Workplace Bullies: Lessons from Hillary Clinton

Posted October 21, 2016 in Latest News & Insights, Resilience

Watching the second US Presidential debate will likely go down in history as one of the most uncomfortable pieces of theatre ever aired. Since the debate aired just over a week ago, memes have been made, musical scores have been created and opinion pieces written. In real time, millions of people watched as one opponent used classic tactics to try and intimidate and bully the other with his physical presence, flagrant lies and body language. It was fascinating and unnerving at the same time. And, it’s something most of us have to deal with at work as well. There are always some people who get extreme pleasure in bringing others down, especially in public.

You know these people. They’re the ones that always seem to ask the question that you’re not prepared for in a meeting. Or they throw out some crucial tidbit of information that could have been shared weeks earlier. They are described by colleagues as ‘sharks’ or ‘vultures’ and love the smell of blood in a boardroom. Make no mistake… this is a form of bullying. If you have someone in your company who makes sport out of making you or others look inept in public venues, here’s how to shut them down Hillary style:

  1. Never sink to their level: One of Trump’s tactics was to parade out a bunch of Bill Clinton’s former lovers and accusers. As a three times married, sexual predator himself, Hillary could have thrown a few choice words his way about his personal life. Instead, she kept focused on her message of policy. She came across as the stronger and more stable presenter as a result. Your workplace bully may bring up past screw-ups you’ve made which may make it tempting to point out his or her own shortcomings. Staying focused on your message will show you as the bigger person and your challenger as a petty interrupter.
  2. Keep focused on your audience: Trump’s stalking and invading of Clinton’s personal space throughout the debate was designed to distract her from her message and throw her off her game. It didn’t work. She kept her focus on the people that mattered. As a result, most of the undecided attendees were firmly in the Clinton camp at the end of the debate. Workplaces bullies surf their phones or have sidebar conversations. They may stare you down or roll their eyes. Don’t let that type of behaviour throw you off. Call it out if you need to or ignore it as best you can and speak to the audience in the room that matters the most.
  3. Don’t sink to their level, but don’t be a doormat either: While Clinton sat politely as Trump took the stage, she wasn’t afraid to step into his space and interrupt him when needed. Bullies don’t like to be stood up to and those actions got Trump spinning further into his churlish behaviour. Workplace bullies love hesitation. They love apologetic behaviour. Meet their interruptions and sharp questions with confident, assertive responses. Don’t have an answer? No problem. Say clearly and directly ‘I’ll get back to you on that.’ Made a mistake? Acknowledge it and share what your next steps to fix it will be. Don’t be timid. Set your boundaries and stick to them.
  4. Stay positive: I don’t think Trump smiled once throughout the debate. Hillary, on the other hand, managed to keep her energy positive, despite what was – by her own admission – an incredibly uncomfortable situation. If you know you’re going into a presentation where bullying behaviour may come up, prepare for it in advance. Try some power poses to boost your confidence quotient and create some positive affirmations to set yourself up for success. These small strategies can make a big difference.
  5. Surround yourself with support: following the debate, it was interesting to see Trump and his entourage hightail it off stage as quickly as possible. Clinton on the other hand, took her time to connect with the audience. When you’ve just survived being caged in with a raging lion, it’s good to replenish your confidence with some well deserved pats on the back from your supporters. A great way to shut a workplace bully down is to get a few advocates to support you in your meeting. Talk to people ahead of time and share where you’d like their support, should things start to go sideways. Bullies often back away if they feel they’re about to be outnumbered. After all, bullies are usually highly insecure and will quickly back away if they feel like they can’t corral support.

And, if you see someone getting bullied in a meeting, please don’t just sit and watch it happen. Intervene and show support to the person being harassed just like we saw the moderators attempt to do for Hillary. Nobody likes a bystander.

Happy leading!


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