You would think that by the time you’re a mature, successful adult, dealing with bullies is no longer a concern. Unfortunately, some people peak in high school and never really evolve beyond that mentality.
Adult bullying is an inevitability we all face at some point. You’re no longer worried about being pantsed in the cafeteria or facing ridicule for being the new kid in school. Now the bullying is much more subversive — you’re caught in the middle of petty power plays, fighting to earn credit for your own hard work, and perhaps even the subject of nasty rumors meant to defame your otherwise excellent reputation.
Anyone who’s ever dealt with a bully — whether in adolescence or adulthood — knows that simply taking the high road rarely results in justice. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to stoop to a bully’s level to defeat them.
Here’s how to deal with an adult bully and keep your dignity intact.
Remain neutral. I’ve known a lot of bullies in my day. Fortunately, I’ve been able to avoid becoming their victims by playing the role of Switzerland.
Often, adult bullying begins with fake friendship. They lure you in with deep, personal conversations, make you feel comfortable, then use the information you share — presumably in confidence — against you when the opportune moment arises. One Wednesday you’re all wearing pink, the next, you’re tricking each other into getting fat off high-calorie nutrition bars.
The secret is to be a great listener, but never actually engage in bullying rhetoric. Let the bully tell you everything that’s got them peeved, but keep your own mouth shut. Smile. Nod. Walk away. Repeat.
Keep your cool. Bullies are fueled by the superiority they feel when putting others down. But if you don’t give them the satisfaction of that feeling, their powers fizzle pretty quickly.
Refrain from reacting emotionally when a bully makes a joke at your expense or belittles you in front of your peers. When in doubt, ignore them; it’s not only effective, but pretty damn funny when you pretend like the biggest asshole in the room doesn’t exist. Don’t believe me? Just try it.
And if you’re fortunate enough to be blessed with a sharp sense of humor, even better. Feel free to send a few quips their way. If you have others laughing back at them, they’ll be quick to move on in pursuit of a weaker target.
Don’t tattle. As much as your company probably tries to convince you otherwise, your HR department does not exist to protect you — it’s there to protect the company.
If you’re dealing with bullying in the workplace, any information you share with HR regarding personal issues with another employee will likely be relayed right back to the guilty party. And trust me, the last thing you need is a group meeting to “talk things out,” which will undoubtedly add fuel to the fire.
A very big HOWEVER: If the harassment is extreme enough to impact your performance or mental health, you should definitely not let it go. Rather, document your interactions and conversations (be sure to save all those salty emails) and build a case against your bully. Come prepared to present your claim of a hostile work environment — your HR representative will hopefully be quick to solve the problem (i.e. fire their ass).
Never compromise your values. I’m a firm believer that all shitty people are eventually forced to face their own shittiness. Never pretend to be less intelligent, committed, or compassionate in order to placate a bully.
At the end of the day, your reputation is everything. Don’t jeopardize yours because it seems easier than dealing with an adversary. It may take some time, but people will eventually see a bully for who they really are.