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An RAF Airman's Blog

Zen, and the art of delivering a “bollocking”…

I’ve just had to give a bollocking.

To all civilians and other aliens a “bollocking”  is a telling off, shouting at, re-education, a one-way conversation, or even a “counselling session” when a miscreant, in some way, gets told the error of his/her ways.

I don’t enjoy it. It’s not fun, but it’s part of being in the military.

In this case – yet again – it was about the Block and an individual who lived in a room there who has ignored requests, pleas and even direct orders to get some spare keys cut to his room.  We have asked for over a year for him to provide his key to get a spare cut (so if he loses his key, he can still get into his room – so it’s in his interest to do so) but he has just ignored us.

So today things came to a head, and I had to re-educate him as to the error of his ways.

Like I said, it’s not fun, but there is an art to a good “bollocking”. When you’ve been on the receiving end of one, you know you have done wrong, but you also know why you have done something wrong and what is expected of you in the future. The art is (a) having a plan about what you are going to say – a plan of attack almost, (b) giving the individual enough rope to hang themselves and most importantly (c) not getting angry.

For the plan, you need to have a killer line that will knock the individual off his feet and put him onto the defensive. People approach a situation like this with their own plan – and like all conflicts the main aim is to make the other person respond to you – whoever wins this will win the “war”. So if you have to deliver a “bollocking” then you need to have an opening line that the individual won’t expect. To make them lose their train of thought and not be able to come in with excuses or other reasons that will mean that the power of your position has been eroded.

This might sound a bit like bullying – but it’s not. It’s just a bit of headology – to knock the person off track and to make sure YOU, as the person in charge is just that – in charge.

A good way of doing this is to ask an odd question – something like “What makes you so special?” It’s strange enough to knock the miscreant off any track that they might have planned for themselves, and will either confuse them enough to allow you to take the upper hand – or else will lead onto (b) giving enough rope to hang themselves (but more of that later).

In your plan you need to have an idea of what you are going to say, and what you want out of the situation – either that the other is to do something, or to know that they have screwed-up, but there needs to be a clear reason for the conversation and a clear outcome from it.  It’s no good just shouting at someone – they need to know what they have done wrong and what you expect from them in the future.

This then leads on to the last part of the plan – the “out”. How do you want the bollocking to end? How will the person leave the room? What will you say? How will you both know when the “meeting” is over? It needs to be quite clear and succinct obvious that the person being re-educated needs to now leave and that any conversation is now over.

With regards to (b) – giving enough rope – you need to ask a question that the person will answer in such a way to make it worse for them. At the end of the day you have called them in because they have done something wrong, broken a rule or clearly disobeyed an order. In the case of this individual this morning – he’d had over a year to sort himself out and so really had no leg to stand on. Any excuse he may have had would have been just that – an excuse and not a reason. He had not been bothered to sort himself out and in the end had ignored a direct order.  He had crossed the line and had no “excuse” other than his own laziness. In this case his excuses had no argument in fact – they were all weak and we both knew they were…and so when faced with the question “Why haven’t you provided your key to get another cut over the past year?” he had no reply to it. He was literally speechless.

Which then allowed me to go to the next phase in the plan. What I wanted from him. I told him what he was to do – and most importantly the reasoning behind it. Here he has to go down town and get a key cut at his own expense. He’d had plenty of time to do so at no cost to himself in the past, but now…well that particular horse has bolted and he has to pay for the key himself. If he’d had been bothered to get himself in gear before he would have saved himself some cash…aww well.

From here, I moved on to the end. Which was a simple one. We’d both had enough of the “discussion” and I wanted him to leave, so I put the final part of the plan (and included item (c) – not getting angry) into play.  Here I told him the conversation (such as it was – it’s never a conversation, remember you are in charge and the miscreant only speaks when you let him) was over and that I was going to close my eyes and count to 5 and that when I opened my eyes after that he’d better not be there…I knew by the count of 3 he’d have been out of the room…and he was!

You see there is no point being angry. If you are angry you are firing from emotion and not fact. In a good bollocking you need to be shooting from fact only. Anger is the enemy of someone giving a bollocking and it means that you are on the back foot. You need to be measured, controlled and in charge. If you are angry, you are not in charge – the anger is.

There is something I have missed out so far. And it is the KEY to a good bollocking. It’s a bit of humour. It’s difficult for the SAC I told off this morning to see the humour right now, but later, he might notice that some of the thing I put in were just a little bit funny – and I know they were as my Chief was sitting in the room listening to the bollocking too (it’s always good to have a witness to a bollocking – just in case!), and I could see out of the corner of my eye this morning him putting his head down so he wouldn’t show he was laughing at what was being said…not least this morning the SAC had called the integrity of the Chief into question, saying that he’d received conflicting information from him – trying to divert some of the blame – but I shot the lad down very quickly…with a humourous line about the Chief NEVER saying anything conflicting!

It’s not easy to deliver a good bollocking. And it takes some time to learn, and I learnt from the very best in the business – my old Flight Sergeant back at Cosford who was – and I am sure still is an absolute master at it.  He was a delight to watch.  Embodying all the above guidelines and doing it with such aplomb as it was wonderful to watch. My Chief was impressed with what I did this morning, but he’d have been amazed to have seen my old FS do it…I am not in the same league n any way as he is.  He truly understands how to deliver a good bollocking…and how to do so with directness, control and humour.


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3 thoughts on “Zen, and the art of delivering a “bollocking”…

  1. Ah it’s good to see that nothing much has changed. I found in my time, in the RAF that mostly everyone rubbed along just fine ( save the occasional total idiot who could not be saved or save themselves from military discipline). But that said, if ever an occasion presented itself for a good old one sided talking to, it was more often caused by events in a barrack block.
    There were too many to document in a blog comment, but most were along the same lines as mentioned above by RAF airman. The individual had more than enough rope to hang them self with and (excuse the pun) had more than often “jumped” at the chance to do so,having been given numerous occasions to step back from the brink. In reflection though, most of those presented with such talking to’s would in future years have learned from such an experience,progressed up the promotion ladder and be then themselves the ones handing out such talking to’s!

  2. so what I’d like to know is, did he get the key cut?!

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