You Can't Play Win-Win With A Bully Until...

2005 Laurie Weiss, Ph.D.

"He didn't refund my money. I've called three times and actually spoke to him once, and he explained that his bookkeeper was on vacation. He doesn't respond to my emails at all. I don't know what to do."

After questioning this highly ethical, hard working professional, I learned that the original bill had been paid with a credit card. 

"Have you thought about reporting the problem to the credit card company?"

"Oh, I couldn't do that. I don't want to get him into trouble. I would rather resolve the problem with him directly."

My client made the mistake of believing that everyone is as ethical and responsible as she is. She is using tactics that would work well to resolve a problem if someone asked her for a refund. Those tactics won't work here.

It's hard for her to imagine how differently someone else can approach the world. Some people play by an entirely different set of rules. 

Sharks, opportunists or bullies or whatever you choose to call them just don't care about cooperating-that is they don't care about playing a game where everybody wins. What they care about is that they win. It doesn't matter what happens to anyone else.

If they can manage to avoid you, they have no reason to solve a problem with you-they don't even see it as their problem. 

Mathematical research1 shows that if you want to win, or at least not lose, with an opportunist, you must seize the initiative and command attention. Sometimes you need to use tactics that are distasteful to you. 

Once the bully experiences being confronted, s/he may start to behave cooperatively again. Then your original tactics may work-but only AFTER the bully has shown evidence of cooperating. 

The ethical professional recognized that this bully had completely ignored her approaches. She decided that complaining to the credit card company might get his attention and was her best current alternative.

1 Axelrod, Robert. (1984). The Evolution of Cooperation

Laurie Weiss, Ph.D., author of Dare To Say It!, is an internationally known executive coach, psychotherapist, and author. For more simple secrets for turning difficult conversations into amazing opportunities for cooperation and success, visit

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