Fight bullying with emotional intelligence

By Phil Slade


Bullying is a word that gets used quite a lot nowadays, but what does it actually refer to. Well, it’s basically a catch-all term for any abusive social interaction where somebody is coerced or victimised through aggressive or violent means. Traditionally anti-bullying programs have focussed on violent expressions of bullying, but more recently there is a growing awareness of the long-term harm of psychological bullying as well. This includes hyper-criticism, extreme micromanagement, ostracism, verbal abuse and starving others of emotional support. Basically, it is any purposeful, harmful act towards someone in order to inflict pain or assert dominance.

While many education programs have done an amazing job at raising awareness of the problem in schools, the prevalence of bullying remains quite strong. Part of the problem is that when under threat people resort to immediate tactics to regain a sense of control and meaning, and often they do this at the expense of someone else. “My life doesn’t feel so bad if I can make someone else’s life worse than mine.” The ability to deny this impulse to lash out and consider a better approach is a key skill needed to stop bullying.

It is no wonder then that there is an immense and growing body of literature showing a significant relationship between bullying and emotional intelligence. Research shows that people low in emotional intelligence (in particular empathy, self-efficacy and emotional awareness) are significantly more likely to be involved in bullying others or become the target themselves. Specifically, emotionally intelligent people demonstrate the ability to recognise, understand and manage emotion in themselves and the people around them more effectively.

The good news is that we can do something about it. Emotional intelligence is something that is learnable, teachable. And the best way to start is to increase your emotional lexicon to better identify and label emotions, which starts to create little conceptual vessels that your brain then uses to increase understanding and organise experience. This is the starting point of the Swtich4Schools tool (www.switch4schools.com.au), which is a proven and robust approach to quickly raise emotional intelligence and rapport across the whole school community.

With relatively little effort, we can all work on our emotional intelligence, and in turn, help raise the emotional intelligence of those around us to lead more successful and peaceful lives.