There may be a few people reading this who have never experienced bullying. But, I'm pretty sure every organization of every type, has had to address the subject on some level. Just read or watch the news and you'll see where victims of bullying act out as a last resort, sometimes, resulting in extreme cases of violence.
As a nation, we had to fight to get where we are today, and we still employ the willingness to fight to stay there. Fighting is not new. However, in the workplace, it has apparently become so prevalent that policies have, and are being developed to deal with this issue. As a nurse, I've heard the phrase "eating our young" in so many leadership classes that it almost feels superfluous. I've been a nurse for 27 years and I ask myself 'how are we changing and growing as a profession if we're still discussing the same issues?' We identify it as an issue, but are we any closer to dealing with it? Does bullying play any part in job satisfaction or employee turnover? Do we owe it to our profession to look at these questions closer?
I would like to direct myself today in a slightly different direction...instead of looking at how to stop it; I want to simply try to understand what it is.
Can a person think they are always right? Do adults have bad moments and have adult temper tantrums? Does having a difficult personal situation cause someone to act out? I think the answer to all of these is quite simply, yes. But does feeling your always right, or having a bad day, or an occasional crying spell at work make you a bully? No.
I have worked with many people who thought they were always right. Some of those people were very eloquent at explaining themselves, and I respect them for taking the time to explain. Does that make them a bully, no? In the ever-growing field of healthcare, change is inevitable. We all get frustrated at times, and we try to navigate the safest and most effective options for our clients. This frustration sometimes bleeds into their interactions with one another. Does that make them a bully, no? A quick I'm sorry or 'I get it' has fixed those hurt feelings easily. I myself have shed tears at work as I have a mother with Alzheimer's Disease. There have been times where the drive was too short from home to work, or my mom hadn't eaten for days without choking, that triggered those feelings of sadness, loss, and feeling overwhelmed. I'm fortunate because these are the moments my coworkers are my family and take care of me by offering me a hug, allowing me a crying spell in the bathroom, or just listening for a few minutes as I vent. Does that make me a bully, I certainly hope not.
So what is a bully?
Bully: a cruel and brutal fellow; be bossy towards; discourage or frighten with threats or a domineering manner; intimidate.
I see the key words here being cruel and intimidating. Because bossy, really, I can live with; bossy: offensively self-assured or given to exercising usually unwarranted power. A person can easily be bossy without being a bully, it may be aggravating to deal with that on a daily basis but it is not something I personally would go home upset about. But cruel: able or disposed to inflict pain or suffering; and intimidate: to compel or deter if by threats. Wow! Those are powerful words! What drives a person to want to inflict pain or suffering in a threatening manner? Like seriously, who does that? And can you tell in an interview that they're like that? Or, if they're not 'like' that then, how do they become that? If we identify them, is there a potential to get them into classes about appropriate interactions and dealings with people. I think we need to recognize that there are people with great skill sets and poor people skills. How do we appropriately verbalize our concerns, or report bullying to a manager without coming across too 'soft' or too 'sensitive'?
One time, I witnessed a coworker call another coworker an idiot, in a group, in a mental health facility, in front of patients. Talk about cruel, it totally undermined this persons authority as a healer. I have personally experienced bullying in my past, by a leader. As a leader, she was put in a position by our direct supervisor to mentor me and guide me. All of which she did none of! Actually, she did the opposite, she would set me up for failure, not speak to me, and physically separate me from the person I was to be directly shadowing. And when I did speak to my manager about it, my concerns were dismissed, saying I wasn't there long enough to have any "concerns". I quit that job.
We've all read the research articles in our professional nursing journals stating being a victim of bullying can lead to depression, job dissatisfaction, psychosomatic and psychological concerns. When are we going to change our thinking from defensive to offensive? What can we do to foster a more supportive and nurturing environment for victims to speak up? As a profession, I feel we need to rethink how we deal with bullying. I feel we need to cast a wider net, not just look at how to handle the end result, but also how to identify it, how to report it, and most importantly, how to support its victims. We need our playgrounds back.