Grown-Up Bulldozers: How to deal with middle-aged bullies
Lately, in my endeavors in my various classrooms, I’ve been discussing kindness. As well as the flipside of kindness. In these conversations taking place among students in 5th grade all the way up to my college students (some of whom are in their 40’s), the talk often revolves around two things: how to spread kindness in the world and what to do with bullies or unkind people.
Teachers lead these kinds of talks. It comes with the job. Parents do as well. I spend a good deal of time helping my daughters navigate the complexities of relationships and issues with unkind people, people who choose to spread darkness instead of sunshine.
While young people are well informed when it comes to this issue, we need to remember that there are grown-up bullies as well. So today, that’s my focus.
How to Deal with Middle Aged Bullies: How to Stop a Bulldozer
I sometimes wonder if the term bully comes from bulldozer because so many adult bullies run right over us, chop off our sentences, push us around, dump on us. These people perhaps suffer some sort of arrested development and behave much like a two-year-old.
Manipulations. Triangulations. Passive Aggression. Tantrums. We have all dealt with a grown-up bulldozer in our lives. And while I’m no bully-whisperer, I do have a few bits of advice that I’ve adapted from the very same skills we try to teach our kids.
1. Be Wonder Woman. Take a stance. Hands on hips, feet shoulder width apart, golden truth lasso on your belt, and magic metal cuffs to deflect any bullets. Seriously, use body language that screams superhero. Stand tall. Chin up. Ready for battle. Even if the bully totally intimidates you, use your body to send a powerful message. You will not be intimidated.
2. Kill with Kindness. I learned this from my mother who is and always has been a peacekeeper and a sunshine spreader. A lot of strong words and direct statements make an impact when delivered with a smile. A really big smile. I’m not saying you can get away with saying “@#$& off” with a smile, although you may need to at some point. I’m saying a smile and a calm, direct line of communication leaves a manipulating, drama-craving bully pretty much disarmed and therefore diffused. The bulldozer hates not getting your goat. Shutting down their negative energy with a smile is a little bit like shrugging them off, dismissing their craziness so that it doesn’t enter your sphere of positivity. As long as you’ve got the truth of the situation on your side, you can’t lose.
3. Deflect and Re-Route. Say you’re dealing with someone in a work situation or any sort of environment where there’s an authority figure (not you or the bulldozer) who’s actually in control. A bulldozer needs control, has major power issues, and only ever pushes around someone he/she perceives as inferior. If that’s happening in a situation in which there’s a higher power, DEFER. DISENGAGE. Smile and suggest that since the bulldozer isn’t satisfied with the situation at hand, perhaps he/she should take it to the top and try pushing the agenda there. Get it off your stress plate. Or simply give it up to God or the universe. Find a way to disengage and redirect the behavior. This is when your Wonder Woman cuffs come in real handy.
4. Tell a Real Grown-Up. I don’t mean tattle to your boss. I don’t mean gossip. If you become toxic, they win. I mean, state the facts (without emotion) of the situation to someone objective, to someone who will listen and support and be honest with you about how to handle it. The feedback alone will serve you.
And while these strategies may not in fact totally shut down the bulldozer, they most certainly will stall their engine or throw a wrench in their behavior. Be strong. Be Wonder Woman. And good luck. Spread Sunshine!