Bullying Part Three:
Recourse and Resolution
So what can be done to prevent bullying or avoid becoming a bully's target?
Educate yourself. A good place to start is with your hospital’s policies. As a general rule, most people, regardless of their profession, do not regularly read their organization's policies and procedures unless they have a specific question.
Policies regarding workplace violence and bullying tend to be broad in order to cover a wide variety of bullying behaviors. Our own policy clearly states that the given list of “unacceptable” behaviors is not inclusive. Your organization’s policy should guide your conduct and response in any bullying situation.
I believe it is fair to say that not everyone who has been subject to or who has witnessed an act of bullying will be compelled to report it. Many people have told me that unless there is a threat of physical violence or a display of aggression, they do not feel inclined to take action or intervene. I believe this is significant since the vast majority of bullying in the workplace tends to be passive-aggressive. Truthfully, how many people are going to report sarcasm or eye rolling?
One way to avoid becoming the target of a bully is to develop strong relationships within your work place. Bullies who might like to spread rumors about you or bring your competence into question will have a hard time doing so if you have a group of people that know, trust and believe in you.
Another way to deter a bully is to know your typical response or reactions to these behaviors. Are you easily frustrated, flattered, influenced, irritated or angered? I imagine that nothing makes a bully happier than when their target displays negative traits. Here is some good advice that I have ignored many times in the past much to my detriment: Best to think before you act or speak. When you lose your temper or make poor choices in response to a bully’s action, you risk losing any positive perception that others may have of you.
So the question remains: What should you do when bullying occurs? Well, that depends. What was the bullying action? What are the circumstances? Was the bullying an isolated event or unintentional? What do you want to do?
If the action is an isolated incident and out of character and you do not feel physically or professionally threatened, perhaps the offender is having a bad day. This is not to excuse the behavior, but rather to put it in perspective. Consider asking that person, at an appropriate time, if he or she is having a bad day. As tempted as you might be, do not allow yourself to respond in an angry, sarcastic or snarky way. You are trying to extinguish the bad behavior, not feed it. Chances are you will get an apology if you address the issue in a sincere, but direct manner.
Unintentional bullying happens more out of someone’s poor judgment rather than malicious intent. Teasing and sarcasm are prime examples. For many people this is their way of saying, "You are part of my group. I like you enough to treat you like a friend." Now do I feel bullied every time someone rolls their eyes at me? No, because I frequently say stupid things and I expect the eye rolling to occur among my family and select group of friends. I am not alone; look no further than to your prime time sitcoms. They are filled with people who love each other saying things to each other they would never say to strangers. I would suggest that if no harm is meant, that no offense should be taken. Rather take the opportunity to let the person know that while the intent may not be hurtful, the actions make you uncomfortable. If this is someone who did not mean you harm in the first place, it is doubtful they will continue these behaviors.
Okay, so let’s say the bullying action is not an isolated or unintentional event. There is no cure-all for every situation or person, but there are some basic strategies to consider. First off, share what is happening with your manager or one or two peers who are discreet and trustworthy and get their opinion. The last thing you want is word to get out to the bully that your cage has been rattled.
You are not alone if suddenly you freeze up verbally during such encounters. If that happens, a very simple solution is to turn your back and gracefully walk away from the bully. Do not show anger, tears or frustration. Your goal is to stop the action in its tracks and readdress the problem at a time when you are composed and in a better position to resolve the situation.
The most effective way to resolve the situation is to speak to the bully. If you do decide that you are going to talk with the bully about his or her behavior think about exactly what you want to say ahead of time and rehearse it. Rehearse it more than once. Repetition will at least guide your brain in the general direction you want to go.
This discussion should be done in a private area away from patients, visitors and other staff. Be respectful, professional, concise and put it in a way that gives the person the benefit of the doubt. Consider saying something like, “Perhaps you are not aware of it, but I am not comfortable with your comments or actions.” By phrasing it this way, the bully is less likely to feel cornered. You have given the person a way out. It does not matter if you believe that the person is aware or not aware. Your goal is to resolve the issue and stop the bullying. Your actions should be directed by that goal.
By simply addressing the situation you have put the bully on notice that you are not willing to tolerate the bad behavior. The fear that you might take the situation up the chain of command may deter further bullying on his or her part. Even if you resolve the situation you may want to let your manager or director know what transpired in case future incidents occur between this bully and yourself or someone else.
Unfortunately, there are many people that are not motivated to change their behavior unless that behavior results in negative consequences to themselves. If the bully’s response indicates that nothing is going to change or you are not comfortable speaking to the bully yourself you need to consider documenting your encounters and speaking with your manager, director or an Employee Relations Representative in your Human Resources Department. Organizations have trained professionals and a set of processes in place to address conflicts in a safe and fair manner. They are a valuable resource to be utilized.
If you are a witness to bullying, a very effective and supportive action is to stand beside the target and just give the bully a look that says, “Really?” Discuss the situation with the target and encourage them to take action.
If the bullying is of a physical nature or you feel physically threatened or feel it may escalate to that level, distance yourself from the bully immediately and speak with security or your supervisor as soon as possible. It is not in your best interest to try to resolve these types of situations on your own.
The nursing profession needs to send the message that you can be a nurse or you can be a bully, but you can’t be both. By doing so we strengthen our profession by creating a healthy environment where nurses thrive in the care they provide and are retained in a system that desperately needs them.
As always, your thoughtful and constructive comments are welcome. You are welcome to comment, just be thoughtful and constructive. You may want to review the previous posting before commenting.
If this is a topic that interests you there are plenty of journal articles to choose from as well as a vast amount of information on the internet. Below are links to several excellent articles on bullying and civility:
Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS, A Matter of Respect and Dignity: Bullying in the Nursing Profession, via Medscape Nurses can be found at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/729474
Cynthia M. Clark, PhD, RN; Sara M. Ahten, MSN, RN, Nurses: Resetting the Civility Conversation, via Medscape Nurses can be found at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/748104
Bullies engage in a variety of behaviors. Like bullies those behaviors may be overt and aggressive or they may be subtle and passive aggressive, depending on what torment the bully feels is best suited for their chosen target. In her article, A Matter of Respect and Dignity: Bullying in the Nursing Profession, Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS identifies... [More]
So let’s talk a little about bullying. We have all witnessed it, perpetrated it or been the victim of bullying at one time or another in our lives. Certainly bullying is not unique to nursing. Yet you never hear the phrase [More]