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Bullying dynamics


Incidents of workplace bullying are on the rise, so what can be done about it?

As incidents of workplace bullying increase across hospitals and wards in the UK, it is likely that, at some stage, a member of your nursing staff will be targeted, leaving them feeling both isolated and pressured.

At the heart of any workplace bullying relationship is the bullying dynamic: the patterns of behaviour that are set up between the bully and their target, which keep the bully in charge of the interactions between the two of them and keep your staff member on the back foot. Workplace bullies want a combination of the target’s fear and their aggression to keep them in control. The dynamic they want to create is about:

  • The intimidating behaviour they favour when in the presence of their target.
  • How the target reacts outwardly to that hostility at the time of the attack.
  • The patterns of behaviour that become the norm between them during the period of that campaign.

The bully wants their target to:

  • Feel intimidated and anxious.
  • Decide not to fight back because they are too afraid or don’t know how to do so.
  • Outwardly comply with what the bully wants - even if they are inwardly hurt or angry - so the bully remains in control.

Consider the manager who walks up to the nurses’ station, stands in front of the desk with his fists clenched and glares at the duty nurse in silent contempt while she sits paralysed and silent. Consider the ward sister who whispers in the ear of the person sitting or standing next to her every time her target enters the room, while keeping her eyes firmly on that target to show that she is speaking ill of him - which may or may not actually be the case.

In both of these situations, the target is unable to find anything to say, and doesn’t know what to do, to alter the dynamic that evolves between them and their assailant. This makes it straightforward for the bully to continue to target these colleagues, because there are no consequences for the bully to deal with at the time of the attack.

Staff members who are vulnerable to bullying need to learn to send back a clear message to a would-be bully that they know how to protect themselves and will not be easy to target. The key to doing this is effectively is the realisation that they have more influence in the interaction than they think.

Even though the bully is unlikely to let them know it, their refusal to use compliant and passive behaviour, and their choice to remain actively involved in the interaction with the bully, will alter the bullying dynamic in their favour to some extent during that encounter.

● This is the second of six articles in a series on bullying behaviour in the workplace. Subsequent articles will explore grooming, passive and active aggression, upwards bullying, and how to handle bullying behaviour effectively at the time of an attack.

Aryanne Oade has worked as a chartered psychologist for more than 20 years


Free yourself from workplace bullying

Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying is available to pre-order now



Readers' comments (2)

  • Readers who would like to explore issues around workplace bullying further can download a range of free audio and written resources on detoxifying and recovering from bullying, learning to become bully-proof and handling adversarial behaviour at work:

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  • Sadly it is rife and managers may try to leave it all to the last moment to deal with it -when it has escalated,staff are stress and leaving. A pro-active approach is needed to nip things in the bud

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