3 Strategies for Turning the Tables On a Bully

“You sure screwed up,” Wayne snarled.

Marie’s stomach plummeted, as all eyes turned to her. She braced herself for what was coming. Wayne loved to put people on the defensive in front of others.

Bullies like Wayne excel at preemptive attacks that leave their targets defensive, flustered, and tongue-tied. Do you work alongside a bully? Learn to turn the tables and take control.  

Ask a question

What happens if I slam you with a putdown and you respond with a question?  Although it may seem like I’m still in charge, you’ve just taken control of our encounter.

Suppose a bully knows you’re sensitive about your appearance, and says to you, “You look like a dog”? You might redden and tighten your jaw in response to this snarky comment. If others are watching, they may pity you. What if you instead ask, “What breed?” By asking a question, you sidestep the attack and take control of the conversation. If your bully confronts you in front of an audience, they then laugh with and not at you.

Ignore blame and move toward a solution

Suppose you work for a bully boss who regularly yells at you, “Is that all you got done?” If you respond, “You don’t understand how long these things take,” you sound defensive. If, however, you ask “What would you like me to work on next?” you diplomatically move you and your boss forward toward a solution.

Call the bully on his game

Bullies often smirk and say, “Just kidding” after they jab you. If you protest, they blame you for feeling stung, by asking, “Why are you making a big deal about this?” Challenge this maneuver. Imagine the bully says “you’re a fool,” and you say, “that’s not true and it’s rude.” If the bully then says “just kidding,” you can respond “I don’t think so.”

How could Marie have handled Wayne? She could have asked, “Wayne, what would you have done differently?” Chances are, Wayne wouldn’t have had a response.

If Wayne kept attacking, she could have told him to cut it out, by saying, “Wayne, give it a rest.”

If you liked this post, you might enjoy some of our other outsmarting bully posts, or the complete Beating the Workplace Bully, AMACOM, https://amzn.to/3CTic6f with chapters on holding your ground, turning the tables, avoiding bully traps and handling verbal and situational bullying.

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