Back to Back Issues Page
What is a Bully? : Communication and Conflict Newsletter
May 25, 2010

Purchase this ebook on Kindle, written by Alan Sharland, Director of CAOS Conflict Management and author of this newsletter article.

Newsletter - What is a Bully?

What is a Bully?
(....or how a commonly used word is often not explored to clarify what is meant when someone uses it- and how that lack of clarity can lead to powerlessness.....)

All OK?
If you have problems viewing this Newsletter or, for some reason, it doesn't 'look right', please Click Here to go to the Communication and Conflict webpage where it is located.

Check out the Archives - Click Here to see all the back-issues of the Newsletter.

The Communication and Conflict Newsletter is no longer published however the author, Alan Sharland now authors CAOTICA the official blog of CAOS Conflict Management - click the banner below to see the blog and other articles relating to effective communication and conflict resolution:

CAOTICA the CAOS Conflict Management Blog

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to Newsletter no.24 - May 2010

What is a Bully?

Before the recent General Election in the UK there was a spate of reports in the British press suggesting that ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown was a 'bully'. In the London Evening Standard there were a few reports, one of them being from Joe Murphy,(Unfortunately - Nov 2015 - this link no longer seems to be working and I can't locate the original article) Political Editor who spoke to two 'former insiders' who worked at No.10, Downing Street.

Something that is often unclear is what it is that defines someone as 'a bully'. As a mediator, working to support people who are in dispute or experiencing a relationship breakdown with someone, I often hear people label those they are experiencing a difficulty with, using terms suggesting they are 'a bully', 'unreasonable', 'arrogant' etc. but rarely do people actually describe in any real detail the behaviours that lead them to describe the person this way.

This is often based on an assumption that we all know what 'a bully' is and what constitutes 'bullying behaviour'.

As a mediator and as a conflict coach I would ask people for more information about this so that they can reflect on ways in which they might be able to respond more constructively and self-supportingly to those behaviours in the future. So for example I may ask:

'What is it that X does that lead you to call him/her a bully?'

Example answer: 'They intimidate me...'

What do they do that leads you to say that?

Example answer: 'They shout at me when things don't go right'

'What sort of thing do they shout?'

Example answer, this time taken from the above article in the London Evening Standard: 'Blame is a constant feature. “Why didn't this happen? Why didn't that happen?” Or it could be a tirade with the same questions asked more aggressively in the form of, “Why the f***?”

Buy The Guide to the Principles of Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution e-book

Click here for further details or Buy Now for just $7

Buy Now

So my next question might be: 'When you say blame is a constant feature, who is it who is being blamed when he shouts "Why didn't this happen?".'

Often the sense that someone else is 'a bully' leads to the person who experiences them as such to withdraw from looking at their own responses and so they render themselves powerless - often expecting the other person to change rather than consider more self-supporting ways of responding to the other's behaviour.

It will not be the case that the person considered a bully is thought of as one by everyone they meet, even if they behave similarly with them. What matters is why the person who sees them as such is so powerfully affected by their behaviour, and how they can be supported in finding ways of responding that work better for them.

However, for many, to consider such an approach is to suggest that the 'problem' is the 'fault' of the 'victim' and so this form of exploration 'should not be pursued'. When this happens the situation stagnates.

When someone can accept that they are having difficulty responding to the behaviour of someone they have thought of as a bully, without thinking this means they have done something 'wrong', for which they should be 'blamed', they are able to step back from their painful experience and sense of powerlessness and start to experience their capacity to create more effective ways of responding.

Another of the 'insiders' gave this perspective on the ex-Prime Minister:

There's one really good thing about the man, which is that you are allowed to shout back without it being held against you. But shouting does not happen every day. It's not like he wanders around seething all day.

As for bullying, that's utter bollocks. Can he have a violent temper? Yes, he can. Can he also be very kind? Yes. The idea that we were waiting for him to explode is nonsense.

There was not a blame culture. If you were in the room when something went wrong, he would shout but I never heard him say, “it's all your fault”. It always ended up with him blaming himself.

It is notable, as in this quote, that the perspective that someone is a bully will not always be shared. While we can always acknowledge and accept that one person feels intimidated by the actions and behaviour of another, the power to respond to this differently always exists within the person feeling this way.

When we focus on the 'bully' and expect them to change and we 'protect' the 'victim', the result can be a reinforcement of the sense of powerlessness and passivity that is a feature of those who experience bullying.

Quotation Corner:

Katie-isms - quotes from Byron Katie...

You either believe what you think or you question it. There‟s no other choice.

No one can hurt me—that‟s my job.

The worst thing that has ever happened is an uninvestigated thought.

Sanity doesn‟t suffer, ever.

If I think you‟re my problem, I‟m insane.

I don‟t let go of my concepts—I question them. Then they let go of me.

You move totally away from reality when you believe that there is a legitimate reason to suffer.

Reality is always kinder than the story we tell about it.

You can find out more about 'The Work'of Byron Katie by clicking HERE

And so, what is a Bully? Ultimately it is a concept, an idea that renders us powerless, that blinds us to our own capacity to find more effective, self-supporting ways of responding to behaviours in others that we find frightening, intimidating, scary, threatening etc.

If, instead of simply labelling someone whose behaviour we find challenging as 'a bully', we think about what the person is doing that affects us, consider why it affects us in that way, acknowledge that it may not affect all people in that way, we can look at what we could do differently to look after ourselves when it happens.

If necessary we can look at how we respond directly to that person when it happens, in ways that support us but which also do not try to diminish them.

As a simple example we can ask someone not to shout when speaking to us about a problem. They may not do as we ask- but we have established our right and capacity to ask and taken that first step of action rather than remain passive. We can make our own choice about whether we wish to continue to engage with the person if they don't stop shouting.

Some may argue that 'you can't do that with your boss!'. I would want to stop and reflect on that for a while. There will be some readers for whom that is an unquestionable truth - if not with their boss then another 'bully'. There will be others who reject that suggestion out of hand.

The difference is simply a matter of what we believe, of what we understand a bully to be and whether we feel able to create a way of responding to their behaviour that works for us.

If we don't believe it is possible we are likely to place ourselves in the position of powerlessness and continually have a sense of being a victim.

If we believe it is possible to review our present response and remain open to creating different ones that may be more self-supporting and effective, then we immediately see we can escape the shackles that our label 'bully' creates for us.

Purchase this ebook on Kindle, written by Alan Sharland, Director of CAOS Conflict Management and author of this newsletter article.

Connect with Alan on LinkedIn

or his Twitter page @alan_sharland

Besides being the author of the Communication and Conflict website Alan is Director of CAOS Conflict Management Tel. +44 20 3371 7507

Follow @CAOS_Mediation on Twitter:

Become a fan of CAOS Conflict Management on Facebook

Connect with

Recommended Books

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway: How to Turn Your Fear and Indecision into Confidence and Action

I read this book aaages ago and found it great for challenging the obstacles that I create to stop me from learning to change and move forward. I still need to consider such things today, and this book helps me and has helped many others to understand how and in what ways we do this. This is from the back cover of my copy....

Fear of tackling an issue with your boss, fear of getting to grips with a problem in your home. Fear of change. Fear of taking control...

Everyone has these fears, and they run throughout our lives. Susan Jeffers' inspiring and mould-breaking book shows how to break this Catch 22 cycle and work through fear to a resolution. Feel the fear, she argues, but do it anyway.

Free e-book - Contemplations on Communication and Conflict (click the link to download)

This e-book is an archive of some of the early observations and anecdotes I have written for these newsletters, but now collected together in a free downloadable e-book, my aim being to make them more accessible than for you to have to scan through various web pages to read them.

Please remember.....
If you have problems viewing this Newsletter or, for some reason, it doesn't 'look right', please Click Here to go to the Communication and Conflict webpage where it is located.

Some links that you may find interesting...... is an excellent resource of information relating to mediation. There are articles, links to websites and blogs as well as the possibility of locating mediators in your area. - is a comprehensive guide to information about Self Improvement, Personal Growth and Self Help on the Internet. It is designed to be an organized directory, with articles and references to thousands of other Web Sites on the World Wide Web. is a rich source of information, quotes and support to enable us to find and be true to ourselves.

Oh Wow This Changes Everything is a great site with an enormous number of links to articles about different aspects of effective communication and conflict resolution. Definitely worth a could be there for hours! helps people, like yourself, create change in their life and business. They share fun stress management strategies and personal development articles.

New This site is sooo full of great links and resources relating to Co-operative Communication skills - I would very much recommend it.

Learning Supersite is a fascinating site dedicated to the development of informal learning. "A new approach to learning, the Learning Supersite is a venue that provides personal learning community, but with state-of-the-art Web technologies."

Transforming Conflict is an excellent organisation which works with young people, and adults, in educational settings, promoting restorative approaches to conflict.

Would you like to build your own website?.....this is how I built mine... I Love SBI!

So, how did you like it?

Buy at

If you liked this Newsletter and you think other people would like it too, please Send this Newsletter to them for their consideration.

If you have been forwarded this Newsletter by someone else, and would like to subscribe to future issues, please click on this link to subscribe.

Back to Back Issues Page