Dealing With Bullies And Dominance Behavior

I stumbled upon a video called “How to Stop A Bully” by Brooks Gibbs today while surfing through LinkedIn. Here’s the original version:

Now, Gibbs shares a number of valuable lessons during his research. Bullying is also called a “Dominance Behavior” by psychologists or establishing a state of power over other human beings.

The most common mistake is responding out of anger. As soon as you fall for it, you’ve lost the bullying game.

Bullying In Nature

Bullying is extremely popular across all ages, jobs, locations, situations, and places.

  • It starts as early as the kindergarten throughout school, jobs, and family gatherings.
  • It’s age-independent, i.e. a kid can torture an adult and vice versa.
  • Office politics don’t make it stop; it’s quite the opposite in competitive workplaces.
  • You have probably encountered bullying in different situations, from school and work to comments on news sites and social networks.

There’s virtually (and actually) no way you can safely hide — unless you form your own bubble and protect yourself from the outside.

The protective route is not a solution, either. Facing reality is the only path forward.

And there are certain cases where bullying may require different approaches. Usually, there’s an easy hack. In any other case, you may need to withhold for a little while until a permanent solution.

My Brief Backstory

Like any kid, I’ve been exposed to different forms of bullying a long time ago. Luckily, I got rid of the mentality and put myself in a position of control, a lucky coincidence backed up by hard work and reading up on social behaviors and neuro-linguistic programming.

I got my first job at 11 and kept pushing for independence over time. There were some downsides but it’s been a joyful ride overall.

And I know a troubling number of people facing different mental problems due to external pressure, bullying being a part of the problem.

As I’m now a father, a future of raising a little human being means I’ll need to relive some of those painful moments, hopefully preparing my daughter early enough. And here’s one step of the process.

Lessons From The Video

Brooks runs a newsletter on resilient parenting and this video portrays several points one should consider for themselves, their family, close friends, or even the broad audience.

First and foremost, bullying is an act of hurting your feelings.

Bullying Is Not Violence!

I can’t stress that enough. Domestic violence or other threats to one’s physical safety are concerning and should be dealt with/reported separately.

The lessons and tips on bullying are not always applicable to acts of violence. Make sure you differentiate these carefully and handle these separately.

A former Canadian campaign against bullying collected reported bullying accidents by anonymous visitors:

You can identify acts of violence like hitting, threats, fighting, weapon related ones that are NOT bullying. While being reported as such, these are not to be taken lightly, and must be reported to the corresponding authorities.

Explaining Bullying to People

Gibbs explains the reason for explaining bullying to people. Starting from kids’ age, people who successfully handle bullying encounters:

  1. Grow in self-esteem
  2. Grow in self-confidence
  3. Grow in self-worth

Upon watching the video, you’ll see practical scenarios of handling bullying in nature. Brooks has picked a defeatist approach, complying with one’s insults without taking them too seriously.

This is one straightforward and fairly safe way to interrupt an emotional attack. But there are others, and nuances matter, so make sure you watch closely and pay attention to subtle details.

My Take On Bullying

Disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist or a medical professional. Take this with a grain of salt, a framework I’ve been shaping around my personal experience, my training expertise and background, and my management roles over the past 13 years.

My personal take on bullying depends on the situation and the circumstances.

Bullying Is About Power

Another study within “Stand up against bullying” polled 267 people on the reasons behind bullying:

In almost every case out there, bullying is about demonstrating and establishing power. This is important to note as the outcome of an encounter can set up the tone for ongoing conversations.

And I’ve classified four different types of interactions that one can select from when being pressed by a bully.

1. Submit

Agreeing with everything that a bully says without showing any fear, anger, hesitation or being on the verge of tears is what Brooks Gibbs also suggests in his video.

It may be hard to get used to this submission technique. It hits a nerve every time, strikes your ego directly, and calls for your primal instincts. But as Gibbs suggests himself, it’s a logical choice that bores the bully as there’s no fun in someone who doesn’t argue.

This is often the only logical solution in a face-to-face bullying encounter, especially in a situation with a clear position of dominance. There’s no valid excuse or justification for anyone who decides to pick the power card, but being in that situation yourself can help you dodge it for the time being (or even onward) and decide how to proceed further.

And you can certainly pick this as a go-to card at all times. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for online trolls but it’s still an option in the digital space.

Gibbs already presents a similar use case in his own video, but here’s a sample encounter:

You’re fat!

Yes, I’m overweight.

And ugly!

I haven’t been born with the pretty genes.

Your clothes are horrible!

Yes, I purchase them second hand.

This can keep going and vary a little bit, but you get the gist. Notice the fact that a bully doesn’t usually keep pushing for the same insult. It acts as a natural defensive mechanism against repetitive attacks on the same point.

This will NOT happen if you try to argue. Arguing is what bullies wait for only to tear you apart if you don’t know what to respond with.

The end outcome will be establishing the dominant position the bully asked for.

2. Ignore

Ignoring a bully in a one-on-one interaction is hardly possible.

If you’re up for it, make sure you wear a pair of headphones and don’t expect a physical counteract.

Or just walk away if possible and feasible.

But it could be a great alternative in a public group, and especially effective online. Not feeding the trolls what they crave for is the usually the best thing to do.

Simply neglect what you’ve heard, turn around, move forward or put your headphones on. Or speak to someone else around if possible. Resist the urge to respond or defend yourself without winning anything.

The outcome may vary. In some cases, you may keep the same stance on the power scale with a bully, or slightly lower. In an online interaction, it’s usually an upside for you and an expected response (its lack thereof).

3. Report

The more aggressive the bully, the more important to report them if possible.

As some respondents to the previously discussed studies have included physical threats as bullying, these should absolutely be reported and dealt with as early as possible.

But even in a school environment, a kid reporting a bully to their parents first is the smartest choice. Speaking to a teacher or the principal may be the next step of escalation if the bullying doesn’t stop. It’s a no-brainer if it involves physical threats or anything along those lines.

The outcome may also vary but you may get rid of your bully for good.

4. Mock

There are two main downsides to mockery:

  1. It may be dangerous (for your safety or job) in some instances.
  2. It requires creative and fast thinking, practice, and some experience.

If a 6-year-old decides to mock an aggressive teen, this will escalate and will be outright a dangerous gamble. If you mock a bully in a night bar, you may end up knocked out. You get the drill.

But there are many cases where mocking works.

  • Between colleagues of equal rank in the workplace
  • Between classmates
  • With strangers that you will likely never meet anymore
  • On social media

It’s mostly applicable when you have the aptitude (and desire) to apply, won’t face any risks, are confident enough to play the same game, and want to keep a level playing field (or even beat the bully in their own game).

Note: mocking isn’t considered an adult response and should never be used against others intentionally. There’s a great guide on wikiHow on How to stop people from mocking which can also be of use.

My favorite example of mocking in different cases is the Monkey Island game portraying an island with pirates winning duels through mockery and other forms of nagging or ridiculing. Read up on the backstory for more information.

To illustrate a bullying situation tackled by mocking, you need to both neglect their comment and revert with a replica yourself. A random example:

You’re ugly!

Did you say something? I could barely distinguish your face from your butt.

Oh, you’re smart now?

Good boy, here’s a biscuit for you!

But your shoes look like crap!

Your mother/wife gifted them to me.

You’re a fat loser.

You envious? Spending a lot of time around me already, get on the line, everyone wants to stick around.

There are various ways to turn this around. One quick search on responding to a fat insult pinned 15 positive ways to respond, ignoring and laughing off also being listed.

It’s a fine line between mocking, ignoring, and insulting back. But applying in the right scenario without abusing power or asking for a physical conflict can turn the tables around with a bully running away with their tail between their legs.

Understanding Bullying

Understanding bullying is important.

Sometimes, bullies are insecure people with a troubling childhood and they use it as a defensive mechanism against its own insecurity. But it may be close to aggressiveness which is to be reported early on.

In any case, studying your options can help you tackle every situation without constantly looking around for the next trouble.

Especially on social media, bullying is wildly popular. There are millions of people spending a troubling chunk of their time trolling people for the sake of it. Since they obviously have nothing better to do, ignoring them is often the right choice. But if it’s people in your own community, the other options will help you pick the right technique.

What’s your best recipe against bullying?

Your thoughts?