Have You Ever Bullied Anyone?

Have You Bullied People?

Last week there were reports of bullying by our Prime Minister,
Gordon Brown. One report I heard was of a security guard being
bullied when the PM hit the back of his seat. I didn’t hear all the
details of this, but it sounded as though this was in a car.

I was called in to help an individual who had been bullying his
colleagues (including his manager) at a site in Europe. He had
thrown objects across the room during a meeting with a client and
‘had an argument with a door’ as my client put it. The door had,
apparently, come off worst.

When I met Tony (not his real name), he was about 6′ 4″ and looked

like a rugby player. I asked him about the client meeting. He
recounted the event giving very similar details to the ones I’d
already heard.

He was convinced he was right. Unfortunately he was going to be
fired if he didn’t change his ways.

As we talked it became clear he was unhappy and frightened. Over a
few sessions we worked together and he learned some more effective
ways to negotiate. I remember one day him asking me: ‘Nancy, why do
I make things that are so simple, so complicated?’

By the end of our work together he was so keen on what he had
learned that he asked me to come in and train the rest of his staff
on these techniques. I was delighted. But the most touching comment
of all was when he told me that, thanks to what he had learned, he
now had a really good relationship with his daughter.

Have You Ever Bullied Anyone?

I’m afraid any of us who answered this question with a ‘No’ would
be lying. Even the best of us did this at some time or other.
That’s because, when you are a baby, it’s the only way you have to
get what you want.

Babies don’t have the language skills we have as we grow older.
Mainly they can cry and bawl when they are unhappy and need
something, or look cute if they are happy. If you are a parent you
will know how much it means when your baby smiles at you.

So, unless you were never a baby, you will have bullied someone.
The thing is, it’s OK when you are a baby to behave like this.

It’s not OK when you are an adult.

So Why Does It Happen?

When you’re a baby your only negotiation skills involve crying and
smiling. As you get older your parents help you to learn better
negotiation skills. They remind you to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’
(probably hundreds, if not thousands, of times).

You start to learn bartering skills. Your parents get you to think
about the needs and feelings of others:

‘How do you think Anne felt when you took her tractor without

If you are lucky and your parents have good negotiation skills you
will see examples of excellent tools and strategies for difficult

If you are not lucky, your parents won’t have any negotiation
skills to speak of and you won’t have the opportunity to learn any.
So all you’ll have is bullying. That’s one way it happens.

Another way is when you are stressed and tired.

In these situations, the reasoning part of your brain, the
pre-frontal cortex (that eats up energy) does not have enough
energy to overrule other parts of your brain that just want you to
behave like a three-year-old. So that’s what you end up doing.

It’s compounded by the fact that, when you are feeling threatened,
stressed and tired, your ability to be aware of, and objective
about, your own behaviour is drastically reduced. (Sometimes to
about zero.)

As a consequence of this you think you are being quite reasonable.

What Can You Do?

People who bully others need help in learning how to negotiate
effectively. Just like Tony, they need to move on from their
childish fallback position of bullying people when they can’t have
what they want, to learning to negotiate properly.

They also need to learn to recognise the triggers; the situations
in which they are most likely to bully others. Once you are aware
of the triggers, you can be prepared and be ready to handle the
situations better.

Effective negotiation is about finding out what everyone’s needs
are and working out how they can be met. Bullying is about putting
your needs ahead of everyone else’s and not even considering their

Once Tony had learned how to negotiate properly he realised that
his life was much easier and nicer. There was no need for his
previous behaviour.

Having a ‘no tolerance’ policy on bullying is all very well, as
long as it’s backed up with the right kind of support for both the
individual being bullied and the one who is doing the bullying.

We can all learn how to stop bullying. It involves responding to
the bullying in a helpful way that doesn’t encourage bullying.
Unfortunately what many people do is respond in a way that makes it
worse, because they don’t know any other way.

Here’s one very simple thing to do if you are faced with someone
who shouts and bawls at you. I call it my ‘tantrum technique’. I
observed someone do this once and was so impressed I made notes and
honed it so I could pass it on to my clients.

Tantrum Technique

  1. Listen to what the person is saying. Do not interrupt, however
  2. Summarise what they have said, using their name, language and
    intonation. This tells them you have really listened and you
    understand how bad things are:

    ‘So Tony, you are really upset because this report has not been finished yet and it’s causing your department severe problems.

  3. Wait for them to indicate if you have got it right or not. If
    not, don’t worry just go back to step 1 and repeat till you get a
    ‘yes’ at step 3.
  4. Ask them what they would like you to do about it. This sounds
    frightening because you imagine they will kinds of demands you
    can’t give them. Strangely this doesn’t happen. They generally
    don’t know what they want and you have taken the wind out of their
  5. Wait for the response. When it comes, summarise it and let them
    know exactly what you can and can’t do, by when and (if
    appropriate) the cost.

One of my clients got £27,000 extra put onto their contract as a
result of using this technique with a very difficult client who was
as calm as a kitten by the end.

You may have to repeat a few of the steps again, but don’t worry,
just stick at it.

There are many other simple tools and techniques you can use in
these situations. If you would like to know more, see below.

Remember, there is ALWAYS something you can do in these situations.
You do not have to put up with this kind of treatment.

Please do pass this on to anyone you think might find it useful.

To find out more on how to deal with bullying at work, come to my
teleseminar at 11am on Thursday 11th March, UK time.

It’s just £25 including VAT. You can sign up using this link:

If you can’t join live on the day, you still get the recording and
all the materials.


(Edited by Caroline to correct formatting)

A Good Question

In our village we carry out various fund-raising activities
often for local charities and also for our church roof (yes, really).

It was at one of these events that I ran the bar. As an experienced
barmaid (a long time ago but I can still remember what to do) I felt I was well

So there I was with my two colleagues armed with corkscrews
and bottles of beer.

The queue was long and the music was loud. As an ex-production manager I was proud of my extreme efficiency in serving our
customers as quickly as possible. I had laid everything out in an efficient
manner with all our tools at the ready and plenty of change.

I was just serving my fifth customer when my colleague,
Margaret, asked her customer, one of the fathers in the village: ‘What else can
I get you?’

Margaret isn’t a production manager; she’s a professional
salesperson. And it really shows. I was stopped in my tracks by that simple


I have made it my life’s work to discover easy, simple ways
of dealing with others. As I have become more experienced, I have discovered
that questions are one of the most powerful tools you can have in virtually any

Why Are Questions So Powerful?

Because they change the way you think. They can spur you
into action or into inaction. They can change your mood and your mind. The key
is having the right question at the right time.

They are so much more powerful than just telling people.

Margaret’s Question

The best questions are the most obvious ones. They are
simple and work perfectly. Compare hers to mine:
‘What else can I get you?’
‘What do you want?’

My question was just a surface enquiry. It just asked you
for what you were already thinking of. Margaret’s question went much deeper. It
delved into the extra things that you weren’t going to ask for.

It assumed people wanted more. That question made the
people at the bar think what that was and tell Margaret. And so it increased our

Another Favourite

I have spent years gathering my favourite questions. Most
are really simple and apparently straightforward. This one is for some very
specific circumstances; when people aren’t doing what they are supposed to be

This could be when someone isn’t really pulling their weight
or when they haven’t done their chores around the house.

‘What’s your responsibility (in this situation)?’

The Story

There was a very nice lady, Serena, working for one of our
clients. She was good but there was nowhere for her to go in that company. I
suggested that she saw a colleague of mine who specialised in helping people
find new careers.

I saw her again about two weeks after she’d seen him. ‘How
did you get on with Jeff?’, I asked.
‘All he did was give me all these tests, tell me what jobs I
was suitable for and give me 30 advertisements for jobs.’ She said in slightly
annoyed tones.

I was stunned.
‘What is your responsibility now?’ I asked.

There was a very long pause. Nearly two minutes.

‘Oh, I suppose I had better apply for some of them.’ She
finished lamely. She did apply and she did get a job.

She had simply not realised that she had a responsibility.
Life had been handed to her on a plate up till that point. She had not had responsibility
so it took that question to get her to realise what was going on and what she
had to do.

It can be a life-changing question in the right

At Last

After many years’ work I have finally put together my
booklet on questions. It has my favourite questions in it and, used properly,
should be extremely useful to anyone who has to deal with others.

It’s not exhaustive, but, if you are a lover of the 80/20
rule, you’ll find the questions that should make the biggest difference in this
handy booklet. They are the kinds of questions that can be used in many
different circumstances and for many different purposes. I hope you like them.

For just one week, the booklet is on special offer to our
readers, we are giving a 30% discount on our normal booklet price of £6.25 (to £4.37).
You can find it on this page:

To get your discount, use this code:


What’s Your Top Priority?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that many people who need to improve their time management skills don’t have enough time to do it (and consequently don’t come on time management courses).

It’s an indicator of the failure of one of the most essential time management skills – that of the ability to prioritise (or prioritize if you are in the US).

Why does this happen? Why are so many people so bad at this?

An Example

I was once coaching a client who was in a really serious depression. I asked him what he wanted.

He described his life. It was ghastly as far as he could see. He was sharing a house with his ex-girlfriend. They could not sell the house and spent many hapless hours trying to get it into a state that was saleable.

So he was unhappy at home. He hated his current work project, he hated his manager and he saw no prospect of improvement. After listening to a stream of depressing examples for nearly an hour I said: ‘You’ve told me all things you don’t want. Now tell me what you do want.’

He paused and took a deep breath. Then he looked wistfully into the distance and told me:

‘All I want is to be able to go home in the evening, sit in my comfy armchair with a glass of wine, put some good music on the stereo, and enjoy reading a good book.’

It’s not much to ask, is it? But as I pointed out to him, he’d had 42 years to arrange it. So what had he been doing all that time?

How It Happens

We very easily get distracted from what we really want (often nothing more than a good book and a glass of wine) by lots of other ‘important’ things.

A friend of mine who I saw last week in the US sent me an email:

“The more time that goes by the more I’m seeing “objectives” as absolutely central to everything, upon everything, that I do.”

I’m not talking here about all those work objectives and “SMART objectives” that come down from on high. I’m talking about those little things that you would like for yourself. That quiet evening reading, or that new hedge-trimmer. It’s easy to forget that the reason we do all the work, earn all the money and put in all that effort is often so we can have those little moments of enjoyment.


This is all about deciding what you do next and when you do all the other tasks that have mounted up on your desk and in your inbox.

How To Prioritise

Before you can prioritise you need to identify what it is you want to achieve (your objectives). And it’s best if you make you make it a SMART objective or a SMART goal. Hence the quote from my friend. Once you have done this, you are part way there. But there’s something else you must do first.


Prioritisation is about having clear criteria for what you do and what you don’t do. The trouble is that the criteria change as time goes on, and that’s where most people fall down.

When you were at school (if you can remember that far back) you were more than likely able to do just about every task that came your way.

This probably included homework, sports activities, chores around the house and your social activities.

It may be you then went to college. The same was probably true. However, as soon as you got to the situation where you had more to do than time available, you had to decide which things you were going to do and which you weren’t.

Falling Off The Edge

If you don’t make a conscious decision about these things then some stuff just drops off the edge in a completely random way (for example: your mum’s birthday present, the assignment you were supposed to finish, cleaning your room and so on).

However, if you have clear criteria, you end up getting the important things done and lose the less important ones by choice, rather than accident.


Criteria are just sieves that you put everything through so you can see what’s left. For example you might, if you were a very diligent student, decide that your top priority was things that would help you get your qualification.

So before doing anything you would ask yourself ‘Is doing this going to help me get my degree/certificate/grade 7? If the answer is ‘yes’ you do it. If not, you don’t.

Where It Gets Hard

That’s easy as far as it goes. The trouble is that as our lives go on, circumstances change. This happens especially in our working lives as we move to different jobs. Usually the next job is more complicated/senior than the last. This means it encompasses more stuff.

As a result of this, you need to change your criteria every time you change job, or your job changes so that you can get everything done and you are not swamped.

An Example

If you started as an HR admin person, you might read every letter or email that came in. You might handle every enquiry of a specific kind personally.

If you were promoted, you might no longer read all the letters, just ones from people complaining about something. You might just answer these personally, and delegate the others to an assistant.

A further promotion might mean you were responsible for a large budget and several staff as well as policy issues. At this stage you would need to have very clear criteria for which issues you got personally involved in, otherwise you would be overwhelmed.

Letting Go

People often see this as letting go or losing something. But they forget that they have taken on lots of other things and, in order to cope, must re-prioritise.

When Did You Last Reprioritise?

I recommend that everyone should at least check their criteria for prioritisation at least every six months. It doesn’t matter if you think they need to stay the same. It’s just a few minutes work. But I think you’ll find you do need to update – let me know if I’m wrong.

The Book, The Wine, The Music and the Comfy Chair

You’ll be pleased to learn that my client did successfully reprioritise his life and is now extremely happily married with a son. He sometimes even gets to read a book (well, he did before his son was born).


Don’t forget to sign up for my Time Management Teleseminar

Tuesday 25th February, just £25 including VAT


You will discover

  • The two main things you can do to give yourself more time
  • How to deal with interruptions
  • How to say ‘no’
  • How to plan more effectively

And much more

If you don’t find it useful – you get your money back.

How to Cope with Stressful Situations and Shocks

Recently I’ve been working with a client that is having to make a large number of positions redundant. One of the workshops I ran for them was about how to deal with the initial feelings (shock, worry etc) in that situation.

Instead of going through the usual curve I decided to look at the more recent research into what’s going on in your brain and what you can do about it. People seemed to find it very useful so I thought I’d share some of the key tips with you to keep to hand just in case.

Your Brain

When you get stressed your brain is flooded with cortisol. This makes you feel stressed and, long term, can be quite damaging to your hippocampus. This part of your brain moves short-term memories into long-term memories. That’s why your memory starts to go when you are stressed.

It’s also directly related to your self esteem, so when it’s damaged, your self esteem goes down, just when you need it most.

What to do

Aerobic exercise flushes this chemical out of your system – so get some exercise as soon as you can. Keep doing it on a regular basis. Aerobic exercise also helps you to grow new brain cells (neurons) by releasing neurotropic factors (brain fertiliser as John Ratey calls them).

Your Perception

Your interpretation of inputs can start to become very negative. You see new inputs as threats. This is perfectly sensible from an evolutionary point of view, but can be very unhelpful if you are possibly going to lose your job.

This is because it can mean you simply become unable to recognise opportunities when they are staring you in the face. It can also make you a complete pain to live with. The exercise will help with this too.


Your prefrontal cortex can help you in this situation, by reasoning with your negative thoughts, but only if you are not too tired. When you are tired you just don’t have enough energy in your prefrontal cortex to do this. This is why people are generally more grumpy when they are tired. So make sure you get enough sleep.


Another problem is that you can lose your ability to set goals and plan when you are stressed. From an evolutionary perspective, this response was evolved to deal with very immediate threats so there was no point in wasting energy on long term planning. (Your brain, whist it makes up 2% of your body weight, greedily uses 20% of the energy.)

Unfortunately these days, long term planning is very much what you need to do and keep focussed on. So go through what you really want to achieve in the next five, ten or twenty years. See how the current situation can help you to do that.

Your Thinking Skills May Be Impaired

This happens because simply using up space in your prefrontal cortex worrying about things doesn’t leave much space for anything else. It really is virtually that simple.

So follow the next procedure carefully.


When you are presented with a shock or difficult situation to handle, talk about your emotions, or, at the very least, write them down. As usual, Shakespeare was ahead of us in this:

“Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak Whispers the o’er fraught heart and bids it break.” (Macbeth)

It turns out that this is true. If you just describe your feelings they are reduced. If you don’t want to say them, write them down. This turns out to be jut as effective. Just keep a diary for a few weeks where you do this.


Have you ever noticed that, if you are ill and some friends come to see you, you don’t feel so bad while they’re there? This is because you suppress your groans and moans out of politeness (well, I’m assuming you do).

Your brain has just one part for doing lots of different kinds of suppression, including suppressing moaning and suppressing pain. The thing is, it’s an on/off switch. Once it’s on, it suppresses everything. So you really do feel better.

I hope you don’t have to use this information yourself, but please keep it to hand just in case it comes in useful one day. And feel free to share it with anyone who might benefit from it.

Please share your favourite coping strategies.