Dr. Daniel Scott, Author of Verbal Self Defense in the Workplace, wrote this article just for us.
As children we learn new behaviors easily and effortlessly because there is a constant stream of feedback from parents,teachers, friends and family which motivate us to act in a certain way. How it works is quite simple- good feedback makes good feelings and we unconsciously seek to have those feelings more, so we repeat the behavior. Bad feedback makes us feel bad and subsequently we avoid doing that behavior again with the goal of avoiding those bad feelings. Just because we’re adults doesn’t mean our learning patterns change all that much — we still require positive reinforcement to develop habitual, unconscious behavior patterns.
What does this mean for targets of workplace bullying? As you develop communication skills (both internally; talking to yourself — and externally; talking to bullies) and learn to handle bullies in ways that work best for you, it’s critical that you follow up any of the new, useful behaviors with positive reinforcement to turn those skills into unconscious habits. One effective way to do that is through “future pacing” using visualization.
Future pacing means taking the positive experience (or skill) and fully imagining (visualize) yourself doing it in the future. To be as effective as possible in programming your unconscious behavioral patterns, let’s start by having you remember a one-time event where you effectively handled a workplace bullying situation. This event can be one small component (ex. you maintained eye contact) or it can be more general (ex. you easily and effortlessly explained yourself in a calm, controlled manner). Whatever behavior you want to replicate, simply find a one time event when you did it in your past — preferably in the recent past — and get a clear picture of it in your mind.
Begin by re-experiencing the event through your own senses — what did you say, do, feel, etc., when you used that behavior? Imagine going through it all again and, if you want to, add extra components to the visualization that make it even more powerful. An example would be to add in the sound of cheering and applause, or a friend giving you thumbs up, in the background. When you have it the way you want it, stop and really notice your success … specifically, feel it and say something to yourself which confirms that you did good.
Having that feeling in mind, imagine a time in the near future — like a week from now — and, this time, see yourself from outside your body doing the behavior in a different situation where you’re dealing with a bully. You are now a witness to the event; really focus on noticing the “you” in the imagined future event doing the behavior and then feeling that awareness of success immediately afterwards (go ahead and put that cheering section in again!). As soon as you’ve done that, go further into the future — imagine a time a few months from now — and see yourself doing it again in a different situation. Watch as you successfully use the behavior and feel good about it. Finally, do it again even further in the future — next year perhaps. Watch yourself easily and effortlessly do the behavior automatically in response to bullying and see yourself feeling great about it!