Busting the Bullying Myth: Ignoring a Bully Doesn't Work

 Let's bust a myth: Ignoring a bully doesn't work.

Ignoring a Bully Doesn't Work! What does? Get the Bully Vaccine and Find Out!

We know people mean well when they say, "Ignore a bully, and they'll leave you alone." But this advice doesn’t work. 

What Actually Works?

What works? Simply put: science. Specifically, behavioral science.

For over 70 years, researchers have explored how we learn and unlearn behaviors. There is a way to cause unlearning, but it’s not easy.  You have to remove the reward bullies get from bullying. 

To make bullying stop, you need to remove the reward. This is incredibly hard to do, especially when a bully is in your face.

Why Ignoring Them Doesn't Work

When people tell you to - "ignore a bully" what they are really trying to say is don’t reward the bully. 

The main reason ignoring them doesn’t work is because most bullies see your silence as submission—and they view that – as a reward! 

The Process Explained

To get them to stop – you have to remove their reward.

In theory – this is pretty simple. Don’t reward the bully. Repeat until they stop.

But like all simple things, it’s not that easy in reality.

How do you remove the reward without ignoring them? 

Answer: You need to find something to say that shows you heard them but aren't bothered by them. 

And then, you need to repeat it every time they hassle you.

The Crappy Reality

The other issue with "ignore them and they will go away" is that even if it worked, it wouldn’t work immediately. Ignoring them often leads to an initial increase in their attempts to provoke you before they eventually give up.

How long will this take? Not too long, but it won't work on the first try. Removing the reward requires repetition and patience.

The unfortunate reality is that when you remove the reward, bullying can get worse before it gets better. This is backed by 70 years of research.

Any anti-bullying program that doesn’t prepare you for this reality sets you up to fail. To stop bullying, you need to know what works, how difficult it is, and what to expect when you start using these techniques.

Resources To Stop Bullying

I offer free materials on my website, www.bullyvaccineproject.com, that teach these methods. I also have a book detailing the science and practical steps you can take. Plus, worksheets and exercises to help you develop effective responses to bullies.

If you are looking for harassment training that teaches how to make harassment stop - please consider using my online courses for your staff training needs: https://humanistlearning.com/category/bullyingharassment/

Take Action

If you are struggling with a bully, stop. Find out what actually works according to science and take control of the situation. 

Visit my website, get my book, and learn what it takes.

Please, share this information with others who are struggling. Together, we can finally fix this problem.

Thank you. Let’s make bullying a thing of the past. Please share this with others. 

FYI - I also offer this book in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese
¡Ignorar a las acosadoras no funciona! ¿Qué hace?

Watch Out for Each Other

 I was waiting for a subway train in Philadelphia a few weeks back.  To my right, was a man - leering at a woman who was standing to my left.  It was a proper leer and it lasted the entire time we waited for our train. 

I made a decision to intercept this man if he made a move toward the woman.  The woman moved to avoid this man's gaze.  He moved so he could continue looking at her. I moved to block his gaze. He moved again - always so he could see her. 

It is entirely possible that this man didn't have any nefarious intentions. He did not move towards her. He just was intently looking at her, and it was super clear - he was aroused by her. 

The problem is - none of us knew if he was just looking, or was planning to attack her in his mind. And neither did she. And neither did I. Or any of the other women who were aware this was happening on the platform - because - we all were aware of his intense sexual interest in this woman.

When men ask, what is the harm in looking. There isn't a harm in looking. There is harm in leering. 

You might think - whatever you are thinking is in your own mind and it's not hurting anyone. This man might not have been aware he was leering. But he was - for about 10 minutes. 

Every single woman on that platform - was on edge as a result of this man's leering. This wasn't a simple - look at a pretty woman. This was a guy who was clearly thinking more intensely about having sex with this woman. And - it was scary. Not just for her - but for everyone who started making plans on how to keep this woman safe from this man.

1) Don't be like this guy. We don't have problems with men glancing. Leering and obviously thinking about sex with a woman you don't know - is not ok. You are not entitled to invade her space and make her feel unsafe like that. Your body language - matters!!! 

2) If you see it happening, make sure you are between the woman and the guy doing this.

3) Be prepared to physically protect the woman and make it clear, you are protecting her so the guy knows. 

Basically - watch out for each other. 

De-escalating conflicts - online or via text

I was asked a question by someone taking my online course: How to De-Escalate Conflicts Using Science. They asked: “What happens if other person will only deal with you via internet, etc.,, not in person or on telephone?”

That was all they texted me, so I did not have the full context of their situation, and when I responded they told me they had already used my ideas to help resolve the situation and it was indeed resolved favorably. What a great endorsement of my course! 

I thought it would be helpful to share what I told him as this is a very common problem. 

How to Handle Text Conflicts

Assume you have someone you text with who you are having trouble with. So everything is written.

The problem with written communication is that we don’t have any of the normal emotional cue signaling that happens with voice tone and facial cues.  It is very, very hard to read what someone else is thinking about when you share something via text, and it is very common to read into communications things that aren’t actually there.  This is especially common if they just don’t respond.

My Advice

If they are giving no actual sign they are offended, don’t assume they are.  

If you think they might be – it is acceptable to ask them for feedback.  Is what you sent ok, are they frustrated, or angry or anything?  Most people will respond and ease your mind.  Keep in mind, some people read emails and don’t acknowledge them at all.  If you need a response, ask for one. If something is important, I usually ask for confirmation of receipt just to be sure they saw it. 

If there is an actual conflict and they are telling you something isn’t ok, it may not be possible to fix via text. So much of how we respond emotionally to others is tied to tone of voice and facial cues.   

This doesn't mean you can't try. Of course you can try. 

Taking a Humanistic Approach

Whenever I have a conflict with someone, online or in person, I go into compassion/professional mode and check my own feelings first.  I make sure that my communications are attempts to clarify and gain clarity with them. I make sure there is no animosity on my side by activating compassion.  Do I see them as fully human? Deserving of compassion?  I should. Because they are humans deserving of compassion. 

This one thing I do, is 90% of de-escalating conflicts. I have to first de-escalate myself.  

Final Word

At the end of the day if you have someone who is just refusing to communicate with you there is not much you can do. But I would not take it personally. Their communication preferences have everything to do with them and nothing to do with you.

Learn More

If you want to learn more about how to de-escalate conflicts using science and humanist philosophy - check out my course:


If you want a more in-depth exploration of how to manage conflicts humanistically - I have an 8 hour certificate program in Humanistic Conflict Management


A Vital Partnership: Compassion and Critical Thinking in Humanism

In the realm of Humanism, compassion stands as a beacon of empathy and understanding, guiding our actions towards a more equitable and caring society. It's the cornerstone of our interactions, advocating for the well-being of all individuals. Yet, nestled alongside compassion lies another crucial element often overlooked: critical thinking. While compassion fuels our desire to alleviate suffering, critical thinking serves as the compass guiding us through the murky waters of misinformation and misunderstanding.

When we speak of Humanism, the image of empathy and benevolence often springs to mind. And rightly so. Humanism champions the inherent dignity and worth of every individual, advocating for their rights and well-being. However, compassion alone, devoid of critical examination, can lead to unintended consequences.

Consider a scenario where a well-meaning individual, driven solely by compassion, spreads misinformation about a certain medical treatment without verifying its efficacy. While their intentions may be noble, the repercussions of their actions can be harmful, potentially putting lives at risk. In such instances, it becomes evident that compassion, when divorced from reason, can pave the path to misinformed decisions and unintended harm.

This is where critical thinking steps in as an indispensable ally to compassion for Humanists. Critical thinking empowers us to sift through the plethora of information available, discerning fact from fiction, evidence from conjecture. It encourages us to question assumptions, evaluate evidence, and consider alternative perspectives before arriving at a conclusion. In essence, critical thinking serves as the safeguard against the pitfalls of unchecked empathy, ensuring that our actions are rooted in evidence and reason.

In the pursuit of a more humane society, where compassion reigns supreme, it is imperative to recognize the symbiotic relationship between compassion and critical thinking. They are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary forces driving us towards a more just and equitable world. As Humanists, we must strive to embody both virtues, harnessing the power of empathy tempered by reason.

As we navigate the complexities of our modern world, fraught with misinformation and uncertainty, the need for critical thinking has never been more important. It is not enough to simply feel compassion; we must also think critically about the implications of our actions. It is this union of heart and mind that truly defines Humanism.

If you want to learn more, I invite you to embark on a journey of discovery and enlightenment through my course, "Reality Based Decision Making for Effective Strategy Development." It offers a primer for critical thinking and evidence-based reasoning. This is also available as a book, an audio book or a streaming video.


Join me in embracing the power of reason alongside compassion, and together, let us chart a course towards a more enlightened and empathetic world.

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