Does it make sense if I say that there are beasts in the concrete jungle?
Of course it does. Where else do you think beasts reside apart from zoos?
And if your world revolves inside the concrete jungle you will know that many very important decisions are made during formal meetings, informal meetings, emergency meetings, spur of the minute meetings, coffee time meetings, meeting in offices or even the canteen etc. That’s what offices are about. It’s all about meetings.
I read a poster somewhere that says: “The meetings will continue until we figure out why no work is being done around here…!”
In those meetings you invariably come across strong personality people who thrive in those occasions for being verbal bullies. Verbal bullies are people who love interrupting while people are in the middle of a discussion. They can’t wait to butt in and say what they want to say. Verbal bullies love an audience. They love the attention and I am sure you have as most of us have been there, find it extremely frustrating and annoying, especially if the meeting ended without you having had a chance to make your point.
So how do you deal with verbal bullies? (Apart from stoning them to death?)
Do not despair. There is hope. A retired lawyer named John Bartels who has had a lifelong interest in conflict resolution offers a couple of ideas:
As the verbal bully interrupts, do not take your eyes off the person you are addressing and continue to address that person in a calm voice. You must not make eye contact with the interrupting bully.
If Step 1 does not stop the bully, proceed to Step 2.
Simply raise the volume of your voice, making sure that you keep your eyes on the person you are addressing. You must not make eye contact with the interrupting bully.
If Step 2 does not stop the bully, proceed to Step 3.
Keep your eye on the person you are addressing, raise your voice slightly, and raise your hand in a stop sign indicating to the interrupting bully to stop speaking.
At this stage, most interrupting bullies will keep quiet. However, if the bully continues to interrupt, proceed to Step 4.
Stop speaking to the person you are addressing. Turn and face the interrupting bully face to face. Look the interrupting bully, directly in the eyes, and say: “Would you please wait for your turn and let me finish?” This will silence almost all verbal bullies. When the verbal bully keeps quiet say “thank you” and continue to calmly make your point. This strategy usually works. Your self-respect will be intact and you will gain the respect of the group and perhaps even the verbal bully.
And remember: A formal meeting with a weak chairperson soon turns into an informal meeting with the verbal bully ruling the roost and the chairperson.
So John is right. But allow me to add some ingredients into the procedure that adds more potency to the way you handle verbal bullies.
- Smile don’t smirk. Never underestimate the power of a smile to diffuse tension. A smile is your way of saying “This is nothing personal…” A smirk is a challenge to a duel to the death…J
- While you are “requesting” (not commanding) the verbal bully to keep quiet until you finish your piece, say it in a calm and even tone. Remember that communications is 93% non-verbal. Your tone of voice, the pitch of your voice and the speed of your delivery all speak more powerfully that words alone.
- Do not glare. Take care of your eyes. The eyes are the windows to the soul. I see and hear and read…more with a person’s eyes than with a person’s words. Be gentle but be firm. Do not allow the verbal bullies to dominate you and your conversation. But the most important point of them all is:
- Do not be a verbal bully yourself. Be interested with what others are saying. Famous TV talk show host Larry King says, “I never learned anything while I was the one doing the talking.”
Verbal bullies are mostly insecure. They use their verbal faculty to abuse people so they can appear superior and then they lose respect and their influence in the long run. You don’t want to be one. Remember this. You will know that you are a secure and a confident person the moment you have developed the capacity to consider others better than yourself.
Tell me your story. How did you stand up to a verbal bully?