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What Is a Bullying Pass-by Nibble?

Nov 9, 2007
What the heck is a "Pass-By Nibble?", you're wondering. It's something that both sharks and bullies do before they go in for the kill. Both test their potential victims out first by gently taking a nibble. Sharks do it with their teeth. Bullies do it with off color remarks and other, very harmless sounding comments. Comments meant to see how far you'll let them go before you'll stop them. The tools are different, but the outcome, your demise, is the same.

Most survivors of gruesome shark attacks report that the animal took a gentle, "Pass by Nibble" to check them out before he returned the second time, barreling in for the kill. It's almost like the shark evaluates what the potential victim will do, how much force to use, and if the victim-to-be is worth attacking. Who really knows what a shark thinks, but he is doing some form of information gathering. It's exactly what the bully does.

Have you noticed this? Bullies start with not-so-mean comments and as time passes, they just get more cruel? Why does this always happen? It's because you don't stop them in the "Pass by Nibble" stage. It's in this beginning stage of bullying, when the bully evaluates how easy a target you are, that it's best to stop her too. Just like stopping a shark in his "Pass by Nibble" stage, stopping a bully could prevent you from further putdowns or slurs.

What does the bully do during a "Pass by Nibble"? She makes quick, ambiguous, possibly offensive remarks to you. But, also, she often uses subtle body language that crosses very subtle personal boundaries. Like standing too close to you. If you catch it and stop her early on, you have a great chance to set some ground rules for your future interactions, so you won't have to endure more potent putdowns in the future.

Madeline showed off her beautiful new Gucci purse to Pat, a bully. That's when Pat took her "Pass by Nibble." As Madeline opened her purse wider for Pat to inspect, Pat pushed harder to "see" more. She handled the wallet and a gum wrapper ooohing and ahhhing at both, with exaggerated praise. She unzipped pockets, unsnapped buttons and dug deeper into private areas of the purse where it's usually considered impolite to go. Madeline watched quietly, chuckling right along with Pat. She felt uncomfortable, but not enough to say anything.

And Pat watched closely as well. She made a mental note that Madeline was an easy target as she probed on. Madeline wouldn't stop Pat from "invading" her purse, so invading and eroding Madeline's self esteem would be her next move. At least that would be more damaging than this small stuff.

Two days later, Madeline helped a coworker in the next cubicle with a new computer program. Pat walked by.

"You're listening to HER? THAT'S dangerous. She can't even walk and chew gum at the same time," Pat lobbed in, and then darted off. There it was. Pat came in for the kill.

Ouch, I didn't deserve that, Madeline thinks. But she says nothing in response, hoping anyone else around wouldn't notice what just happened. Why did Pat insult her? What did SHE do?

She allowed Pat to take a "Pass by Nibble" and get away with it. She didn't stop Pat early in the purse invasion, when it would have been much easier to be light and un-invested. Now, it may take Madeline several encounters to convince Pat that she won't
tolerate being pushed around. And Madeline will be much angrier.

What are some other ways bullies take a test nibble to see if you'll stand up for yourself?

- They move your stuff, or put their stuff where yours once was.
- They physically move too close to you-even slightly bumping you.
- They retell a story about you in the 3rd person while you stand there.
- They take issue with many things you say.

These are just a teeny sample of many ways they use to test you. But you get the idea. You've probably experienced others, when you paid attention. You may even pay more attention, now that you realize what's going on.

Know that people with no mal intent can also do all of the above, too. It's so subtle. The only way you know the difference most of the time, is by watching what happens next. Does she amp up her attacks, going in for the kill? Or does she never bother you again? No wonder a bully can slide in mean-spirited remarks without being found out. It's so easy to hide mean feelings behind an innocent appearance.

Okay. You know you need to say or do something in response, but what do you do? Because you really don't know exactly when a bully is testing you, or when it's just thoughtlessness, you need to respond as unharmed and un-invested as you can muster in the moment. Being light and humorous is the absolute best way to handle any bully attack even if it is just a "nibble." And early on, with a mild "Pass by Nibble," it's a lot easier to do because you aren't mad or offended yet. Neither of you carries a deep seated grudge at this point. Try feeling and acting unoffended after she's
taken some mean swings at you. It's much more ifficult.

Bullies are like sharks. Both are opportunistic and deadly. The dry land versions are harder to avoid. But, understanding a little more about how bullies size you up by testing you first, will give you a leg up on dealing with them ... instead of a leg off.
About the Author
Stop Workplace Bullying. Discover How to Speak Up to Save Your Job and Your Dignity. Visit www.BullyBlaster.com and sign up for a free Stop the Bullies newsletter.
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