How we usually deal with conflict:
In conflict, most of us follow one of two scripts, fight or flight. Neither is very effective or life-affirming and both are roles bullies expect, know line-for-line, and often enjoy.
On one hand, fighting back, with insults or fists, pits you against a bully, someone who has a lot more experience being mean than you. They are often goading you to fight back, so taking the bait could make it get a lot worse for you.
Even if you win, what depths did you have to go to, to take that bully down? And what does that do to you psyche? By fighting, you’ve also increased the net pain in the world instead of reducing it, and there will likely be repercussions. The bully, having experiencing pain and humiliation, may come back to you for retribution or may pay it forward, taking out their increased anger on a target less equipped to defend themselves.
On the other hand, flight is often a very necessary and appropriate response to bullying. I’ve read that 75% of people bullied in the workplace quit for the sake of their psychological health. But, flight isn’t always possible. When it is, it also comes with its own costs to self-esteem, social standing, and in the case of workplace bullying, income.
The BullySpeak Origin Story:
My own experiences with bullying led to a desire for effective and empowering ways to positively end the cycle of bullying. My goals were to be a unattractive target for bullying and attack, to not be effected when in conflict, to change the script bullies are reading to one that I’m writing and directing, and to use empathy to end the cycle of bullying and initiate healing.
I started that exploration over 25 years ago. Today, there are some excellent videos and resources to help with bullying, however, I haven’t seen anything that applies the techniques I’ve learned or meets my list of goals.
Recently I had another opportunity to practice my approach, this time in a very aggressive and potentially dangerous situation. The results were nearly instantaneous, astounding, and healing. This inspired me to put in the work to share this system for talking down bullies with empathy instead of taking down bullies with aggression.
In BullySpeak we practice:
1. To be uninteresting targets for bullies
We avoid being a bully magnet by looking at what attracts bullies, and what repels them and makes them look for easier targets.
2. To stay grounded when confronted
We explore how to stay emotionally stable in the face of bullying and aggression, even if it takes us by surprise. This helps us jump out of fight or flight mode to a mindset where the rest of the BullySpeak tools can be accessed.
3. To be unaffected by what bullies say
We examine how we speak to ourselves about bullies and hear their language. Here, we practice three tools that build upon each other to help us heal from past bullying, stop negative self-talk (self-bullying), and reduce the effect bullies have on us, in the moment and long after.
4. Speaking patterns to disrupt bullying
The crux of BullySpeak is role playing interactions with bullies, using several unexpected language patterns of increasing effectiveness. These quickly redirect an encounter with a bully and temporarily disrupt their mental and emotional balance. In this state, even very aggressive and angry people will likely follow your direction, so they feel grounded again, instead of sticking to what they know, but isn’t working. Then, real connection and healing can happen very fast.
5. To defend ourselves without violence
The final component of the BullySpeak workshops is an introduction on how to defend yourself if, despite all the above, things escalate to where you’re physically attacked. If you try to hit your bully, you’re likely speaking a language they are fluent in and they may be looking forward to punching you back harder. Instead, you’ll learn a few simple Aikido techniques, which can be practiced even in work clothes, to physically take your bully off balance, making them easier to control. This keeps the door open to healing, instead of firmly closing it by responding with violence.
BullySpeak is based on:
I think Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg is one of the most important books ever written. I discovered this in my mid-twenties and the nine-hour audiobook version is the only MP3 on my phone, which I often listen to on repeat. NVC gives you a mental model and communication toolset based on empathy.
In conflict, empathy is so unexpected, that it can completely disrupt a bully’s script. When I effectively use it, people often feel truly seen and heard for the first time. In that state, conflict instantly dissolves.
Neuro Linguistic Programming
NLP is a collection of psychological techniques, much of which has been strongly debunked. However, several NLP techniques are used in various other types of accepted therapies and are quite valuable. I have been using anchoring, reframing, leading and pacing, and the dissolve technique on a regular basis for decades in relationships, meditation, PTSD recovery, and confrontations.
These specific techniques can change the effect bullies have and provide new scripts they are not expecting you to respond from. Combined, this leaves them off balance and much easier to redirect somewhere more productive.
As an Aikido Sensei, I have taught hundreds of kids and adults physical self-defence based on the principle of non-violence. When pushed, the natural reaction is to push back. In Aikido, we train to pivot and change our direction to see things from our attacker’s point of view as we blend our energy with their energy.
When this happens to someone, it is very disorienting because all the mental scripts of how a fight should go are tossed out the window. In this case, they’re literally taken off balance and are suddenly easy to physically manipulate, even if they’re much stronger. I consider it the physical version of NLP and NVC.