I’m a pretty lucky guy because I rarely get bullied. This is mainly because I spend most of my time in my shorts and a T-shirt sitting alone at a computer. (Notice that I didn’t say I work in pajamas — I do have a tiny amount of dignity.)
But I have experienced mean (or, more often, stupid) bosses and scary junior high kids before, so I know a little about the subject. One of those things is that bullies — especially stupid ones — don’t respond well to calm, reasoned retorts.
So I was kind of surprised by an article in the “in-depth reporting” section of the American Bar Association Journal website that recommends responding to lawyer bullies by saying something like: “Demeaning me is not conducive to moving this case forward.”
Picture saying that to your walking time-bomb senior partner.
This odd advice comes in an article with the headline: “We can be smart, ambitious and accomplished members of the legal profession without being jerks.” It’s illustrated with a speech balloon containing sticks of dynamite and a timer.
If you think the graphic has nothing to do with the headline, it may be because the article has very little to do with the headline. Instead, it’s really about responding to bullying.
I realize I may be being mean by pointing this out. I may even be bullying. If so, I apologize and I realize that demeaning the ABA Journal is not conducive to moving forward with advice on handling bullying.
But I am mystified by the recommendations. They are: “Do a mental reboot,” “Find the inner athlete,” and “Cut the power source.” The first two are about ignoring the bully — tell yourself you’re fine and work on your posture. I’m not sure how this helps if you’re lying on the ground.
The third recommendation is the one about saying something that will almost certainly enrage the bully.
I would do things a little differently. Here are my recommendations:
“Laugh behind their backs.” This should be really easy to do — most bullies are ridiculous idiots. This will feel good and you’ll expand the joy by getting everyone else in the office (or nearby hallways) to laugh at the fool too.
“Fake a heart attack.” Imagine the look on your bully’s face when, after hearing an unkind word, you suddenly clutch your chest, stagger to the nearest piece of furniture and croak, “Call 911!”
To do this properly, you’ll need backup from coworkers and friends. One needs to fake the emergency call, several can play the parts of EMTs, and your best actor accomplice should be given this line: “What did you say to him?”
Return to work looking haggard after a two-week vacation and pretend to consult with counsel.
“Punch them in the face.” This, of course, is the standard schoolyard bully-handling advice but probably should not be taken literally. Your standard lawyer bully would either fire you or sue you or both.
Instead, you can punch back by insulting the bully’s hygiene, intelligence, clothing and sex life — to everyone else in the office behind the bully’s back. You’ll feel better and if you do this often, other office bullies will take on your bully, thus exacting a roundabout, anonymous revenge.
Life is short. Get your happiness where you can.