Bullying Part Two:

How to Alienate Peers and Lose Respect

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 fourteen bullying behaviors.  I have taken the liberty of sorting those behaviors into three groups, aggressive, passive aggressive and a middle category that can be either depending on how the behavior is played out.

So let’s start with the overt and aggressive.


1. Physical or verbal abuse or innuendo.   It does not get much clearer than physical or verbal abuse when it comes to bullying.  But make no mistake; innuendo can be even more devastating than a physical blow. Wounds heal and bruises fade but an attack to someone’s character can destroy lives and careers. 


2.  Raising one’s voice, shouting at or humiliating someone.  If the bully wants their words to hurt more the added volume and public display is their version of rubbing salt into the wound.   


3.  Unwarranted or invalid criticism, excessively monitoring another’s work.  The bully may say they are just trying to help and offer advice.  In reality they are being intrusive.  Bottom line the bully’s intent is to provoke and put their target on the defensive.


4.     Blaming someone without factual justification.  To put it simply this is lying.  As with innuendo this is an attack on someone’s character and possibly their competence.     


5.  Gossiping, spreading rumors, assigning denigrating nicknames.  Arguably this is the most prevalent overt bullying behavior.  And chances are most of us have participated in gossiping at one time or another by simply keeping our mouth shut and listening.  The next time you hear someone putting a nasty spin on someone shut it down by changing the topic of conversation.  Try this, “By the way, did you read that blog entry on bullying?” 


Bully’s choice in how to play: aggressive or passive aggressive?


1. Asking inappropriate and/or excessive questions about personal matters or teasing about personal issues.  We are not talking about an innocent faux pas that a person apologizes for and backs off.  This is not about a friendly exchange of information and bonding.  This is about the bully creating another level of discomfort.


2.  Publicly making derogatory comments about staff members or their work, including use of body language (eye rolling, dismissive behavior), sarcasm, ridicule; making someone the target of practical jokes.  Recognizing that derogatory comments constitute bullying is simple.  Body language and sarcasm can be much more subjective depending on the time, place and context.  If you think what you have to say may be misinterpreted better to keep your mouth shut and your eyes steady.


3. Taking credit for another person’s work without acknowledging his or her contribution or blocking career pathways and other work opportunities.  Put simply this is stealing, cheating and un-sportsman like conduct.


The most pervasive bullying behavior would be classified as being passive aggressive in nature.  It is so simple that even the most inept of bullies can master the actions or inactions required. 

1.  Refusing to speak to a colleague, being curt, giving the “silent treatment”, or withholding information (setting someone up to fail).  This behavior will often play on the targets insecurities, making them wonder just what they may have done to offend the bully.  Of course in cases of bullying they have done nothing to warrant the passive aggressive actions.  The withholding of information in the healthcare setting can also have ramifications beyond the bully and target if that information is linked to patient care. 

2.  Treating someone differently from the rest of the group, social isolation.  Here the bully is not just working on one target but also intimidating the rest of the group to follow suit in the act of isolation.  This is a perfect opportunity to display character and compassion by refusing to march to the beat of a drummer that no one wants to hear.

 3.  Being condescending or patronizing.  This is a classic tactic used by smug, arrogant bullies to make their target feel stupid and inferior. 

4.  Inappropriately exempting staff from responsibilities or assigning low-skilled work.  This is the bully’s craven way of indicating to you and your peers that you are stupid or incompetent without having to ever utter a word.


5.  Allocating unrealistic workloads and not supporting a colleague.  This is a simple tactic of setting someone up for failure.  To the unfocused observer it may appear that the bully’s target is incompetent or incapable of meeting the job requirements.


6.  Impatience with questions and refusal to answer questions.  An efficient bully favorite, this multitasking behavior that can put someone on the defensive, set them up for failure and isolate them all at the same time.

According to Cheryl Dellasega, PhD, CRNP, author of When Nurses Hurt Nurses: Recognizing and Overcoming the Cycle of Bullying, bullying is often unintentional.  So think about these behaviors, reflect on your own behavior and imagine how sometimes our actions carry a message and meaning that we do not intend.

In the third and final installment we will examine intentional and unintentional bullying behaviors and strategies and actions to take if bullying does occur.   

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.

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