How To Spot a Workplace Bully, Part Two

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    Having the correct diagnosis for a workplace problem helps with finding the right solution. Labeling every conflict as bullying can lead to disciplinary overkill or its flip-side, a devaluation of the actual cases. At the same time, applying typical problem-solving and conflict resolution tools can put the target in harm's way. How then, do you identify a bully in the workplace?

    How To Spot a Workplace Bully, Part Two

    The protracted tension a bully creates takes a physical toll. Adrenalin ramps up. Muscles tighten. The mind races long after the shift ends. The longer a targeted employee is exposed to abuse, the more likely they are to suffer at least one disorder from a laundry list of medical maladies--digestive tract ailments; sleep disturbances; neck, shoulder and back strains; cardiac complaints; memory problems; migraines. The illnesses are genuine, but the usual treatments may give only temporary or partial relief until the underlying work situation is remedied. Here's the real kicker--absences resulting from the bullying behavior now give the bully a visible and measurable excuse to discredit, demote or dispatch the victim entirely.

    The bully's primary goal is to undermine and deactivate someone they perceive as a credible threat. They employ tactics that are sneaky, manipulative, and deliberately frustrating. They may take credit for the target's ideas and efforts, pretend ignorance about agreements reached or promises made, berate the target publicly (or privately, without their knowledge until word gets back to them), and try to convince the victim that any problems are due to their own misunderstanding, misinterpretation or incompetence.

    Bully: "Sue, I called you in here to remind you about the big Shared Governance meeting next week and go over the list of things our unit wants addressed.

    Target: "But, you gave me next week as vacation time three months ago."

    Bully: Well, yes, but that was with the understanding that you'd be available if I needed you. You're one of my most valuable staff members, and I need you to go to this meeting. Just run in for the two hours and you can be on your way. No big deal."

    Target: It is a big deal. I never said I'd be "available" during my vacation week. I wouldn't have agreed to that. I'm going to be in Cancun on Tuesday. Can't one of the other committee leaders go?"

    Bully: "I suppose I'll have to get someone else. But I'll also have to factor this uncooperative behavior into your yearly eval next month."


    Target:"Roberta, you talked at the unit meeting about your new project to get the families more involved in the diabetic patient's meal planning. That was my idea! I gave you six pages of information and resources and asked if you wanted to work with me on it. Remember?"

    Bully:"What I remember is that you gave me some vague notes that I could barely read. I had to spend hours and hours deciphering your scatter-brained proposal [untrue] and adapting it to our unit. I'm calling it my project because, after all of the time I spent working through that mess, it is my project."

    Target:"But what you presented today was almost word-for-word what was in my proposal. That proves there was nothing wrong with what I gave you. You can't just take my idea and say it's yours."

    Bully:"And you can't make accusations just because you didn't get all the attention you hoped for. Don't worry yourself about this anymore. I was going to suggest to Nancy that she make you head of the committee that would come up with some sample forms and scripting, but you don't have to worry about that now. In fact, you'd probably be better off just keeping your eyes on your regular work. I heard that Nancy's been getting complaints from your patients lately. "

    "Complaints? What kind of complaints?"

    "Nothing specific. Just that you don't act like you enjoy your job very much. And you seem preoccupied. Maybe you've been thinking too much about this plan of yours, trying to be a hero, when what you really need to do is focus more on your patients."


    Contrary to popular opinion, although a target may be inexperienced or or in some other way vulnerable, many times it's the capable, confident person--someone who is highly skilled and well liked--who unintentionally fans the flames of insecurity and brings out the worst in a bully. These victims are shocked. Their evaluations have been consistently good. No patient or client has complained. They've even been precepting or mentoring new people Then--bang!--they're written up on flimsy charges (and informed they're now on thin ice). Every action they take is scrutinized for the smallest error. They feel like their own words are twisted against them. And the progression tracks swiftly downhill from there.

    What happened? Most likely, the target got too good for the bully's comfort.

    Continued in How to Spot a Workplace Bully, Part Three
    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 14, '18
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  3. by   VivaLasViejas
    Sounds a LOT like what happened to me at my last hospital job. There was an assistant department manager who took a dislike to me way back when I'd worked there as a CNA, and both times I worked there as an RN she found ways to make life difficult for me. The bullying was subtle at first---she'd always find a reason to call me into her office and chew on me for one minor mistake or another that never seemed to be as big a problem when other nurses committed them---and then it grew steadily worse over the last year of my third (and last) employment period.

    Not coincidentally, I experienced a series of health problems during that period, but never thought it had anything to do with what I was going through at work until the day I came on shift and this manager jumped down my throat, accusing me of not signing out a syringe of Demerol. I hadn't even gotten my patient assignment, let alone the narc keys, so I wasn't particularly worried about it until the nurse who actually had taken it out of the drawer rushed into the nurses' station, 'fessed up, and signed out the drug......and I saw the look on that manager's face.

    It was a look of pure disappointment and anger. She was actually visibly UPSET at being unable to pin a missing narcotic on me, upset through and through that I wasn't guilty of anything but coming to work at the normal time and waiting for report. I knew then and then that my days at that hospital were numbered, and shortly thereafter I suffered what I believe now was a nervous breakdown, and left my job nine days before Christmas. I remember being called into the CNO's office that morning to discuss the series of accusations, verbal warnings, and assorted charges the manager had leveled against me over the previous months, and suddenly I knew that I could not step out on that floor again. Ever.

    I learned my lesson, though. I have never allowed anyone to treat me that way since, and a couple of years later, I left a lucrative position after only three months because I refuse to be bullied again for any reason. I can handle bosses who are abrupt or demanding; but life's too short to endure those who set employees up to fail and actively try to ruin careers, just because they can.

    Please keep these articles coming, Miranda; they provide crucial information to those who may not even be aware they are being bullied, as well as excellent examples of what bullying is and isn't. Thank you!
  4. by   rn/writer
    I recall some of the garbage you've gone through over the years, Marla. I wouldn't have made the connection back then either.

    What's so dirty about this kind of "combat" is that bullies sometimes try to turn things around and say your stress level and your health problems are causing you to mess up on the job, when just the reverse is true. Their constant needling and twisting and scrutinizing and fault finding are contributing heavily to your ill health and stress.

    I hope the difference between crabby or inept bosses and co-workers is becoming clearer with these articles. The ill-tempered lash out across the board. The incapable mismanage all kinds of things. They're frustrating to deal with, but they aren't malicious like bullies are. Bullies focus on an individual or small group and act like a mean kid frying ants with a magnifying glass. Once you're in their lens, you feel the heat.
    Last edit by rn/writer on Oct 13, '11
  5. by   massrn116
    I have been a nurse a lot of years. I opposed my former peer becoming our nurse manager. It has been about 4 years she has been in the position. Most recently she is forming her "inner circle." It is composed of nurses that she deems "worthy" of the charge role, preceptors, committee members etc. Then there is the "middle circle" nurses that will just go along with things though they know there is favoritism and just sit back and take it. I am one of maybe five outcasts. I do not go out of my way to cause trouble but I do tend to speak up. What I have found is that I am not able to express myself as freely as my peers about every day nursing frustrations because then I am called into the "principals office" I am not allowed to have a bad day, it becomes a personal issue with the charge nurse or nurse manager and another reason to find fault with me. Although I see many worse behaviours in my peers that never get "noticed." It bothers me but I also don't sit back and take it. I call my manager on it and remind her of our past and the fact that she may simply not like me.
  6. by   kcmylorn
    Really good article- I too have been in the eye of the storm. I keep examinig myself and wondering and evaluating my self to see what I did to cause such rath. This article kind of sets it straight. I am very competent at my job. I have found myself in new roles frequently these past 4 years. If I am in a position long enough- I suddenly find the newbies coming to me the older newbie for advisement- judgemnt calls. I don't know what I do that makes this happen but it does. I then find, and currently find myself in pea soup all of a sudden with the manager. This particular manager comes to me about spelling errors, moved my office so frequently I stated in jest I was just going to pile my stuff in the office chair with wheels and roll around the clinic, just tell me where and which day.(found out recently they did this to an old nurse w/30 some yrs there to get rid of her) My manager comes to work looking like a NYC doll- complete w/ dangly earrings and hair a flowing half way down her back- at 49 yr old. She does lots of door slamming, the ditzy dingbat routine- crazy like a fox, manipularive and butt kissing to the higher ups. She doesn't strike me as being too knowledgeable, told me one day- "not to tell people what I know(she meant knowledge not insider infor)". If she doesn't want to give an answer to something, out comes the ding dong routine. She's very aggressive, in your face in her manner the type that makes you want to ask her - where's the AK-47 and to step back to regain you 3 ft of personal space. She is not very well liked but she flits around like a social butterfly, never can find her in the office when you need her. I learned not to need her. Perhaps that where the "bully goes wrong" The more independent we become, the more we get bullied.
  7. by   massrn116
    I too am one that many staff turn to for answers and that why??
  8. by   Rodoon
    I've always felt there should be term limits on Nurse Managers. (Im aware this is a minority opinion). The ones doing it over eight years get tired of intervention to put it bluntly. I've been amazed at them complaining about their back to back meetings while there is poor staffing and low morale on their units. Managing hordes of people is hard and draining work, because let's face it people let you down. So some throw in the towel feeling unappreciated, but they can't see the bugaboo they've created by becoming mediocre and tuning out.

    Bad NMs, or should I say those that have unhappy nurses working for them, rely on savvy NMs that keep their slots filled to keep their units afloat. And, let's face it we all know the name of those units in our hospitals. I say savvy NMs need to clean house among their own or support staff evaluation of Management. Something needs to change. RN's should never feel like they're walking into a high school locker room when they come to work.
  9. by   netglow
    rn/writer you sure have a target right on the forehead of the typical psycho.

    You really have to be rough with someone like that. You have to be prepared to strip them naked in public. You really do. You have to point out what EPIC failures they are in front of the world, because this is what they fear most.

    Yes you are being very cruel. And they will accuse you of being so in effort of some kind of defense. You just stand tall, look them in the eye and say nothing in response.
  10. by   elprup
    Our clinic has not had a nurse manager or medical director for many many months. It has been horrible and getting so bad that all of us are taking stress leaves. I believe we are experiencing bullying from administrative director who fails to do anything about anything. Thank you for this information.
  11. by   rn/writer
    Quote from elprup
    Our clinic has not had a nurse manager or medical director for many many months. It has been horrible and getting so bad that all of us are taking stress leaves. I believe we are experiencing bullying from administrative director who fails to do anything about anything. Thank you for this information.
    I'm sorry you're being given such a hard time.

    If all of you are feeling the stress this person dishes out, though, it may not be actual bullying (which is usually directed at an individual with the goal of discrediting them or getting them to quit). This sounds more like a case of extremely poor management that might use some bullying tactics. Rather than targeting an individual, the director is treating all of you badly because he or she is a poor manager. The goal, then, wouldn't be to get you guys to leave, but to have you solve all of the problems a nurse manager or medical director would normally handle and stop demanding that the admin act like an adult.

    I'm sure it feels equally bad to someone in the trenches. The only reason the distinction matters is that the remedies are different. Where a bully singles out an individual, this person is browbeating all of you. There can be strength in numbers. If you all threaten to quit, you might have some leverage. I'm not suggesting you do that--you'd really have to weigh all of your options and count the cost of each one--but at least you have some solidarity with your co-workers because you're all under the gun.

    I would suggest that you come together as a group and make a list of your complaints and the way the current situation is actually harming the company. Draft some ideas about possible solutions and mull it over. Do this away from the workplace so you can feel free to discuss things openly. When you are all on board with a particular plan, approach the administrative director, and if he/she won't budge,, take it to his/her boss.

    I wouldn't do any of this lightly, but it sounds like your group will have to do something soon or you'll all be jumping ship. You have to hope that there's someone with a brain to take out and play with at a level in the company that can make some changes that will help turn things around.

    Let me know what happens.
  12. by   sweetnurse63
    Wow, this sounds exactly like what I am going through now. I happen to be an RN and the head huncho nurse who is an LPN has been at this facility for over twenty years have been talking about me behind my back so much that I no longer want to work there. I received a great evaluation from my supervisor and I do my work to the best of my ability, but there is always something to complain about. The atmosphere is so negative, nurses calling other nurses dumb and stupid, always trying to put another nurse under the bus and enjoy it when they are written up. There is no team work. The pay is good but it is not worth the mental stress that I am going through right now. I work night shift and for some reason this particular nurse that is bullying me, must think that night shift nurses do nothing but it is so far from the truth especially when you work long term care/ rehabilitation and have 38 or more patients with only two gna's. There are high fall risk patients as well as pain management pts and a ton of charting, med pass and much more and I am the only nurse. I seldomly take a lunch break and I usually work my whole 8 hrs without even a cup of coffee most of the time. What really burns me up is that we have a locked medication room and only nurses have the keys. Why is it that morning and evening nurses will not put away any medications but they always leave it for night shift nurses to do, it can be a bottle of lactulos or tylenol and they will always leave every thing to night shift, all catherizations and anything else they can think of. Oh, and when I don't get a chance to do everything in my 8 hrs, I am reported to ADON or DON. I have never heard of such a thing when nursing is 24 hrs and by the way, most of the time when am shift arrives every thing is usually done right down to having the med carts clean and stocked. I am soooo ready to look for another job.
  13. by   rn/writer
    Sorry you're going through such a hard time. Keep a log of your experiences--times, dates, what was dumped on you, anything else that you'd like to be able to recall if and when the you-know-what hits the fan. Meanwhile, look for a better job. There are good places out there.
  14. by   sweetnurse63
    Quote from rn/writer
    Sorry you're going through such a hard time. Keep a log of your experiences--times, dates, what was dumped on you, anything else that you'd like to be able to recall if and when the you-know-what hits the fan. Meanwhile, look for a better job. There are good places out there.

    Thanks rn/writer for your encouragement.