work. In other words, you choose how you will respond.

It’s what I call “being an actor instead of a reactor.” And there’s great power in being an actor, because you become more like a pool stick, calling the shots, rather than being the pool ball, being bounced from one end to another.

Of course, that may be easier said than done for some of you. If so, imagine your entire body and mind coated in one of those protective, non-stick coatings applied to pots and pans. Whenever that difficult person or workplace bully is being disrespectful, imagine their comments and behaviors running right off you, like water off a duck’s back. Yeah, it sounds silly, but it does work.

2. Rise above the other person.

While technique #1 will stop the other person from bringing you down to his level, you can use this technique to rise above the other person.

Start by re-framing the other person’s inappropriate, non-professional comments and actions. Re-frame or re-define every so-called disaster by asking yourself, “In five years, will this matter?” In most cases, the answer is a definitive “no.” Re-framing lets you let go.

And then continue to rise above the other person by seeing yourself as the mature professional you are or want to be. Once you form the picture, the picture will pull you in that direction.

You can even add some positive affirmations to your picture for an extra dose of power. For example, you could recite some of these lines from the “Maturity” poem by Anonymous. The more you recite them, the more you’ll be like them.

* Maturity is the ability to handle frustration, control anger, and settle differences without violence or destruction.

* Maturity is patience. It is the willingness to postpone gratification, to pass up the immediate pleasure or profit in favor of the long-term gain.

* Maturity is the gift of remaining calm in the face of chaos. This means peace, not only for ourselves, but for those with whom we live and for those whose lives touch ours.

* Maturity is the ability to disagree without being disagreeable.

* Maturity is humility. A mature person is able to say, “I was wrong.” He is also able to say, “I am sorry.” And when he is proven right, he does not have to say, “I told you so.”

* Maturity is the ability to live in peace with that which we cannot change.

3. Forgive the other person.

That doesn’t mean you agree with or accept the behavior of the difficult person or the workplace bully. How could you when you know his/her behavior is blatantly wrong? However, if you continue to hold a grudge against that person, you’re giving the other person control of your mind.

Author Isabelle Holland puts it very well. She says, “As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy rent-free space in your mind.” And, in my opinion, you’re smarter than that.

But there’s also another way to look at it. Nobody is perfect. Nobody has it easy. Everybody has issues. And you never know what is happening in the lives of those difficult people, and you never know what those workplace bullies are going through. So pause before you start judging them. Remember every one of them is fighting his or her own unique war!

Sometimes those “other” people can use a little forgiveness, whether or not they deserve it. And even if they reject your forgiveness, you need to do it for your own peace of mind.

4. Win the other person over to your way of thinking.

I defer to Dale Carnegie in his classic book, “How To Win Friends And Influence People.” Even though he published the book decades ago, his advice is still rock solid today. He gave us 12 ways to win over others. They included:

* The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. (Watch out when someone says he agrees with you in principle; it usually means he’s getting ready to argue with you. And do your best to communicate in such a way as to avoid creating a defensive reaction in the other person.)

* Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.” (That will only provoke the other person to try and prove that just the opposite is the case … that he is right and you are wrong.)

* If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. (That will immediately stop many difficult people and workplace bullies. After all, how can they go on when you’ve just admitted your error?)

* Begin in a friendly way. (As author Marjorie Brody advises, share a pleasant revelation or voice a positive opinion. Something as simple as “You made a good point at the meeting” can be sufficient. Or you can combine a couple of techniques. Comment positively about an observation you’ve made of the other person and then ask a question related to your observation, enabling the other person to talk more. For example: “You’re really on top of things. What other details should I know about?”)

* Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately. (As soon as a person utters the “yes” word, her attitudes and behavior tip toward the positive.)

* Let the other person do a great deal of the talking. (Pause. Allow a pause of about five to ten seconds when the other person finishes speaking. It causes the person to explain more. It usually has them revealing personal information … because people realize that YOU REALLY LISTEN!)

* Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers. (Everybody wants to feel like a somebody and this technique will certainly do that.)

* Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view. (As you do, insert such words as “Oh … Hmm … I see … That’s interesting … Tell me more … and … Wow!” It shows you are paying attention and it doesn’t disrupt the speaker’s train of thought.)

* Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires. (Again, that doesn’t mean you have to agree with his ideas, but you can at least show your understanding of his ideas or how he came to those conclusions.)

* Throw down a challenge. (Many people respond to challenges because they want to show off. They want to show you how good they can be or how well they can do. In fact, our pastor gave us all a card last Sunday that challenged us not to utter one single complaint in the next 21 days. And even though I write books on this topic and speak around the world about such things, I’m in. I took up the challenge immediately.)

One of my customers Tim Rainville took up the challenge I gave a long time ago … when I said you can achieve more than you are achieving … and you can be more than you are. He told me about the results he got in a note he sent a few days ago. He said: “Dear Dr. Zimmerman, I attended two of your sessions in Toronto, and your message stuck with me. You even helped me when I was contemplating a career change after 25 years with Sears Canada. You gave me guidance and a challenge and I started listening to your CD series on ‘Mind Over Matter.’ They were immeasurably helpful.”

“Then after 6 years with a new employer, I once again found myself in a company that offered no further challenges and was clearly headed for trouble. It was obvious that the job would not last, and more importantly, I had lost my enthusiasm and motivation. Somehow, I had forgotten to keep on working on my attitude and confidence and I let myself stay stuck in a bad situation. I let your CD’s gather dust for a long time.”

Tim continued, “But I retrieved them and listened to them consistently as I undertook the challenge of making a career change. Your ‘Mind Over Matter’ CDs got me going again, rapidly accelerated my search for a new position, and I found success not too much longer.”

Tim finished by saying, “I continue to listen and practice the positive techniques you espouse. I have rectified my earlier mistake in assuming that a healthy, proactive attitude can flourish without regular reinforcement. I’m also pleased to report that your materials have found a convenient and permanent home in my car. They are also much less stressful than talk radio!!”

How cool is that? But just as exciting, Tim wrote this PS: “My 16-year-old daughter, who will begin her studies at the university in September, rolled her eyes when I first ‘inflicted’ your lectures and subliminal CDs upon her in the car. She is now a convert, and as I write this, she is listening to your subliminal music as she studies for exams.”

Action:  When you read through all the techniques I shared above, which one especially caught your attention, where you thought to yourself that you really need to do that? That’s my challenge for you this week. Practice that technique over and over again in the next 21 days.