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April 3, 2015

Bully for you!

Keith Jackson

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I'm  a fully grown, professional man. I've worked hard and thrived in many high-pressure situations; I know my own mind and don't allow myself to get pushed around.

But recently, I am getting pushed around!

I find myself starting most days being assessed and judged by a stern-faced man whose weapons of intimidation are a stopwatch, a clipboard and a really strong personality. He is usually the first person I see when I leave the house in the morning and, more often than not, he's the last person I see before I go home.

I am training for Ironman® – a brutal long-distance triathlon race – and he is my coach.

Before I met this man, the hours between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. were purely hypothetical. I suspected they might exist, but they weren't part of my experience! Now, it still comes as a surprise to find myself in a swimming pool at 6 a.m. and hearing the click! of the stopwatch coinciding with coach's short bark of "Go!" And 50, or 76, or 152 lengths later, I climb out of the water and he's scribbling on his clipboard, reeling off stats about time-splits, advising on technique, and trying to instil in me the same sense of purpose that he possesses in abundance.

At the weekends I might not have to see him until 7.30 a.m., for a bike session or gruelling cross-country run. But most days he's waiting somewhere, determined to drag me out of my comfort zone and push me on to new levels of achievement.

I need his expertise and knowledge to get me to the start line in good enough physical condition to complete a 2.4-mile sea swim, 112-mile cycle, and then a marathon to round off the day. I know the work that needs to be done before such an event is punishing and absolutely necessary, but one of the main reasons my alarm goes off when the first digit is still only a five is my coach's force of will, not mine!

As a friend, he's a nice guy. He'd do anything to help you out. As a coach, he becomes an ultra-persuasive, dominant force of nature. And that's just what I and several other "athletes" – I use the term loosely! – in our amateur triathlon gang need. Given the choice, most of us would stay in bed and think, "I can't be bothered! I'll train after work, a morning off won't kill me." But the truth is, none of us would be too keen to face the coach that evening or the next morning!

He's an example of a dominant personality who channels his energy and enthusiasm in a positive way. On the flip side of the coin, I'm sure we've all come across strong characters who are, to put it kindly, "larger than life," but who are really monumental egotists who can rub you up the wrong way. They are the people who have a massive sense of self-importance, and who believe their opinions and ideas carry more weight and validity than anyone else's.

In a social situation, you can just tune them out, tell them to calm down a bit, or even challenge their actions or comments. The difficulty comes if they are work colleagues or team member. Then you have to deal with them in an entirely different way. And that's where a guide on how to manage dominant people can be really useful. Handled the right way, they're not actually all that bad!

Question: How have you dealt with a dominant or challenging work colleague?

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8 comments on “Bully for you!”

  1. Hi Keith,
    Good luck with your Ironman triathlon training!

    I've spoken with several ironmen and ironwomen and they all say that doing an ironman event follows the 80/20 rule. That is ... 80% mental and 20% physical!

    You still have to get out there and doing the physical training, and having a coach either literally by your side or metaphorically challenging you to push yourself beyond what you thought were your limits makes such a difference.

    Whether it is in the sporting arena or the working world, having someone to challenge you and encourage you to stretch further beyond what you thought was possible makes such a world of difference!

    I know I have certainly benefited from having coaches for my sporting achievements and in the workplace!

    1. I let my coach do all my thinking for me, Midgie, so I would change that ratio to 40% mental and 60% physical! You must know some supremely gifted or physically strong athletes! But you are 100% correct about the results you can achieve (in all walks of life) with the right support, encouragement and expertise.

    2. Hi Keith,
      It's great to have a coach to 'do the thinking for you' in regards to training and even nutrition and strategic approach to event. Plus, a coach can help push you beyond what you thought was possible.

      Yet, you still have to deal with your head! You still have to ensure that your confidence levels remain strong, that the inner dialogue remains positive, that you have routines to get you into the performance zone, that you have strategies to deal with the unexpected and that you deal with distractions so you focus on task-relevant things that help, rather than hinder, your performance abilities.

      So, whether it's a coach for an ironman triathlon event or a coach to help you in business 'performances', you still need to be able to get your head into the right place so your thoughts help you be the best you can be!

  2. Coaching also brings in an accountability element - apart from the actual coaching. As Keith said, not turning up isn't even an option, because he's accountable to someone. Having a 'good bully' to help you in an area of life / development that you're struggling with might be a really good idea.

    On you question about how we've dealt with dominant or challenging colleagues: listen to them, validate the fact that they have an opinion/idea etc. and then ask them, "How do you think we could implement that practically?" or "How do you see that impacting on our plans/strategy?" Often when people are challenging we want to shut them up, but acknowledging them has merit. However, when they want to hijack meetings, logroll decisions etc. you have to be assertive enough soon enough to stop the bulldozing since it can become very negative and destructive.

    1. Hi Rebel,
      The concept of a 'good bully' that is there for your own good is interesting. Yet, I personally would change the words 'bully' into 'supporter, cheerleader, challenger' because the word 'bully' has such negative association.

      I really like what you said about validating the opinion/idea of the bully. That way, at least you acknowledge what the person has to offer before carrying on.

  3. Hi,

    I’m writing to you from Warsaw, Poland – just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate all the work you have put into writing “Pareto Analysis-Using the 80:20 Rule to Prioritize” at MindTools webpage.

    I found your article so useful that I included it as one of the quoted resources in my publication with tips&tricks for introducing new businesses to the market:

    It is only in Polish for now 😉 so you won’t have a big use of that at the moment, but I believe it’s nice to start the day knowing that your fame came all across the world to Poland 😉

    All the best,

    1. Hello Katarzyna,

      I'm pleased that you found the article so useful, and that you have used it to enhance your work, all the way from Poland! Also, thank you for linking-back to the article, as this will certainly increase the number of people who will be able to make use of the article, and perhaps find other articles of interest to them.

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