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Cat Fight: Strategies for Disarming Bullying

cat fightI joined a graduate chapter of a very prestigious women’s organization. I was extremely active and financially supportive during my tenure. So you can imagine my shock when two ladies approached me at a group event one day and tried to get all cat fight and “I don’t like you just because” on me. I went from all smiles to being very disappointed about their poor behavior. It was at that moment that I realized that these women were actually trying to bully me.

When you belong to a prestigious organization there are rules that govern a member’s actions and interactions. So to keep in line with those rules, I was lady-like in the face of their bullying behavior. I really wanted to spew out the salt fire pumice that laid on the tip of my tongue onto them but instead, I slowed down the very essence of time by using the fullness of my dark brown eyes to pause the moment. So with a cold hard stare, I slowly invited them to enjoy the rest of the event.

This action did de-escalate the tension in the room and it did give me space to respond in a centered, grounded and empowered manner. I guess Louise and William Senft would say that I was “Being Relational with a Bully”. I know that this seems counter intuitive, but that technique actually worked. After I de-escalated the situation, I knew that I needed to gain perspective of what needed to be done next. I also pulled a little real-life wisdom from my big brother, Mirum.

Now my brother, who was an amazing fashion designer, was extremely funny and wise. During Fashion Week at his college he would often use me as a model for his clothing line. Before hitting the runway he would whisper “Don’t forget to flair your skirt honey.” Let’s envision that the skirt represented the national organization and the chapter represented the pockets that held the monthly dues. Hold that picture in your mind, now visualize that the members in good standing (like me) are the coins and the members acting poorly are the holes in the pockets of the skirt.

Expanding this conflict allowed me to see the financial interest of both the chapter and the national organization. At first, I just saw the ladies trying to be systematically mean toward me and others, but when I expanded the conflict, I noticed how their bullying behavior hurt our chapter as a whole. As a result, I took my grievance and documentation along with my account of my volunteer and financial support to the chapter president and asked; “Is this type of behavior reflective of this chapter?” Long story short, the “cat fight” for me was over! From that point forward those girls were busy with a whole new set of issues that eventually involved them, the chapter president and the national office.
In the end, my response was effective, but it also was a process. If you can keep the following tools in mind, you can create enough space and perspective to work on a possible solution for you too. Those tools are:

Deescalate the situation the best you can. I used a pause and stare.
Take time to respond, meaning just pause to think before you speak
Expand your view of the conflict. This means to do your best to identify the interest of all parties involved and look at the whole picture. Take a moment to objectively look at the entire situation.

Until next time, happy living everybody

Lauren Thompson Andrews
Graduate Student Intern
University of Baltimore – Conflict Negotiation/ Conflict Management

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