Use Power Words to Shield Yourself from Workplace Bullies

by Jul 21, 2012

Workplace bullies don’t show up to work one morning and decide you’re the one they’d like to bully. They don’t pick you out of the accounting department as the poor sucker who’s gonna get it this week.

Bullies are bullies because they lack communication skills. Perhaps they don’t know how to articulate their ideas or frustrations. Perhaps they feel threatened by someone around them, and they backlash as a result. Perhaps they don’t trust someone in the organization and it’s showing up in their interactions with others.

By the same token, victims lack the ability to communicate effectively with the bully. That’s not a slap on you, it’s just the basic facts (hey nobody’s perfect). The bully pushes on you, the victim, because there’s something about you that creates that dynamic between you (and there’s something about them). I’m not saying you deserve it or it’s your fault. What I am saying is the long-winded version of this: Communication between the two of you just isn’t working out so well.

There are some things you can do with your own communication, however, that will keep the bully from attacking you, sort of like a soldier and his shield. I call these communication tactics strategic resistance. These tactics are ways of communicating with everyone (not just the bully) that give you an aura of confidence and leadership – and exhibiting confidence and leadership is enough to keep the bully from bullying you. Exhibiting confidence and leadership is also a way to move ahead at work (a definite bonus).

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends & Influence People once said, “The ability to speak is a short cut to distinction.” Granville Toogood, author of The Articulate Executive, said, “What you say and how you say it determines your success.” What these gentlemen mean is that the way you speak certainly gives people an impression of you. With words you have the power to create the person you want to be, and the person you want others to see in you. Sometimes use of formal words like reduce or maintain can be effective (perhaps in something like a resume or business letter), and other times words informal power words are better.

In your next staff meeting, try using:

cut or slash, instead of reduce
yet, instead of nevertheless
so, instead of therefore
give, instead of donate
ask, instead of appeal
launch, instead of implement
but, instead of however
guess, instead of estimate
use, instead of utilize

Do you see where I’m going with this? A simple word like yet is so much more vigorous and full of life than nevertheless. It’s got power and pizazz. “We’ve got to cut costs in order to keep profits up,” sounds more intense and persuasive than “We’ve got to reduce costs to keep profits up.” Do you see the difference?

Get a bully across the table from you and use a word like slash, instead of reduce, or so instead of therefore, and you’re demonstrating you’ve got what it takes to be a leader. You’re someone not to be messed with.


Do you know how much money chronically bad behavior costs your company? Spoiler alert – it’s a LOT higher than you want it to be. Download our data and worksheet to see how it’s costing your organization and what you can do to fix it.


About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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