Why Do People Bully Me?
Bullying results in dire consequences for many nurses and other healthcare workers, including job loss, public humiliation, anxiety, depression, and shattered professional reputations. This article discusses the types of nurses that bullies frequently target and offers some 'bully-proofing' strategies.
Unfortunately, bullying is an unpleasant fact of working life for far too many employees in our society. And surveys have discovered that the two workplaces that suffer the most from bullying bosses are healthcare and education (Parsons, 2005). With more than 3.5 million members and counting, nurses comprise the largest category of healthcare workers in the United States.
Since nursing makes up the single largest group of healthcare professionals in this country, the profession has been negatively impacted by bullying. Countless nurses recount their personal tales of woe and workplace harassment, sometimes with pained facial expressions or tears in their eyes. Bullying has had ruinous consequences for some of these nurses, including job loss, public humiliation, anxiety, depression, and shattered professional reputations. Meanwhile, the bully often gets away with his or her antics due to insufficient proof or a lack of witnesses who are willing to corroborate the victim's side of the story.
Then again, a sizeable number of nurses have managed to avoid ever becoming the target of a bully's wrath during the course of their careers. This perceived divergence in nurses' personal experiences leads me to my next question.
Why do some people become victims of bullies in settings alongside coworkers who, seemingly, are never targeted? Regrettably, certain people become targets in the workplace while others are left untouched.
Who is the target of bullying in the workplace?
- The self-starter who is feisty and independent
- A person who is technically more skilled than the bully
- The target is more emotionally intelligent and socially adept than the bully; the target is well-liked
- The target is ethical and honest to a fault
- The target is not a confrontational person. He or she does not respond. Frankly, the target is stunned and bewildered. The target is convinced he or she can overcome this. It's all shame-based; the target feels shame. The target comes to believe he or she is incompetent. It's a disassembly of the target's personality.
SOURCE: Spicer, L. (February 3, 2007). Sticks and Stones. Civility in the Workplace. Retrieved from http://www.extension.iastate.edu
My next few words will be candid. Some would say that I am blaming the victim, but I am not. In fact, I have been the target of workplace bullying in previous years, but not anymore.
I have noticed repeatedly that workplace bullies pick on certain nurses while seemingly leaving their other coworkers alone. This is very troubling, but it is somewhat connected to the way in which people view you. If the bully sees you as a 'softie' or a person who will not stand up for yourself, you'll be targeted for harassment and verbal abuse initially. If, at the outset, you try to address the issue in a rational, subdued, non-confrontational manner and avoid a defensive response to the bullying, it's almost a guarantee that the bully will fly down like a vulture to harass you all the time. Also, if the target of the bullying continues to avoid sticking up for oneself, the bully will continue acting with hostility out in the open because the victim's lack of defense assures the offender they can get away with future attacks.
On the other hand, if people identify you as the nurse who will openly resist all attacks and not let anyone walk all over you, then bullies will quickly find easier targets. Workplace bullying is an offense related to an imbalance of power because the offenders seek the most opportune targets: nurses who are unlikely or unwilling to respond defensively to the harassment. Other than age differences, workplaces bullies are similar to schoolyard bullies who target their classmates because both types of perpetrators socially feel people out, test limits, and use this information to determine whom they can run over.
It is possible for nurses to 'bully-proof' themselves in the workplace, or at least minimize their chances of becoming a victim. Since bullies thrive on picking at non-confrontational people, one strategy is to become confrontational. In other words, directly confront the offender. Many bullies are cowards who will move on if given a piece of their own medicine. If they yell at you, yell back at them. If they become aggressive, throw some aggression back into their face. However, this strategy works only when the bully has just met you and begins to test your limits on how much abuse you'll tolerate, so let them know you won't put up with it. Remember that your first few interactions with a bully determine how he'll treat you in the future. Confrontation often fails when the bully has been messing with you for months or years because the stage has already been set.
Another strategy involves having coworkers who will back you because power comes in numbers. Many bullies are cowardly and like to strike when their targets are alone, so being in the presence of one of more colleagues sometimes eases the situation. Moreover, maintain a diary of bullying incidents with specific information such as dates, times, and descriptions of what was said or done by the bully. This diary may be useful if you must someday bring the issue to the attention of human resources or upper management.
Always remember that a nurse cannot be bullied unless he or she permits it. Good luck, be vigilant, and take care.
Parsons, L. (2005). Bullied Teacher - Bullied Student: How to Recognize the Bullying Culture in Your School and What to do About It. Ontario: Pembroke Publishers.Last edit by Joe V on Dec 8, '16
About TheCommuter, BSN, RN Senior Moderator
TheCommuter is a moderator of allnurses.com and has varied workplace experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for four years prior to becoming a registered nurse.
TheCommuter has '11' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych'. From 'Fort Worth, Texas, USA'; 36 Years Old; Joined Feb '05; Posts: 38,050; Likes: 69,007.Feb 26, '13Commuter, I'm sure you'll get some negative responses regarding yelling back, but as a gal who has been confronted with bullies, I agree.
Something else that works is humor. A bully can't stand to think you would find their actions humorous. Kinda spoils the high.
Once, when I was in high school, I was approached by a gal of another ethnicity than me. I had never noticed her before, but apparently, we were in the same very large class together.
I was leaving this class and was in the hall, when this gal marched up to me, called me a racial slur and informed me that she didn't like the way I had looked at her in class and that she and her friends (!) were "gonna kick your ______ after school!"
I was livid! I am a quiet person but I called her bluff, threw my books down, looked her in the eye and yelled, "Let's go now!"
lol... I couldn't fight my way out of a wet paper bag
Her eyes got big and she actually put her hands up as she backed away and stated, "Ooooh... you crazy! You crazy!"
Never heard another peep! It was that easy.
I learned that my quietness is misconstrued as an easy target.
Fortunately, I know I have to call someone's bluff and while I have never had to do something so extreme again (okay... there was one other time that I won't get into) I make sure I stand up straight and look people in the eye... they don't like that either.
I keep my voice low and even.
Targets do have control but they have to shove steel down their spines to exercise it.
As for bullies, they will always look for feed for their beast... your only defense is to never provide the food.
Another great article, Commuter!Feb 26, '13Great advice! My younger sister is currently the target of a bully, and she is exactly the type of person described here. Management observed her work ethic and offered her a position, which she readily accepted, then the bullying began. Funny, the individual bullying her was a supposed friend who, based on my sister's description, fits the bully description in this article as well. Sent his article to her.Feb 26, '13Who is the target of bullying in the workplace?
• The self-starter who is feisty and independent
• A person who is technically more skilled than the bully
• The target is more emotionally intelligent and socially adept than the bully; the target is well-liked
• The target is ethical and honest to a fault
• The target is not a confrontational person. He or she does not respond. Frankly, the target is stunned and bewildered. The target is convinced he or she can overcome this. It’s all shame-based; the target feels shame. The target comes to believe he or she is incompetent. It’s a disassembly of the target’s personality.
Interesting. I have a lot of knowledge and experience in home care and I felt bullied by my last 2 employers. I didn't think it made sense. Why bully someone who does good work, is well-liked, offers suggestions, etc. After reading this article, that's exactly why!
Feb 26, '13Great Article! When I was a brand spankin new grad in the ICU I was bullied by a seasoned nurse. This nurse was very smart, experienced and could take care of a fresh open heart patient with her eyes closed. I envied her expertise but disliked her personality. Well, one day she and her friend decided to bully me in the break room. She was yelling, cursing, and demanding things of me. Well, I sat there and when she was done I told her in a very stern tone that I was not going to do what she demanded just because she thinks I should. We went toe to toe. I later apologized to her, not because I was wrong but because I was smart to know that I needed her more than she needed me at the time. I didn't like her, however when my patient is crashing I need her knowledge and help.
Great advice commuter, I will continue to keep your advice in my head.Feb 26, '13I fit the first three descriptions in the article. Couple that with being 21 with a baby face and I was often targeted my first few years as a nurse. I am also a warm and fuzzy give everyone a flower type and that was often misread. I choose to get along with my coworkers but stretching my five foot eleven frame up nice and tall with a blank semi-psychotic stare has worked 100% of the time with wannabe bullies from housekeepers to physicians. The second they realize your kindness is not weakness they move on. Great article.Feb 26, '13I LOVE your advice. It couldn't be truer and it comes from observing people.
The worst thing someone being bullied can do is to try to make peace with the bully. It's impossible. And it's sad because that's usually exactly what the victim wants is peace. The best thing is to give it right back to them. Even if it's your boss or your boss's boss. It doesn't matter.
Homie don't play dat!
Where I work we've got a couple nurses on day shift that give us night shifters the hardest time during morning report. It doesn't matter how lined up you have your stuff, they will ALWAYS find like 5 things to point out that you did wrong or to question you on. It used to bother me when I would go home because it would make me think I actually did somethings wrong or poorly, which wasn't true. Now I just say screw 'em!
Nursing will toughen you up that's for sure.Feb 26, '13Awesome article, this is super helpful. It is horrible that people act this way after grade school, but alas, they do. It is a sad life when they can only get satisfaction from bringing others down.
It seems like they often do it because they want to stay the well liked person, and another well liked/ hard working person can just not be in the same place so they berate you hoping to bring themselves up.Feb 26, '13OP, The Commuter, you are doing a service to remind us all, every few years, about the issue. Three years ago on April 21, 2110, asdjkl posted, "I've been bullied all my life, and it continues... There were many helpful replies.Last edit by multi10 on Feb 26, '13Feb 26, '13Quote from MullyI totally agree. Think of the bully as a stray mutt, and imagine that the victim is a house-trained golden retriever. If the stray mutt barks, the golden retriever must bark back, get into the mutt's physical space, and assert its presence. If the golden retriever fails to confront, its life will be miserable.The worst thing someone being bullied can do is to try to make peace with the bully. It's impossible. And it's sad because that's usually exactly what the victim wants is peace. The best thing is to give it right back to them.
As sophisticated as bullies might seem, they're really operating on a rudimentary level.Feb 26, '13Great article. People attempt to bully me. I am a float nurse and I'm super quiet. I usually don't know anyone and I'm not outgoing so I don't talk to the other staff unless it's work related. So a lot of times people take this as an opportunity to try to belittle me. There are some nurses who will ask me a ton of questions and stuff that I don't feel is important I tell them to look it up themselves after report is over. Every single time I've said this I get a mouth drop from the other nurse and all the stupid questions stop. I'm quiet but don't mistake this for weakness.
I'll never forget one time I was floated to a gyn floor and I had never worked there before. This one nurse started rattling off all these abbreviations. I didn't know any of it. I asked her what were all those abbreviations? She yells to the charge nurse that she is not giving report to this so called float nurse because I didn't know anything. The charge nurse comes over and I interrupted and said all I asked were the meaning of all those abbreviations. The staff nurse said sarcastically what nursing school did you go to? I said which one, graduated with a with a 3.8 and passed NCLEX with 75 questions in 44 minutes the first time. I said what if I gave you report using this.... I started rattling off a bunch of chemo abbreviations and drugs, radiation oncology abbreviations, threw in some vent settings and a couple other things and asked her what did I just say? She started turning bright red. The charge nurse smirked and told her to give me report sans all the abbreviations and that I'm more than capable of taking care of the patients in my assignment. The other staff congratulated me later on in the shift because they didn't like her and she always bullied new people.
Sent from my iPhone using allnurses.comFeb 26, '13I have been bullied in the past due to my religious convictions, one is I wear a skirt instead of scrub pants. I get the third degree from people on how I should be cold and uncomfortable. It is almost to the point of harassment. If I was a Muslim and wearing Burka nothing is said, but a Christian woman wearing a modest scrub skirt, gets put down. It is ridiculous.Feb 26, '13Excellent article. I've learned in my 30+ years of life to deal with bullying-type behavior; whether it be my name, my personality, etc. I go with the flow; however, I don't take any foolishness, and I make that known!!!
My nursing program also had "scripts" to use when we "go out to the Nursing Real World".
I think about it like this: We have to advocate for I pts...so I have to start somewhere-ME!
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