Question From A Reader…
“I am a 40 year old male who over the past 2 years has been bullied by an ex-boyfriend of a girl I used to date years ago. Somehow he thought that I had something to do with their breakup… not true.
“Since then he has verbally threatened me… he had his friends invade my personal space at this nightspot I enjoy going to and they also followed me outside the club to try and intimidate me. Needless to say.. it’s a little unnerving. On one occasion he put his hands on me.. so just to be safe I went to the police to file a “non-actionable” incident report of his verbal threats and him touching me. I am a passive person by nature.. and don’t want to get into a physical confrontation with him.
“He is very charismatic and his friends will do whatever he says… ignoring him hasn’t helped. I have confronted him verbally using reason before but to know effect… any suggestions?
Ok, Rob. There are a couple of principles to keep in mind. The first one is that you should become very clear about the specific behavior you want to change – in this case, it looks like it’s the guy’s “intimidation behavior”.
Second, you should be clear about the way you want things to be instead (a lot of people skip this part). It seems to me that it’s very simple in your situation. You want him to leave you alone!
It doesn’t matter whether he ever sees your point of view, or gets over the break-up with his ex-girlfriend or anything else. If he just never came near you again, that would be the end result you’d like. Right?
We don’t really even need to understand his motivation for this. However, we could probably guess that he’s angry because you caused his girlfriend to leave (even though you didn’t) – it’s probably easier for him to put the blame onto someone else rather than taking responsibility for himself.
It may be nice to understand his motivation, but this understanding doesn’t usually produce real change.
A third principle (which is described in more detail in my ebook, Secrets of Dealing with Difficult People) is to recognize that our instinctual reaction (usually arising out of anger or fear) is to try to put a STOP the offensive behavior immediately.
However, when a person tries to convince, bribe or force a person to STOP a behavior they usually encounter some form of resistance – a disagreement, an argument, a conflict, a fight, etc.
It works much better to set up a “learning experience” for the other person. What I mean by this is a structured situation in which the more the other person engages in their behavior, the more of a nuisance or a problem it becomes for them.
This would NOT be some huge negative or punitive consequence (such as yelling at them or threatening to call the police, etc.), just something that seems rather logical given the situation and which will become a bit of a nuisance if it goes on long enough (in the same way that a stone in your shoe becomes more and more of a nuisance the longer you leave it).
It should also be a nuisance that they can ESCAPE from or avoid by showing the desired behavior you want instead.
So, what kind of nuisance could you create for this guy?
I would suggest that you get yourself a small portable recorder, such as a digital voice recorder or a dictation tape recorder. They’re not too expensive ($30 on eBay). Then, purposely visit the club or places where you’ll likely run into him (do this without your girlfriend). Maybe take a male friend if he is fully aware of the plan.
When he starts into his intimidation talk, take out your recorder and start recording. Explain to him in a calm and matter-of-fact way, “Your threats have become so extreme that I decided that I should start recording them”.
You might add that you’re not quite sure yet who will end up hearing it, but you imagine that SOMEONE will be interested if it keeps up much longer (without ever mentioning the word “police”, you can kind of hint at that).
Do not engage in any kind of argument. Let him do most of the talking.
You can even suggest that he say a few MORE things once he appears to have finished. Try to seem honestly disappointed when he decides to stop (don’t smile or gloat – let him save face).
In other words, be very interested, not threatened by what he’s saying. Have a few of these training sessions with him until you get the outcome you want – him AVOIDING you.
Also, if he doesn’t start avoiding you after a few “teaching experiences” with him, your recordings plus the observations of your friends may be sufficient to obtain a Restraining Order, for which you can apply at your local Court House. With a Restraining Order he can be charged if he comes near you in the future.
Of course, if he ever shoves you or takes something of yours, you can ask the police if they would be willing to visit him and give him a warning. They can do this even if there aren’t sufficient grounds to lay charges.
I doubt if it will come to that though, but you may have to provide him with learning experiences on a few occasions until he decides that you’re just no fun to intimidate any longer.
For awhile, be sure to carry your recorder with you at all times so you can easily start recording anything and everything he says.
AN IMPORTANT PRINCIPLE WHEN DEALING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE AND BULLYING…
The fourth principle is extremely important. Very often people FAIL TO FOLLOW THROUGH with logical and simple plans such as this for one very simple reason – their emotions.
I have often given people good advice that they did not follow through with and I eventually realized that the “strategy” is NOT the most important thing (even though everyone seems to THINK it is).
The MOST important thing is actually the way you FEEL when you’re faced with a difficult situation. When a person FEELS afraid, they UNCONSCIOUSLY avoid. When they feel angry, they UNCONSCIOUSLY attack – both of which cause them to fail.
So, the fourth principle in dealing with difficult people and problem situations is to replace any negative emotions with the positive feelings of STRENGTH and CONFIDENCE.
There are several ways of accomplishing this and there are several chapters in my ebook on this topic.
One technique is to “mentally rehearse” the plan. Picture the scenario in your mind and play through all of the possibilities until you are FULLY prepared to handle anything that might happen.
Once you feel confident about dealing with your situation, it will be MUCH easier to follow through and you’ll be far more successful.
Click here for a complete guide on how to deal with difficult people and create a positive change in problem situations.
Mark Lauderdale MD FRCPC
Psychiatrist and Personal Effectiveness Coach
P.S. Why not maximize your chances of success and get my ShrinkinaBox Assertiveness Training System, which will give you many more ideas, insights and tools for dealing with difficult people confidently and effectively.