7 Things I’ve Learned from Workplace Bullying

While most of you may not agree, assertiveness, in the face of workplace bullying and other types of aggression, is a skill we all have in common from the day we are born – in my opinion. No, seriously!

Remember when you found yourself needing your nappy changed? What did you do? Sit there and be quiet about it? First of all, you probably don’t remember that far back (fair play if you do), but you cried and made a point of getting attention from a parent or guardian. You asserted yourself.

As a young child, you were fearless in your expedition to explore the world and experience new people, places and things with the wonderment of the first encounter. Fear, wariness or cynicism hadn’t yet had a chance to cloud your enthusiasm for life. Whether you were lively or docile, when you wanted to explore something new you adopted an assertive approach.

Why am I telling you this? There are so many variants in personality – introversion and extroversion for example. Regardless, we have all been born with assertiveness; it has been circumstances that have diminished it as we grew up. The main cause of losing our inherent assertiveness and confidence is, unfortunately, other people.

Schools (aka Workplace Bullying Incubators)

I experienced bullying that lasted for most of my teenage years at school. It was a twisted blend of verbal and physical abuse that I was conditioned to bottle up, as some sort of “rite of passage” that every young lad had to go through – just part of school life, man up. The burgeoning world of social media was introduced in the form of Bebo those days, and it gave my bullies yet another way to attack me when I thought I was safe at home.

Like many schools, mine had an anti bullying policy that I soon realised was more to tick a box to keep themselves right, than out of regard for the safety and well-being of people like me.

I bottled up every word until my own sense of self-worth was so low that I became suicidal.

I witnessed many other cases of bullying at my own and other schools of people I knew, including some that went on to complete taking their own lives. It’s something I’ve spent a fortune of time and money on in various forms of therapy and only began to recover from in the last 3 years. I’m now 26. School bullying has a lasting impact, believe me.

I’ve yet to find any evidence that schools do anything substantial to protect pupils from bullying. The bullies grow up getting away with it. This results in a huge problem – workplace bullies.

Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is sadly all too common. Over a third of UK workers have experience bullying. Many employees are too scared to talk about it, thinking it may affect their career progression or reputation among colleagues. Some organisations will list anti-bullying policies in their company handbook, but like some schools, this has little practical impact on bullying and provides little support for victims.

My Experience

I have been the victim of workplace bullying. Things I have had to experience include:

  • Name-calling
  • Singled out for humiliation in front of other colleagues (and customers)
  • Excluded from relevant work meetings and social events
  • Hurtful comments on my personal appearance
  • Highly unrealistic targets and irrelevant, “dogsbody” workloads followed by harsh, aggressive criticism
  • Dismissive comments on not only my job function in general but my ability to fulfil my duties
  • Aggressive, sarcastic responses to requests for help and guidance
  • Nasty rumours spread about me behind my back
  • Snide comments about where I’m from

Don’t get me wrong. I’m up for a bit of craic and banter – no problem, I enjoy it. I have a pretty thick skin compared to my teenage self (due to seeking help and working on my personal development and mental well-being as I have matured). Where it crosses the line is the tone, the relationship with the colleague and the attitude towards me.

The difference between workplace bullies and school bullies is that, as an adult, I didn’t tolerate it – not for long anyway. It did bring me back to the school buses, the hallways, the PE changing rooms with that same feeling of being ground down.

It affected me so much I fell into a deep depression and attempted to take my own life.

It may have taken therapists, counsellors, life coaches, family, friends and the more positive work colleagues, but I’m an assertive man now and I have learned to respect myself too much to tolerate bullying anymore. I spoke up for myself and addressed the problem head on. I built up my confidence. I recovered the assertiveness that was nearly totally ground away from me.

So What Did I Learn?

I took a lot of steps to address my workplace bullying problem and I can tell you that it hasn’t been a problem that’s come up since. I learned a few things that I wanted to share in the hope that it may help you deal with a workplace bully.

Meet up With Them

This might seem daunting, but believe it or not, you’re likely both adults (even if they aren’t behaving like one). Ask them to meet to discuss a project. Book some time with them away from the office madness, even if it’s still on the premises. Alternatively, you could go out at lunchtime with them to grab something to eat.

The point is – address the issue with them. Let them know you’re not happy – in a calm and measured way – by talking to them about why it’s bothering you. I have found on one occasion that the person didn’t realise they were making me uncomfortable – assuming it was banter – but apologised anyway. While their style of banter wasn’t something I was used to, we actually got to be good friends after that. Sometimes the bully doesn’t even realise they’re bullying you and it can be a simple fix. Other times it may not be so simple, and you might need some help.

Call it Out

As someone who was bullied severely at school and absorbed the notion from others to “bottle it up” as if it was a rite of passage, I strongly recommend raising the bullying with your HR department, Line Manager or someone you trust to help you take action against the bully.

  • Talking to a colleague you trust and have a good relationship with can help you vent your frustration and get some form of comfort from their support. They may meet the bully with you and assist you to address the situation. I haven’t personally needed this but I have been that support for a former colleague.
  • Your line manager may be there to delegate tasks and review your work when required but they’re also supposed to be a supportive figure, a mentor and leader that you can bring up concerns with in confidence. They may be able to use their authority to help address the issue directly, with the bully’s manager. They can help you raise your concern with HR and meet to resolve the issues in a professional manner. In reality, it’s the luck of the draw if you have a supportive line manager and someone responsible for HR that takes their duty of care for staff seriously. I have had experience of both supportive and totally passive, distant individuals, and it makes a big difference in how the problem is dealt with.

Even though your main concern is your own personal well-being, it will help your case in seeking support, to align it with an identified impact on the business. This may include your ability to perform your job well, the financial cost of your dip in productivity and happiness at work or the cost of having to replace you and retrain someone. This will show that you’ve considered the matter seriously and should engage them in taking you seriously in return.

Minimise Contact To the Essentials

It might seem a bit cold, but workplace colleagues aren’t there to be your friends. They’re employed – just like you – to do a job for the organisation. You are contracted for a certain amount of hours in a day to be there and deal with your colleagues.

If you have the unfortunate task of having to liaise with your workplace bully to accomplish a task, keep it strictly professional. You don’t have to ask them what they did at the weekend, who they think is going to win in tonight’s Champions League match or where they got their new shoes. You don’t even have to sit with them at lunchtime. Do what you have to do to exchange the information required to do your task and then leave.

Walk Away

Have you been In the midst of a loud, aggressive, overly critical rant – aimed at you? Whether it’s face-to-face or on a conference call with a colleague or client, get up, and say “I don’t like the tone you’re using with me. I’m going to come back when you can speak to me with respect.” Or, at least, I recommend something along those lines.

One of the worst things we are conditioned to believe is ‘the customer is always right’ and it’s easy to forget that customers can be workplace bullies too, especially recurring customers.

The emotional labour expected to listen to angry and unfair verbal attacks launched is too much – no matter what. It’s ridiculous to expect to absorb so much of that – on a daily basis in some jobs – and not have your mental health suffer as a result. Don’t take it. If you have been taking it, don’t take it anymore.

Look After Yourself

While work is somewhere we spend a lot of our time, it’s not where we spend all our time. We need the money to pay our bills but there are more hours in the day, in which you are entitled to have a life! “I know, try telling my boss that!”, I hear some of you saying. I’ve been there too.

Go home on time. If you are asked to stay on after contracted hours, claim overtime for doing so. Don’t fall into the trap of being bullied into staying late all the time.

The owner of the business may never really switch off, but you have to, for your own good!

Go walking, cycling or to the gym. Meet up with friends. Spend time with your family at home. Have a beer and watch the football at the bar or with your feet up. Volunteer for a charity. Go on a date. Do a skydive or a backflip. Live. Your. Life.

A workplace bully (as unpleasant as they are) can only affect you at work. You’ll deal with them, but you can address that botheration during the time you’re actually paid to do it. It’ll be another task on your to-do list when you’re back in work. Don’t let them seep into the rest of your day.

I used to come home exhausted and dejected from the hangover of that day’s workplace bullying and lose sleep over it. I sought all the help I possibly could to look after myself and teach myself to value myself again. I even went for reiki, massages and mindfulness sessions to bring my value back into focus again. I still do.

I continue to run and exercise when I can, to blow off steam, clear my head and look after my physical well-being. My mental well-being is going strong as a result too. I’m enjoying life. I’m actually enjoying work too, most of the time!


If all else fails, get out of there. At the end of the day, it’s just a job! There are other organisations that are looking for someone like you and know how to make you feel more valued and welcome than you’ve been used to.

I have found a happy work environment at the moment, one I appreciate all the more, having experienced horrible workplace bullying. I didn’t know how to fix it, nor when to quit.

A high turnover of staff is often down to a bad boss. Some people have more resilience and resolve than others, but most need to stay and tolerate a toxic workplace because they need the money that comes from the job until another one becomes available.

When it is your boss that is the bully it becomes more difficult to deal with it. I have encountered this personally and witnessed friends going through the same thing. All of us took the assertive decision to move on. This is something that can be raised with another manager in the organisation, someone further up the hierarchy or someone in HR. They can help you address the bullying boss and properly reprimand them for this type of behaviour. The cost of high turnover can be massive for any organisation and it’s surprising how often bullies get away with keeping their job and reputation intact whilst getting away with bullying countless talented people out of the company.

Employment Rights and Legal Advice

I haven’t resorted to this and don’t intend to, ever, but an extreme option is to seek legal advice from an employment rights lawyer about starting a tribunal. If workplace bullying has been severe, considerably affected your health or your employer has abandoned their duty of care then it may be time to legally take your workplace bully to task.

I hope that you have gleaned something useful from my words and that you have picked up on a piece of advice that could help you address the problem of workplace bullying. It has to be eradicated. Taking an assertive, proactive approach to handling workplace bullying will help us all when we go out to work.

Imagine what we could all accomplish with an assertive approach within a pleasant working environment.

Find Eddie on EMC Copywriting or on LinkedIn.

Photo by Justin Veenema on Unsplash

What is Bullying?

“What is bullying?” According to keyword statistics on one of our favourite content marketing research tools Storybase, people really want to know what a bullying is. Perhaps they ask this question online before reporting bullying at work, just so they’re clear in their minds what constitutes bullying behaviour.

Aberrant Behaviours

Having just watched the latest episode of the addictive Netflix series, Zoo, where the animals mutate and display aggression toward all humans, I thought I’d make my own list of human “aberrant behaviours”. Read on to find out how to identify a bully at work.

When You Meet the Bully

You may not initially label their aggressive behaviour as bullying. You may put it down to immaturity, particularly where they’re already young and inexperienced in the workplace. You may simply conclude that it is braggadocio.

  • Paranoia that everyone is out to do them over even fairly insignificant suppliers and colleagues with whom they’ve little contact
  • Aggression toward anyone who does not immediately agree with them
  • Wildly waving their arms around as they speak (shout) on the phone, to draw attention to themselves
  • Boastful words about how their aggressive tactics work, and no-one dare question this assumption
  • Overestimating their professional capabilities
  • Strong, negative emotional reactions to minor problems everything scores a 10 on their angry scale
  • Dismissal of experienced professionals who offer alternative explanations, solutions or suggestions

Observe and Learn

Fairly soon, though, you will notice that their aggressive behaviour follows a predictable pattern:

  • They can take advice from no-one
  • They talk, a lot and exhibit zero listening skills
  • They make accusations about other people that make them sound crazy lies and unbelievable exaggerations are never far away
  • Everyone is afraid to talk, except to laugh at their cynical jokes the office is eerily quiet with an uneasy atmosphere
  • They assume a lack of intelligence or awareness in the quiet ones around them
  • Those who do object are treated to open dismissal or shouting or more sinister, private belittling and threats
  • They flatter where there is no substance, to gain compliance
  • They’re unpredictable one minute they ignore you (cold shoulder), the next minute, they’re in your face ranting
  • They talk a lot about loyalty, and threaten vengeance against those who’d dare criticise their team
  • They have a few cynical disciples you may call this The Whinge Brigade (who’ve drunk the kool-aid)

When you Finally Object, Watch Out!

  • Once you raise your head above the parapet to make a suggestion or complaint you become the latest target for their rage
  • They’ve just realised you’re not compliant and must be quashed, lest your damage their tyrannical management style
  • Prepare for lies and the lying lies that liars lie!

How Do I Deal With Bullies?

Check out the latest blog posts in our Assertiveness category. You’ll find something there to help you get started.

We run workshops on Communication Skills and Assertiveness and coach people on how to deal with bullies. When it comes to 1:1 coaching, Bullying at Work is our number one enquiry. If you need some in-depth help with developing Assertiveness in order to manage the bullies in your workplace, get in touch.

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Assertive Leadership

Assertive leadership is often identified as the one skill leaders need to work on. Not only is it an important trait in itself, enabling leaders to communicate effectively and maintain boundaries. Assertiveness also serves as a magnifier of many other leadership strengths. For example, assertive leaders are more likely to embrace innovation, foster collaboration and act with integrity.

Assertive leadership is often misunderstood as requiring pushy or aggressive behaviour. Here are a few surprising facts about what assertive leadership ideally requires.

Assertive Leadership is Curvilinear

A few studies have researched the relationship between assertiveness and leadership in a scientific way. These are:

What they found is that there is both a negative and a positive link between assertiveness and leadership, depending on the quantity of the assertiveness. Too much or too little assertiveness is detrimental to leadership. But the right amount of assertiveness, while largely unnoticed in itself, serves as a platform for other leadership traits. Assertiveness has a curvilinear, or inverted-U-shaped relationship with leadership effectiveness, rather than a linear one in which they are always directly proportional.

One of the authors put it like this:

When leaders get assertiveness wrong, it’s glaring and obvious, but when they get it right, it seems to disappear. We say it’s like salt in a sauce: when there’s too much or too little, it’s hard to notice anything else, but when it’s just right, you notice the other flavors. No one compliments a sauce for being perfectly salted, and it’s just as unusual for a leader’s perfect touch with assertiveness to attract much notice.

By the way, it’s the same with charisma in leadership – too much charisma can make leaders look less effective, just like too little!

Assertiveness Leadership is Calm

It turn out that people want to follow calm, assertive leaders. Both parts of the equation are important. From a biological viewpoint, assertiveness is related high levels of testosterone, while the calmness is related to low levels of cortisol. These might seem like a contradictory emotions. One way of bringing them together is by adopting the right physical posture, sometimes called a power pose. Research has shown that:

Posing in displays of power caused advantaged and adaptive psychological, physiological, and behavioral changes, and these findings suggest that embodiment extends beyond mere thinking and feeling, to physiology and subsequent behavioral choices. That a person can, by assuming two simple 1-min poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful has real-world, actionable implications.

To find out what these poses are, scientists have studied the body language of alphas, or leaders, both in the animal and human realms. Watch this TED Talk by Amy Cuddy to find out more. Or speak to us about training and coaching on body language. You might also want to read one of our 14 blog posts on assertive communication. And discover how Bully Karma can help you unleash assertiveness on the workplace bully!

14 Blog Posts on Assertive Communication

We’ve blogged on the topic of assertive communication for many years, as well as taught courses and led workshops on it. Assertiveness has the power to challenge our thinking at a deep level, and change our behaviour though small adjustments. We love assertiveness so much that we spent the whole of August blogging and tweeting on it, and promoting our coaching service for those who want to improve their assertiveness.

Here’s a collection of our favorite blog posts on assertive communication. I’ve gathered them together under relevant headings. Some blog post titles are self-explanatory while others were written to pique your interest. Give them a peruse and read those ones that interest you. Comments, questions, stories and objections are all welcome.

The Mental Side of Assertiveness

Assertiveness and Emotional Detachment

Bill of Assertive Rights

Fear, Obligation and Guilt

The Resolution of the ‘Adult ‘

A Playful Assertiveness

How to Stop Being Nice

Verbal Assertive Communication

Mohicans Do Not Call Themselves Subject to Much at All

5 Assertiveness Techniques

Non-Verbal Assertive Communication

Assertive Body Language

How to be Brave: The Return

39 Ways to Conquer Fear

Assertive Communication in Different Situations

What is Bullying?

How to Confidently Run Meetings Without the Creeping Ennui

Last Year, I Saved £8000 Pounds Just By Complaining

Coaching and Support at Bully Karma

Finally, I want to highlight the online and person-to-personal coaching service we can provide to help your assertive communication. Maybe you are experiencing aggressive and bullying behaviour in the workplace? Then read this blog about Bully Karma, an online support group for those who are navigating their way through workplace bullying and want to learn new assertiveness skills. You visit Bully Karma on Facebook directly.

If you’d like to talk about any of the issues raised in these blog posts, give us a call.

Bully Karma

We’re launching a new Facebook community for all those who’re being bullied at work to provide support and to help share Assertiveness tactics.

Our new community is called Bully Karma. It’s a supportive Facebook Group for all those who’re being bullied at work. We’ll be sharing:

  1. Tips for how to manage bullies, assertively
  2. Blog posts on Assertiveness (Guest Bloggers are welcome to pitch us)

When professionals book us for Communication coaching, the problem they want help with is almost always workplace bullying. Extreme abuse and physical threats aside, the solution is Assertiveness

There are no strict rules, though we assume most intelligent beings know the following:

  • What happens in Bully Karma stays in Bully Karma respect other people’s privacy
  • Don’t be the bully you will be removed

Apply to join Bully Karma now.

File the Harassment Policy Under Jokes, Sweetheart

I’m mad. Once in a while (OK, more than once in a while) something really riles me. This week, a report stated that Northern Ireland universities are among the worst in the UK for bullying among staff. I’d go further and suggest that the problem lies not just with universities but across all sectors here in NI.

So, we all have rights in the workplace? Do we? Does this depend on gender, or age, or whether we’ve had experience in dealing with it? Or, whether the bully is the owner or not? I remember little of this to be honest.

Sure, I worked for employers who had ‘policies’. I worked for employers who even had me writing policies (though I was unqualified to do so, and I did not work in the HR Department) because I cared enough to suggest that they should have one. I worked for employers who sometimes even read these policies themselves. Fewer still were progressive enough to even inform staff that such a policy existed or (sharp intake of breath) instruct them in how it operated.

Did any actually implement their harassment/dignity at work policy? One that I can recall. This in twelve years of working for a variety of employers. The worst case of harassment I had to report was ignored. Nothing was done. I eventually left.

Recently I delivered training to an organisation where I was asked what to do if management don’t actually support the training department’s initiatives. I sighed deeply and said she’d (innocently) got it all wrong. It is the management team who should be taking the initiative. And, anything other than direction and support and resources coming from them would be a waste of everyone’s time, even though the original concept will often come from HR or Training. So, why do directors and managers not take the initiative? I’d love to know. Here are some suggestions for those whose harassment policy is still in the jokes file.

Shocker Number One: You’re Not Concerned With the Welfare of your Staff

Therefore when harassment training and the like are suggested by the often idealistic, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, subordinate colleague, he is thwarted at the first step. “It’s not a good time just now.”

And, when someone reports harassment, you will make light of it, not taking them seriously in the hope that they will drop the claims and carry on working quietly. You really do not want to know.

If you are not concerned about the welfare of your staff for its own purpose, or even so that they can, in turn, demonstrate loyalty and work hard, then management is not for you. Give it up and go home.

Shocker Number Two: You’re Not Comfortable With People Who are Smarter, More Professional and Switched On Than You

The reason internal Training and HR departments struggle like salmon against the flow is that those in charge are afraid to have people around them who are professionals and might (should) know more than they do. This often results in aggressive harassment and/or dismissive behaviour. NI businesses are notoriously run by those who cannot be challenged. I’ve twelve years of proof and the current testimonies of many friends, colleagues and acquaintances to back me up here. People are sick of being bullied by incompetent idiots.

Why send our young graduates to college for four plus years to have them come out skilled workers and then treat them like children, conditioning them to remain in their Child Ego State and almost have to ask permission to go to the toilet?! I have actually seen this happening in several organisations. The same employees are probably being bullied in other ways too. The bully will be someone who fears being shown up by those who are professional in their field.

My advice: it’s time to take yourself and your toys out of the pram and get some communication training. Then, take seriously the advice, skills and knowledge or your HR Manager, your Training Manager and your Workplace Ethics Manager.

Shocker Number Three: You’re Not Going to Set an Example of Good Behaviour Yourself, Where’s the Fun in That?

I’m thinking sexual harassment. And, in case you think I’m thinking of males dishing out sexual harassment to females, I’m actually conjuring up an unfortunately real picture of an older female (with teenage children) using her ample – but nonetheless unpleasant – cleavage to great effect in the boardroom. Trouble was, she was not respected by males or females and often used unnecessary physical contact when in contact with other male managers. Cringeworthy in a woman of any age. The older men didn’t seem to mind, while the younger men were naturally horrified and awkward.

Following confiding in a male colleague about sexual harassment in the workplace, I was told, “I only wish someone would sexually harass me!”. Humorous? No, downright na√Øve regarding the effects of such harassment on males OR females. Men think they shouldn’t complain, since the myth goes, most males would relish it. And, females won’t complain, because either they might be seen as weak or it won’t be taken seriously. “Sure it’s only a bit of flirting!”

Who Do You Complain to When the Harasser is the Owner or Director of the Organisation?

In order:

Speak directly to the harasser/aggressor telling them these things:

  1. What is happening.
    [You are shouting at me/dismissing me/standing too close/touching me/making inappropriate or demeaning remarks.]
  2. What the effect is on you/how you feel.
    [It makes me feel harassed/uncomfortable/sick/afraid.]
  3. What you want to happen.
    [I want you to stop.]
  4. What the consequences will be if it happens again.
    [I will report this to another manager/director/owner. I will report this to the police.]

Seriously, it’s depressing to know that NI universities rate high on the scale for bullying in the workplace, but it’s no big surprise. It matters little what sector we are talking about, and I have worked in or with them all. Bullying by adults of other adults is as rife in the boardroom as it is on the playground. There are many ways to begin to stop the cycle, but all must ultimately come from the head or the organisation, whether policies, training, education, enforcement or discipline if such a culture of acceptance is to be shattered. In any case, we’d do well just to begin listening to what our employees and professional colleagues are telling us. And, that requires putting a cork in it – to use a local expression – long enough to hear.

Photo by Rochelle Nicole on Unsplash

Mohicans Do Not Call Themselves Subject to Much at All

Mohican wisdom – at least how it is presented in the Last of the Mohicans movie – features heavily in our communication workshops. With fierce independence in mind, this blog post follows on from my 5 Assertiveness Techniques post, and includes assertive power words that you can adopt immediately as part of your efforts toward living and working in the way that suits you just like the Mohicans did.

Mohicans and Freedom

In my favourite film, Last of the Mohicans (which includes some blood-stirring assertive lines), the hero Hawkeye answers a tricky question with:

I do not call myself subject to much at all. Hawkeye

Fear not. I am not advocating anarchy (except maybe in your mind). Far from it. I am, however, advocating freedom to make your own choices (and take the consequences responsibly without blaming others); freedom from blame and being asked to live someone’s wasted life over again for them; and freedom from guilt bestowed by unrealistic expectations of your role, whatever that might be.

“I” Statements

Compare You have not spoken all morning with I notice that you have not spoken all morning. “I” statements show three things:

  • It’s your observation
  • It affects you, personally
  • Therefore, it’s non-negotiable

I ain’t your scout. And we sure ain’t no damn militia. Hawkeye

Combining “I” statements, in order under the following headings, can be very powerful:

  • Situation.
    I have noticed that you talk loudly over me, when I’m trying to respond to your comments, in project planning meetings.
  • Interpretation.
    I conclude from this that you are not interested in my priorities and concerns when planning projects.
  • Feelings.
    I feel undervalued and embarrassed infront of the team, when this happens.
  • Wants.
    I want you to give me opportunity to express my suggestions and viewpoints and listen more patiently.
  • Future (consequences).
    I am not prepared to be involved in future projects with you, if this continues to be the case.

Use “I” statements when you want to assert yourself in a conflict situation, or one where you feel you are not normally or likely to be listened to. It is a great way to start a conversation, especially when you are expecting it to be awkward. It sets a straightforward, direct and personal tone. It is difficult for people to get around what you are saying.

Saying No

Why do we find this word so hard to say? Probably because people are not used to being denied their wishes, we are not used to putting ourselves first in any situation and we want to be liked. Consider all the negatives. This is what we are afraid of. And, this might often be what we get.

Decide what you want in the workplace, and say “No” to the rest.

For those of you who are looking to develop a long-term strategy for how to survive at work, assertive behaviour is the only thing that will work. Aggression will alienate you from many, and you’ll be feared or tolerated rather than truly listened to. Passivity will mean people won’t know what you stand for, and will tend to take you less seriously as an effective member of the team.

Avoid saying No+.

What’s No+? No+ any excuses, apologies, equivocations or meandering explanations. In a situation where you need to put over a strong image, you will only weaken your message. And, you may create an opening for someone to solve that problem for you, thus leaving you in a situation where you can do nothing but revert to “Yes”.

Finally, it’s clever to consider the pros and cons of saying “No”. How much will it cost you? How much will it benefit you? It may be easier to say yes, all things considered. Just make sure that it is your choice.

The Conditional “If”

There is great widsom on qualifying what you say. In that way, you will avoid equivocation. Clear and direct communcation is what assertiveness is grounded in. Think carefully about what you will say, and preface it with an If statement a condition that must be met before you will do what you say. It is implied that if what you ask does not happen, then you will not follow through with your side of the bargain either.

This power word leaves little room for misunderstanding. It is direct, and you may not win any popularity competitions.

Yes I do, I know exactly what what I’m saying, and if it is sedition, than I am guilty of sedition too! Cora Munroe

However, remember, someone’s negative response or feeling to your assertive power words is their responsibility. Do not attempt to pacify someone who is angry because you are using assertive language.

If you prepare the budget, I will deliver the presentation and field questions.

If you continue to yell at me, I will walk away. We can discuss this later.

The Conditional “When”

In the same way, “when” is a mightly little word. It pins the person down. It doesn’t let them go until they’ve answered. And, there really is little scope for them to be vague and general.

I’ll get the report done.


It’s simple, it gets straight to the point. You can also use it to make conditional threats. We recommend removing all tomahawks from the vicinity!

When the Grey Hair is dead, Magua will eat his heart. Magua

The Assumptive “Thank-you”

Do you ever remember your art teacher at school asking you to put away the paints at the end of the day?

Remember to wash the brushes thoroughly. Thank-you!

Saying thank-you in advance shows you are assuming what you ask will be done. It’s a done deal. There’s no discussion necessary. And, it’s an extremely polite way of getting what you want. It’s very powerful when combined with a command (verb, e.g “wash” or “email me”).

Consider this:

May I have a copy of your presentation?

Your listener can refuse.

Email me a copy of your presenation. Thank-you.

This makes it more difficult to refuse, since you sound as if you’re assuming they’re going to comply.

If you’d fed up “livin’ by another’s leave” (Hawkeye) and if you’d like help wth developing some powerful verbal tactics of your own, get in touch.

Photo by Lakeisha Bennett on Unsplash

Fear, Obligation and Guilt

Often our lives are characterised by FOG: fear, obligation and guilt. In many cases, this involves other people. That is what this blog post deals with. It concerns how to limit fear to the unavoidable, remove obligation when it is incorrectly placed and replace guilt when it is unjustified.


Who are you afraid of? Are family, friends or co-workers controlling you with your own fear? Does their behaviour, words, silent treatment, lies, or manipulation make you fearful? If you are aware of it, you can do something about it.

If the other person is aware of it, and continues to threaten (whether silently, or in words), this is called bullying or emotional abuse. Sufferers say often more damaging, long-term, than physical violence. And, in the realm of those who help men and women with domestic abuse, emotional abuse is subsumed under the heading of domestic violence. It is often likely to lead to it, and when emotional abuse is present, violence is likely to be too. A note of caution. If you have been physically threatened and are afraid of someone, or have already suffered at their hands, this is entirely different. Organisations such as Women’s Aid and, recommend removing yourself from that situation. Don’t live in fear of your life, or physical safety, or that of your children or other dependants. There are many organisations who will help you escape from this precarious situation.

Take advice from professionals who are practised at dealing with victims.

Never forget that the more you fear someone, the more power it gives them.

Violence aside, that ought to make you angry enough to actively and consistently change that emotion when it surfaces, from fear to pity or, better, indifference.

Techniques for Limiting Your Fear of People

  1. Attend an Assertiveness course, and learn how to communicate assertively, avoiding both aggression and passivity. Assertiveness and Workplace Confidence is one of our most popular workshops. Learn how to deal with those who would aggressively demand your obedience. You are an adult, you are entitled to your rights, you have responsibilities. Learn this and never be successfully bullied again. Yes, people won’t like you. However, being liked is not the goal. (In Northern Ireland, we are taught from a very young age not to flaunt our passion, opinion, emotions, or knowledge. Expect that when you begin to practice assertive communication, many will interpret your directness as aggression.) The point of assertive communication is to get your point across clearly, and succinctly. It does not involve shouting, bullying or manipulation. We recommend this: The Assertiveness Pocketbook.
  2. Limit the amount of time you spend in that person’s company. In many cases, this is achievable. If you cannot avoid them when you want to, for example in the workplace, then devise ways of limiting the contact. This may mean shorter meetings, moving desks, changing shifts, restructuring the team, or applying for a transfer. The less you see that person, the less damage they can do. The more astute will realise why you are spending less time allowing them opportunities in which they can attempt to manipulate you. This is especially effective if combined with assertive communication when you are forced to spend time with them. They will see less of you, and what they do see, is positively different.
    This is one example of setting boundaries around your time. We highly recommend Cloud and Townsend’s Boundaries, which deals with protecting you and yours using boundaries.
  3. If your fear is one where you are paralysed in the company of more than a few colleagues, take it one step at a time. One of the best ways of overcoming debilitating shyness is to begin practising on strangers. Chat to the guy in the paper shop, or have a longer conversation than is necessary with a random stranger at the bus stop. This helps build up your repertoire of things to talk about, and makes you realise that you can participate in an interesting conversation after all. Learn to use body language, clothing, smiles, handshakes to create an air of confidence, and fearlessness. The feelings will come later, but the appearance of confidence is achievable. With success, comes the positive emotion of confidence, which in turn fuels the next encounter. We recommend The Confidence Booster Workout.


Who “makes” you feel obliged? A demanding boss? A lazy co-worker who will show up the team, if you fail to step in and cover up for her? An immature parent? A whinging child?

Are you the person who sorts things out? Gets things done? Fixes whatever, and whoever, is broken? Takes care of things no-one else will?

If your life is taken up with rescuing other people, then you’re heading for depression.

How do I know? Because I sometimes work with those who deal with depression sufferers. Besides, I’m the Rescuer personality type and I know what it feels like to be consumed with wanting to help fragile victims, taking on the heavy, emotional baggage they inevitably carry around. And, because I see the Rescuer type every day.
They’re physically exhausted. And, mentally?

Far from feeling benevolent toward the person they’re rescuing from their own problem, inadequacy or laziness, they most often resent them!

Techniques for Limiting Obligation to Your Genuine Responsibilities Only

You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and to take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.

You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behavior.

You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them.

You have the right to say, “I don’t care”.

  • Now, go back and read the rights again. Ponder what each one would look like in your life.

From now on, take care of those things you know are your real responsibilities, and ignore those that others place unfairly upon you. This is not a licence to drop your responsibilities. On the contrary, it is a license to take up those responsibilities and carry them out, unfettered by the illegitimate obligations placed on us by others.


What if you don’t do something for someone? Are you taken over by guilt? Do you groan at the consequences?

If I don’t do this for her, then she’ll suffer! If I don’t help out, then no-one else will!

Did you ever stop to think that it is not within your circle of concern what the consequences are? And, sometimes it is not even within your circle of influence! It only appears so, because you have allowed someone else to determine it for you.

Techniques for Not Feeling Guilty

  • Ask yourself if you have done something wrong. If not, then you need not feel guilty. That nagging voice in your head probably speaks very like your parent/child/boss/friend/neighbour. It is false. Ignore it. You will train yourself gradually to mute the volume.
  • Are you the type that can’t enjoy a success? You feel guilt instead? Think of success as a logical, intended culmination of years of planning, or months of study, or days of labour. It would be a huge surprise if anything other than success was the result. That is what you are working toward, isn’t it? Then, enjoy it!

You Are The Only Person Who Can Break The FOG Cycle

I’m very fortunate, I know, to have a husband who cares for my mental well-being. But, I was horrified, though not surprised, recently, to listen to a woman whose husband never asked her how she was feeling. The thing is, if you never say how you’re feeling, people can sometimes be forgiven for assuming that you feel OK. That leads to a situation where your feelings are unimportant.

Never underestimate the immense lack of interest of others, even those closest to you, in your contentment, mental wellbeing, physical health or fulfilment in life.

Fear – speak out, be heard in a positive way. Don’t fall into the trap of becoming aggressive towards those who scare you.

Obligation – take responsibilities seriously, but only those that you decide on.

Guilt – much of it is misplaced. Decide if the emotion is warranted, and act accordingly.

All of this takes a little practice, I know! But, it is achievable.

Image credit: mikecolvin82.

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Emotional Detachment and Assertiveness

Emotional Detachment what’s that? Let’s back up a little. People naturally think of assertiveness in terms of how to communicate in situations of conflict or when you are bullied. While it includes this, assertiveness starts from a deeper down place in your own psyche. In our Assertiveness Training workshops, Dawn and I always start with issues of personal assertiveness rights and self-confidence. This includes dealing with the question of emotional management.

A guy told me one time, “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”

Robert De Niro, Heat

Emotional Blackmail

Blackmail is when someone tries to force you to do something you don ‘t want to do by holding a threat over you if you don ‘t comply. This force can take an emotional as well as physical form, and usually does. Emotional blackmailers use the leverage of fear, obligation and guilt to control their victims. The closer the relationship, the most powerful the potential for manipulation.

Part of the skill of managing your own emotions comes from your ability to identify when and how blackmail is taking place. You take back emotional power when you discover and acknowledge that such manipulation is taking place. Susan Forward, the psychotherapist who invented the term, identified four types of emotional blackmail:

  • Punisher ‘s Threat Do what I want, or you ‘ll suffer negative consequences!
  • Self-Punisher ‘s Threat Do what I want, or I ‘ll make myself suffer negative consequences!
  • Sufferer ‘s Threat Do what I want, or I ‘ll suffer negative consequences from outside!
  • Tantalizer ‘s Threat Do what I want, and you ‘ll possibly enjoy positive consequences!

Do any sound familiar? Assertiveness Training and Coaching teaches you how to deal with each kind.

Emotional Contagion

Emotional manipulation doesn ‘t have to take a deliberate or direct form. Emotions can be contagious. This means that one person can influence or trigger the emotions of another person simply by behaving in a certain way. It works by our automatic tendency to mimic and mirror the expressions of others. By so doing, we can end up feeling what they feel before we realise what ‘s happening.

Those with a highly developed sense of empathy are particularly susceptible to emotional contagion, as are Highly Sensitive Persons. Our own emotions tend to be more influenced by others ‘ nonverbal cues than what is openly said. Those with an underdeveloped sense of themselves as autonomous individuals are also more susceptible. They tend to take on the feelings of those with whom they share familial, societal and organisational bonds.

So how do we defend ourselves again such blackmailing and contagions?

Emotional Detachment

Emotional detachment might sound cold, trauma-induced or even pathological. But it has a positive purpose too. It denotes an ability to engage in emotional connections (unlike a psychopath) along with a decision not to engage. It prevents unwanted emotional demands or impact from others, and supports their independence from you in return. It draws a mental line between where your emotions end and everyone else ‘s begin.

Emotional detachment is a powerful tool in defending yourself against being manipulated or overwhelmed by the emotions of others. Such detachment is firstly a deliberate mental attitude that comes from affirming yourself as an independent person, worthy of respect and capable of control. But there are skills involved in its performance. Techniques of emotional detachment include:

  • Keeping your statements or demeanor neutral in terms of information and emotion neither capitulating nor playing their power games
  • Acknowledging your FOG feelings as induced, irrational, and unfair
  • Developing a power statement and power words that encapsulate your determination to withstand the pressure
  • Spending time working on and working out your boundaries
  • Learning and practicing specific assertiveness techniques

And, if you need help negotiating the blackmailers, punishers or contagions in world of work or life, get in touch. Check out our latest blog posts on Assertiveness.

Photo by Hazzel Silva on Unsplash

How to Be Brave

Captain Frederick Marryat (July 10, 1792 August 9, 1848) was an English novelist, a contemporary and acquaintance of Charles Dickens, and is noted today as an early pioneer of the sea story. He is best known for the autobiographical novel Mr Midshipman Easy and his children ‘s novel The Children of the New Forest.

Why am I telling you this? Because it gives some context to one of the powerful quotes on courage and overcoming fear that I ‘ve ever read. These words come from Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States of America, and an incredibly brave man.

Having been a rather sickly and awkward boy, I was, as a young man, at first nervous and distrustful of my own prowess. I had to train myself painfully and laboriously not merely as regards my body but as regards my soul and spirit

When a boy I read a passage in one of Marryat ‘s books which always impressed me. In this passage, the captain of some small British man-of-war is explaining to the hero how to acquire the quality of fearlessness. He says at the outset almost every man is frightened when he goes into action, but that the course to follow is for the man to keep such a grip on himself that he can act just as if he were not frightened. After this has been kept up long enough, it changes from a pretence to a reality, and the man does in fact become fearless by sheer dint of practising fearlessness when he does not feel it. (I am using my own language, not Marryat ‘s.)

This is the theory upon which I went. There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid at first, ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean ‘ horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid. Most men can have the same experience if they choose.

So, to put it in American English, you ‘fake it until you make it ‘!

In my opinion, it offers one of the chief ways to develop confidence in yourself as an individual. And it ‘s not just fluffy sentiment and wish-fulfilment. There is a sound psychological basis for it. Read what Williams James, American psychologist and philosopher, had to say about it.

Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can regulate the feeling, which is not.

Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our spontaneous cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there. If such conduct does not make you feel cheerful, nothing else on that occasion can.

So, to feel brave, act as if we were brave, use all of our will to that end, and a courage fit will very likely replace the fit of fear.

These are some of my favourite quotes ever. What do you think of them?

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

5 Assertiveness Techniques

Last Wednesday and Thursday, Allen and I took our first, joint workshop. The topic was Assertiveness and Workplace Confidence. Assertiveness Techniques is a small part of one of eight sections which made up the workshop.

It’s all very well knowing that you have the right to express your thoughts or opinions and that by dressing right, standing tall and using your voice and tone to help your case, you are presenting an assertive image.

But, what do you SAY?

Here are five techniques for getting your point across assertively. Do we teach all we read or know about? No, we only teach what we’ve tried and proved ourselves. The following techniques work!

Repeat to Fade

You may have read about this technique before. It’s more usually known as The Broken Record Technique. The basic premise is that people will get the message after three attempts. he key is to repeat your words over and over, without substantially altering too much, and without elaborating.Sweetheart, you must come to the work dinner.

“Sweetheart, you must come to the work dinner.”

No, I am not (1) going.

Aww… Please…

No, I will not (2) be there.

We’ll all miss you…

Like I said, I am not (3) going.

In What Situation is This Useful?

Those who are extremely persistent will be less likely to hound you to do things you’d rather not, if you use this technique consistently. Avoid the temptation to give reasons why. If you do, you may find the person tries to solve the problem making the reason defunct forcing you to capitulate.

Failsafe Instruction Blueprint

Consider the scenario: you’ve just completed an important meeting. You’ve been up a few late nights, feel drained of energy and you’ve yet to chair the director’s conference on Friday.

Address the person by name. (Charlotte…)

Tell them what you want. (I want the report completely typed up, proofread and printed…)

Tell them when you want it. (… by 11am on Wednesday morning.)

Tell them why you want it. (It is for the directors’ conference on Friday morning.)

Say thank-you. (Thank-you)

In What Situation is This Useful?

Those who lack motivation or the skills to work unsupervised will respond well to this technique. Keep the communication precise and clear, so there is less room for miscommunication.

Negative Assertion

Turn the power of the opponent around to your advantage, as in martial arts!

This technique involves assenting to the part of what the person says that you agree with. You are still being assertive by not agreeing to the rest by refusing to mention it. But, you are being very clear in what you are agreeing to, by being specific.

“You’re rubbish at writing letters!”

This letter was rubbish.

In What Situation is This Useful?

Those who make broad sweeping statements like this are acting like a critical, judgmental parent would with a child. It pays dividends to act like the adult by assenting to what you can and ignoring the rest. It is not helpful to get into a discussion about the words “always” or “never”.


Create a fog around what someone says to you, by recognising their need or priority, but stating that yours is more important.

I realise this is important, but it is not as important as…

I know this is a priority for you, but my priority is…

In What Situation is This Useful?

When you want to recognise the other person’s position but force them to recognise that yours is more important for you. It is a way to avoid being manipulated.

Negative Enquiry

This is a way of focusing the negative statement back on the person. It forces them to give examples of what they mean. If they are unable to do so… then it’s probably just a nasty, personal attack.

“You’re useless.”

In what way, specifically?

In What Situation is This Useful?

It is a way to get constructive criticism, or real feedback, that you can do something with.

Do You Want to Learn How Not to be Quite So Darn Amiable!

These techniques work. In the UK, we’re taught to be amiable, often at the cost of our own comfort and mental well-being. We learn to become passive, in the light of the aggressive and unreasonable words and behaviour of others. Or, we turn aggressive ourselves, in a vain attempt to defend ourselves against attack. Neither is effective.

These techniques provide alternative methods for dealing with people we live and work with. The goal is to become assertive by being able to state our case, without being overcome with emotion or ineffective through vagueness. The assertive person has something to say, says it calmly and succinctly and then stops.

Let us know how you get on with these techniques. Check out 5 Power Words and or Assertiveness page.