1. Talk about consequences, not rules.
Expedient and self-indulgent, bullies feel entitled to special treatment and can’t be bothered with procedures or codes of conduct. Therefore, explaining the rules to them won’t work, but clearly describing the consequences will: “Carl, the industry regulations clearly indicate___. If you violate this, I won’t be able to protect you.”
2. Keep them from demeaning.
Incapable of empathy, bullies don’t hesitate to demean. You can refuse to take debasing feedback by holding up a mirror and calling attention to what they’ve said: “Sue, you’ve made personal comments about me but haven’t given me any specific feedback I can use to improve.” Bullies have to tear down someone to build themselves up. Don’t let that someone be you.
3. Seek their advice
Bullies love to give advice and opinions. You can’t rely on them for support and encouragement, but they will readily share ideas that make them look smart and insightful.
4. Let them act superior.
Bullies tend to exaggerate their achievements and minimize those of others. You can control them somewhat if you simply don’t challenge their number one position.
5. Get there first with your ideas.
The expression “My way or the highway” exists because of bullies. Once they make up their minds, don’t try to change them. You can, however, get there first—before rigor mortis sets in. Bullies aren’t open-minded, but they like to think they are. Sometimes if you approach them with a specific, transparent request, you can put an idea on the table before they squash it.
6. Realize they’re never wrong.
Often in the wrong but never in doubt, bullies don’t admit mistakes. If you expect an apology or an admission of guilt, you’ll be disappointed. You need to hold steadfastly to the goal of not becoming the scapegoat, however.
7. Remain above suspicion.
Skeptical and distrustful, bullies question things that others accept at face value. So, give them answers before they ask the questions. They won’t necessarily respond favorably to your transparency, but at least you’ll avoid the frustration of yet another “third degree” interrogation.
8. When they get demanding, stay real.
When we work for or with bullies, we often develop the enabling mantra of “If I could just…, he would be happy” but no matter how high you jump, the bully can set the bar higher.
Instead of jumping higher, communicate reality: “Joe, I’d like to reach that goal too, but the facts tell a different story. We’ve never increased sales by that much in a six month period. What I can do is ….”
9. Leverage their tendency to be approval seeking
Counter-intuitive as it may seem, most bullies want to be liked, especially by those whose opinion they value. Therefore, play to the ego. Compliment them and call attention to their superiority. Warning: you’ll hate this and feel that you’re encouraging more unproductive behavior. But it doesn’t matter. You cannot change them, and they won’t change themselves.