Article > Opinion

How To Deal With A Bully

By Gerald Wheelus

We would hope that people would eventually grow up and quit acting as children do. But that is not the case.
Gerald Wheelus
It seems everywhere you look these days, someone is talking about bullying.

In fact, it has become such a hot-button topic that the president and First Lady have both produced videos concerning the issue and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has devoted a great deal of resources to the subject. Much of what you’ll hear relates mostly to school-age children and, perhaps, into the college years. However, bullying carries over into our adult lives as well.

Personally, I am a 6-foot, 3-inch, 260-pound guy, so not many people try to bully me. But I have witnessed first-hand customers bullying my fellow employees. This begs the question, does bullying ever stop in our lifetime? And what can we do about it?

We would hope that people would eventually grow up and quit acting as children do. But that is not the case. Recently a customer, who spends about $5,000 a month with us, was pointed out as a bully. Callously, it was dismissed as oversensitivity and the counterpro was told to suck it up. But after it being pointed out, the customer was habitually bullying people in the store. It was common to hear “you should know that,” or “if you don’t know that why are you even here,” and “you’re worthless.”

It got to the point that when this customer would come in, I would be the only one left at the counter. But what can be done? As a supervisor, when I see bullying happening, I simply step in and take over. This way, if I say something out of line to him, it was me and not my co-worker. I expect people to stand up for themselves professionally and personally. But people often do not know how to and so, people are targeted.

Having a target on them does not mean they asked for it. Bullies sense weakness and will seize upon the opportunity to leverage it if they think they can get something out of it.

When a “predator” of any type senses they might have the upper hand they will usually act on it. In a bullying case, “predator” may seem to be an extreme description, but is it?

We are trained to prevent sexual harassment; what we can and cannot say in order to avoid a potential discrimination suit; what process to go through to prevent a wrongful iteration; and how to promote ethical behavior in the workplace. But soon, there is certain to be a bullying policy in place as well. Bullying is a form of harassment and should be addressed as such.

We are supposed to work in a professional environment and we try to provide that for everyone we work for and the customers we come in contact with. These types of customers are the ones who make our lives miserable but, the repeat customers tend to be the ones who become familiar and comfortable. This is the true dilemma, as we work so hard to earn the business and try to keep it. But, what is the cost if they try at every turn to humiliate us or our employees? A boss of mine said once, “the customer is not always right but, they are still the customer.”

We can deal with bullying in the store in several ways, some of which on the surface of it may not seem professional. But if the idea is to diffuse a situation, they just may work.

•Have a plan to have someone else step in, and politely walk away.

•Tell the customer what they have done: “You have offended me” and again, walk away.

•Do not engage in their degradation. Remember the old adage: Do not argue with an idiot. Those watching might not know who is who. Make no counter-offensive and again walk away.

•Make sure the management understands what you are going through. If your manager or those around you do not know what is going on, they cannot help you. That way, when you walk away, the manager will know what is going on.

We are not the kicking dog. We are people just like they are and we do not have to be the kicking dog for anyone.
If the customer gets mad and never comes back then it might just be a blessing in disguise, right?

Again, we spend a lot of money and time retaining customers and earning the business of new customers, too. Our job is to provide a product, at a reasonable price, with quality and with friendly service. If we do that and the customer is not satisfied, then so be it.

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