5 Statements Never to Make to a Bully

Bullies watch you for tells to see if you’ll be an easy target. They hope you’ll make a mistake so they can take advantage.

Over the years, I’ve taught hundreds of targets and almost targets to outsmart bullies. Here’s a quick list of eight comments never to make to a bully – and why.

“It hurts my feelings when you…” or “I feel upset when you….”

We’ve all learned to take responsibility with “I” statements for our feeling and to negotiate to a win/win when we deal with others. 

Bullies, however, operate differently. They seek a winner (them) and a loser (you).

“I” statements and statements taking responsibility for your feelings don’t work with bullies because they don’t care. Worse, statements like the ones above show the bully that they’re getting to you. That’s music to their ears.  

“I just want us to get along with each other” and I want you to be happy”

To you these statements signal “let’s work this out. They’re peace-maker statements that show your good intent.

To the bully they flag “I’ll do anything to make you happy. I’ll accommodate to you, perhaps even past the point of no return.”

“Don’t tell me what to do” and “Leave me alone!”

When a bully pushes your buttons, it’s easy to react. You might think “going toe to toe” works. It doesn’t.

Your angry reaction signals to the bully that they’ve gotten to you and now have the upper hand.

Worse, reactive statements make you look like you’re the bad guy or at least a significant part of the problem to an outside observer, like your boss. 

If you sense your button being pushed, take a deep breath and say, “That kind of button pushing doesn’t work with me.”

“I’m sorry”

Apologies work well with everyone except a bully. To a bully, they signal that you’re pleading, and thus have given away your power. If you’ve truly made a mistake, instead say “I take responsibility for my actions,” a more assertive statement.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

You may be right; however, this statement leads you straight into an argument in which the bully can tie you in knots, while you sound defensive both to the bully and anyone listening.

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2 thoughts on “5 Statements Never to Make to a Bully

  1. Pretty much most of the first things we think of to say to a bully are going to show the bully has pushed our buttons. Say nothing? Probably not that, either.

    1. Susan, you’re accurate. When you say nothing, but perhaps nonverbally react, the bully senses s/he can “run” you. I’ve learned that “Stop. Just stop” works.

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