Hey, You Can’t Say That!

How to cope with verbally abusive people

Verbal abuse in the workplace, or anywhere else, is not something you should tolerate. But in order to combat it, figure out the best approach. “People who are verbally abusive put people on the defensive,” says Patricia Evans, an interpersonal communications expert and the author of The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond (Adams Media Corporation; $14.95). She recommends, rather than trying to defend yourself, respond with, “What did you say?” or “Let me write that down.”

Also, document your abuser’s outbursts and ask the abuser to provide a record of everything you’re asked to do to avoid being blamed for his or her mistakes. Before taking drastic measures, talk to the abuser — when he or she is calm — about how you can both communicate effectively.

Although being the target of verbal abuse can make you want to throw in the towel, it can also become an opportunity for change. For example, Arthur Bell’s book You Can’t Talk to Me That Way: Stopping Toxic Language in the Workplace (Career Press; $14.99) offers an assessment that helps you identify your work personality and suggests ways in which you can learn to work with conflicting work personalities.

Although dealing with verbal abuse is a sensitive issue, being targeted may give you the impetus to release the personal baggage that is preventing you from reaching your potential.

WHAT IF YOU’RE THE ABUSER?
Do your subordinates or co-workers dip into their offices when they see you stomping down the hall? If you’re the office meanie, it’s time to turn your behavior around.

“If you want to know if you’re a verbally abusive boss or co-worker, says Arthur Bell, “look for symptoms.” According to Bell, this involves “managing by anger, not by encouragement.” Impacting others in a way that produces silence, sullenness, and hurt feelings may be a sign.

To change your behavior, take the time to learn more about why you feel the need to strike out. “Verbal abuse is about a loss of power,” says Ruth King, the author of Healing Rage: Women Making Inner Peace Possible (Sacred Spaces Press; $17). “It’s about shame, fear, and feeling highly controlled and out of control. Usually people in these situations were victims and have now become perpetrators,” she says.

Most importantly, learn to take a time out. King suggests implementing a stillness practice for five minutes every morning. Notice your thoughts and take the time to set an intention for your day.

For more information, go to www.youcanttalketomethatway.com, www.verbalabuse.com, and www.healingrage.com

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