In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to deal with bullies as a founder. 

If you’re in sales, you’re going run into a prospect that is unreasonably aggressive. This typically tends to overwhelm most sales people and can lead to submission and overreaction by the sales person. 

In today’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about how most people see bullies, the main reason why bullies are over-aggressive, how people’s childhood affects how they act and much more. 

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:40 Why this topic was created.

01:37 How most people see bullies.

03:04 How are bullies are just afraid themselves.

03:46 The main reason why bullies are over-aggressive.

04:03 How to deal with bullies.

05:59 How Steli deals with bullies.

10:00 Hitens thoughts on bullies.

10:45 A tip that can help you deal with bullies.

11:41 How people’s childhood affects how they act.

3 Key Points:

    • Once in a while you’ll run into a prospect that is unreasonably aggressive.
    • I’ve learned that bullies are just afraid themselves.
  • The best reaction to a bully is to stay cool calm and collected.

Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah and today on The Startup Chat we’re gonna talk about bullies and we’re also getting to talk about how bullies relate to sales, so Steli you’re gonna lead the way on this cause it’s a topic that I think is on your mind for a bunch of reasons.


Steli Efti: Yeah, so I think teaching sales people for a long time, had to deal with bully prospects. So, if you’re in sales, you know, once in a while you will run into a prospect that is going to be unreasonably aggressive. Right? Kinda of a bully personality and typically sales people they all have a, they all feel overwhelmed by this, which is normal, as a human being, if I call somebody and they start screaming at me, my first reaction is overwhelmed and say “ Wow. What the hell is going on here?”, right? This is signal like overwhelm/intimidation that’s the natural first response if you’re not somebody that is dealing with bullies all day long and is prepared for this. But then more sales reps, most humans, most people, they look at a bully or somebody that is intimidatingly strong and they will put fear in them and then usually they will either submit to that person’s demand or requests or in some rare cases they’ve learnt to kind of overreact in response to the overreaction of the bully, right? So, the bully screams and then the sales person screams back, right? But the interpretations that somebody that’s super dominant, super pushy, super aggressive is probably a strong human. I’ve learnt over a long period of time, in sales and with that in life in general that bullies are just afraid themselves, right? There’s no reason, they call you hidden and they try to sell you something. There’s no reason for you to have to scream at me. You have the power to just hang up. I cannot force you to buy anything, I’m on the phone with you, there’s really no reason for you to go nuts and start screaming profanity said anything, there’s no reason for that. The reason that most people or why the bullies will be overly aggressive is because they are afraid. There is a certain level of insecurity that the sales person is gonna sell them something they don’t want and order two because they are so insecure and so afraid of being sold something they don’t want, they overreact in like attacking mode. Right? Or sometimes people they are bullies in negotiations, they are so afraid of being taken advantage of, that they’re unreasonable in how aggressive they are and asking for what they want. If you’re truly confident, there is a certain comment cuneus that comes with real confidence, that bullies don’t have because they don’t have real confidence, and you know, once you really realize that, once you realize that when somebody screams it’s not that they are that confident and that strong is that they’re that insecure or overwhelm themselves, then you can deal with it better and that’s how sales people for long time now that the best reaction to somebody that’s a bully or screams or goes all nuts is to stay cool, calm and collected and that cool and calmness is actually gonna make them submit, because usually when they scream, they’re used to people submitting to them so, when you smile them you go “WOW, WOW, WOW, this is totally unreasonable. I understand that you feel overwhelmed and I understand that this something you are not interested in right now. This is no way to talk, here’s how we can move forward and leave this past us.” You can talk to them totally cool, totally calm, totally collected but they’re losing their mind, they’re gonna submit. Something in their subconscious is gonna tell them, “Shit, this guy seems so dominant that I cannot intimidate that person, probably that person is really successful, maybe I should listen. Same thing with like bullies in their school yard, when somebody screams at you and tells you that they’re gonna hit you. If you don’t show fear, it’s gonna actually intimidate them, make you much less of a, of the interesting target for their bullying and their attacking. The reason I thought about this and not, you know I’m sure there’s a story that I’m dying to hear, your experience with this because I’d like to expand it away from just prospects in sales to you know board members that are bullies, co-founders that are bullies. You know we talked a little bit about customers but I’d like to talk a little bit about like investors or board members that are bullies, that’s just kind of another perspective for a founder or startup. How do you deal with this kind of people, but the reason I’ve thought about this recently is that is Muay Thai class, I do a lot of martial arts, as people know that have been listening to that podcast for a long time, I am very passionate about it, so recently I went to a new school again and any time you go to a new school, you meet a bunch of new people, you do sparring with them and typically sparring is this idea that we are pretending to be in a fight with all this patting but we go a lot lighter than in a fight, we go more technical and its about skill development in realistic scenarios, it’s not about hurting each other. But in every martial arts schools on earth probably there’s always one or two bullies, there’s always some people that show up in that class that didn’t get the memo and they really wanna fight, right when you do sparring with them. Usually what happens if you tell these people “Hey, please go lighter” they actually go harder, right? The more you tell them “Hey go easy, this is too hard for me” the harder they go. And I was in sales nutrition recently where I had a guy in sparring that goes like this monster of a muscle bound, aggressive looking dude and when we started light and technical sparring he went bazooka on me, bizzerk one me and just like was swinging from the fences as he would wanna knock my head off, and again first I got overwhelmed that I just control the situation, defended myself and then you constantly switch partners in sparring so I was kinda done with it. But then the second time we sparred he was even more aggressive and then I had to think about like, “ How do I deal with this guy? Because I don’t wanna have to like feel overwhelmed every time I do the training, I don’t want this to lower the fun I have when I go to training. So, how do I deal with him? I cannot avoid him, he’s just there, I can’t do anything about that. I cannot run to the trainer and tell him, this is not school and even in school it’s a bad idea to rug the trainer in, try to let them know that somebody is bullying you, is not gonna make people respect you. I cannot tell him to go easy, cause he’s only gonna go harder. I am very nice to people in training, I was overly nice to him and I feel like he misinterpreted that niceness for weakness. So, the only way for me, so I’ve thought about it for a day or so and then I thought the only way to deal with this is to escalate. If he goes really hard, I will go really hard back and I’ll go easy again and then I’ll basically tell him through actions, not though words, we can go hard or we can go easy, it’s your choice, dude, but if you wanna go hard it’s gonna come with consequences, you’re not just gonna hit me hard, I’m gonna hit hard back, you’re not gonna like it. So, I’ve though about that, he wasn’t around for a couple of weeks so I was just like every time I went to training I was waiting for him to show up and I’m like “ No, he’s not here. Cannot try this.” And just recently, a couple of days ago he showed up at training, we I sought him out for sparring so I was like, “ yeah, I was waiting for it. Let’s go, let’s spar” and then as always I sparred like technical, he go super hard and I will go hard back. And I was hitting him a lot more than he was hitting me and eventually I hit him quite hard with the head in the liver and he kinda collapsed in all force and that was the end of our sparring. I apologized, I really didn’t mean to be there and hit him at the right spot at the right time because we weren’t going easy, it hurt him a lot and that was that. It was the end of sparring, I was like “ All right, let’s see how the next sparring will go. This went well for me this time.” And when training was over and we wet to the locker room it was the most cliché scenario ever. It was like almost like in a movie. I had to really concentrate not to laugh, cause the moment I went into the changing rooms, locker rooms, he looks at me and he starts going, “ Hey dude and I’m like “ Hey”. He’s like “ How long have you been doing Muay Thai?”. In my head I was like this guy never spoken to me before and now here he is and this is like one on one, now he wants to be friends. I’m like ” Well, you know I’ve been doing [inaudible] for a while and this and that.” And then he’s ” How old are you?” I’m like ” I don’t know, 37?” and he said” You’re super fit for 37″ and he started to have the nicest conversation ever with me, trying to become my friend. I was like “This is so dum”, like why did we have to go through this. Why did I have to hit him this hard and like hurt him this much for him to be like” What? Don’t wanna bully this guy, I wanna be friends with him”. Started to laugh a lot and you know I had to tell my kids about this because my oldest son [inaudible] with a bully right now at school. He’s lime made me think a bit more about bullies, so I though it’d be fun to bring it up on the podcast, share my little victorious moment. Oh, of course this whole story is just about me and then you go telling everybody that I looked good in sparring for one session. But no, but I felt like there’s something, there’s a bunch of lessons here to be learnt and how to deal with people that are bullying, because you can’t run away from them and once in a while in life you might have to deal with one and so I shared this one in martial arts context, I talked a little bit about the sales and customer context. I’d love [inaudible] and hear your response on everything you’ve heard, and then maybe we’ll wrap this episode up with, I don’t know, maybe there’s some other scenario that you’ve experienced and you’ve helped the founder in how to get through and dealing with a bully within a [inaudible] that might be useful and helpful to people. Will Newton, I think you are mute.


Hiten Shah: Oh sorry. I think that a bully is just somebody who’s being really pushy with you. He could be physical right? Pushing you around or could be just like verbally they’re like sort of trying to mess with you in some way whether it’s like a board member investor somebody like that you know really a bully is, you know that big thing about bullies is that it’s just abut them. It’s just something about them that causes them to react to you in a certain way. And I think once you realize that, you start really figuring out how to deal with a bully. Cause there isn’t like a simple strategy as you described right? Like can, you tell that bully that you’re dealing with at Muay Thai, like “Hey, chill out”, he’ll go harder, right?


Steli Efti: Yeah.


Hiten Shah: But, instead you just had to show him, that you had the strength, right? You literally had the strength to like, kinda kick his butt, right? Sort of speak and that got him to respect you. So, there is something about, you know if I were to go all the way back, something that happened where he believes that the way to gain peoples’ respect is to basically get your butt kicked better.


Steli Efti: Hmm.


Hiten Shah: For you know, for that, for you, basically there’s something that that person learned, probably during childhood, that made the person the way they are, so in my mind I try to have empathy for the bullies and I try to really try to figure out like what’s, what’s going on here?, “Where are they coming from?” So really like, if you’re talking about like an industrial for example or somebody who you think is just trying to get you to do what they want you to do, even though you might not wanna do it or you might not agree, the the it can feel like a bully but really it’s not something to deal with them, it’s something to do with either the way they were raised, the way that the things they’ve dealt with or the things that they believe they need to do to get what they want or make other people do what they want. Cause a bully is really just trying to get you to do, what they want you to do. And so yeah, you know when I deal with this, I’m not always dealing with it in the context of ” Oh, this person is bullying me” but I’m usually dealing with it in the context of “I don’t get along with this person, and I don’t know what to do about that”.


Steli Efti: Right.


Hiten Shah: And I’m usually, I’m just giving people a perspective on the person that helps give them a frame of mind, a way to think about that other person that enables them to be like “Oh! So, that’s where they’re coming from”, like yeah that’s where they’re coming from. So, based on knowing where they’re coming from, how are you gonna deal with them now? Well, you’re more empowered to deal with them if you have some kind of context or at least in your head have some way of thinking about them and where they’re coming from. So this person that was bullying you is just coming from a place of like anger and a place where like you needed to show them essentially that you were able to keep up with them and even beat them. And then they somehow got respect for you as a result of that and I think that their actions are just about basically them feeling like you need to show them that you are better than them or you need to show them that you are as good as them in order for them to respect you. It’s respect based on the interaction you have after and these kinda things are what I’m trying to figure out, ” Where is this person coming from?”, ” Why are they acting the way they are?”. And I’m not trying to spend a lot of time on it but enough time when I’m like okay, ” Now, I know how to deal with them”. So often time when like a board member or an industrious is coming at you in a way that you feel like you’re being bullied, you just have to think, ” Yeah, where is this person coming from?”. And often times they’re like trying to preserve the capital they put in your money, or they’ve seen the scenario before and just don’t wanna repeat it and so they’re stuck in their heads that it’s gonna repeat, so you know typically what I do these days especially, not just bullies but in general, is when someone is dealing with something and they’re coming at me with a negativity, I don’t react. I know this like advice that everyone is gonna tell you but I literally just don’t react, and I just shut down, not in a bad way, but shut my self off and just think through and also just try to be there for them. You almost treat it like a trauma situation where like I need to be there for the person when they’re feeling like that. And when I do that I tend to come to the right solutions. I’ve had to do this a few times recently, where I said something or did something and other people reacted in a very like I would say reactive way and they tried to ca, come at me, almost like they were trying to bully me after like you know I did something or said something that was very direct, lets say I was very direct and honest. And one time I just said that my perspective is different, and I explained my perspective, and that seemed to disarm them. Other times I just literally sit there and just don’t react to their negativity and instead think through and respond in the most compassionate way that I can and the most accepting way I can, whatever their behavior is. I don’t even like try to talk to them if that makes sense. Like this gentleman you’re talking about. If you told him, ” Hey, when I tell you like, you know, chill out, you don’t chill out”. What’s the person gonna say? “I don’t care”. Exactly. Ha ha, you got nothing to say, so instead you found your way out by basically going through and just be like okay, “Let me just see what I can do and actually spar with this person they way they want me to”. Which is probably not the way you normally would.


Steli Efti: Yeah I love that. Well, either way I think no matter what is going on, don’t let anybody bully you, I think the recipe of trying understand where is this person coming from, what is their perspective. I realize that often times or most times it is not this person is evil and its not this person is getting some sick pleasure from crushing you or hurting you or pushing you to do something you don’t want to, there’s something else going on. And when you understand that, it much easier to deal with, but at the end of the day you will have to deal with it and most likely in most scenarios, no matter what you, even knowing somebody, requires a certain level of strength. The strength to believe you can, the strength to believe there is not gonna be any consequences, like they’re so unimportant nothing is gonna happen, even if they scream that they’re gonna let the whole world know about how terrible you are and blog about it and tweet about it, in knowing them means you don’t believe they can do anything to you, like they can’t really hurt you or harm you. So, it doesn’t matter if you know them, if you have a heart to heart conversation, if you, you know, have to kick their butt physically speaking and like in my context you will have to first try to understand where they are coming from and then you will have to meager with them, meet them at some level of strength. You can’t just collapse because somebody is pushing you, cause life is full of people that are pushing, right? And you should not be pushed in the direction you don’t want to. Think of that, that’s our PSA for today’s episode. We hope this was useful and helpful and please if there’s somebody in your life, especially business life, that’s kind or our expertise, if somebody in the business context is bullying you, doesn’t matter if it is an employee or coworker or co founder, an investor, a customer, a competitor you don’t know how to deal with it, send us an email,, [inaudible]no matter what is going on we’ll try our best to be your advisors, to be your corner, be your coaches and help you deal with that and get rid of that.


Hiten Shah: Yeap, happy to help. Let us