Dealing with bullying and negative behaviour- from the inside out
Many people, most of us perhaps, tend to be oversensitive to other's opinions of us. We will go out of our way to seek positive affirmation and you only need to look at Facebook or LinkedIn for example to see the most obvious expressions. This helps to explain why we tend to respond badly to others negativity towards us, particularly if we feel they are being judgmental. But is it always about us and what does others negativity say about their inner reality? More practically, what can we do about it?
Beware the company you keep and be careful what you wish for are two of my favourite adages and both have a place in this article- I will explain why. Because most of us care about our reputations and how we are perceived, we seek out positive feedback and better still, respect. Unfortunately not everyone is capable of giving these, and sadly these people are often not very good at receiving them either. This is why it is so important to seek out and surround yourself with more positive souls who will encourage and support you in a nurturing, reciprocal way.
Often, when dealing with bullying behaviour many people react by assuming that they are to blame in some way- that they must have done something to provoke the negativity and aggression. Bullies rely on this and the fear of course and by keeping you on the back foot they are able to perpetuate the dynamic, for a while at least. However when you see this behaviour repeated towards others and a pattern emerges, you see the bully for what he or she is- probably insecure with a frightened inner child who has not been nurtured terribly well. Of course you cannot change other people, only your own reaction to them. If that person is a bully, stand up to them by all means, or move away but don't expect to be able to change them. Only they can do that, ideally with professional support and genuine commitment to be better.
How you look after your own inner child, your emotional intelligence and the love and support you receive will of course shape how well adjusted you are likely to become in adult life. Fear tends to underpin much negative and antisocial behaviour and I am intrigued by the relationship between fear and anger. How many times have you seen normally rational and centered people lash out when they feel cornered or dis-empowered in some way? Often their aggression comes from a place of fear, and particularly a fear of loss of control, which ironically is how the emotion is sometimes expressed.
As a coach and mentor I have seen this dynamic, the consequenses and fall out many times. Anger and loss of control can be an unsettling experience, both for the person who expresses it and the recipient. The important point is to understand it and then shine a light on it to make it go away. Fear and negativity can only survive in the shadows and darkness. However, If you are the person who 'loses it' and wish to put right your outburst,what can you do? There are several options open to you and I recommend Dr Steve Peters 'NEAT' approach, which works as follows;
N (normal) reflect that occasional outbursts are a normal part of human interaction, and try not to dwell on associated negative emotions
E (expect) therefore you should expect this sort of thing to happen from time to time
A (accept) reach a point of calmness through acceptance so that you can move forward from it
T (take care of) usually through sincere apology, rather than nuanced explanation. Also forgive yourself if you feel you have let other down..
It is worth remembering the NEAT acronym, you never know when the behaviour of your 'inner chimp' might make it necessary..
Personally, I find it helpful to remind myself that everyone is fighting their own battles, and that more often than not, their outward behaviour is a reflection of what is going on inside them, hence the title of this piece. So the moral of the story is that a bit of understanding and compassion will help you to understand others bahaviour and to see it for what it is, rather than judging it as many of us are inclined to do. Oh yes, and finally be careful what you wish for- I will explain..
In an increasingly aspirational culture, many people spend a lot of time looking upwards, aspiring to mix it with the great, the good, and the not so good. One person I worked with had an aspiration to join one of the big Investment banks, only to find when she got there that she hated it- not so much the work as the people, (or rather their behaviours), and the culture. After a while, she took the only rational course open to her and left. She is now happily working for a publisher where she can be herself. Getting the culture fit right is the most important part of career decisions and will quickly become a limiting factor if you get it wrong. Surround yourself with the right people and handle your relationships with them in a respectful, mindful way and success and happiness should follow.
David Head is a coach and mentor with the award winning firm Accelerating Experience. firstname.lastname@example.org