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How to respond to bullying behaviour


Coaching a team member to avoid ineffective responses

Sadly, incidents of bullying behaviour are on the increase in hospitals and wards across the UK. As a manager, you are likely to be involved at some point in coaching a team member who is concerned they may be subject to bullying behaviour.

Many nurses become vulnerable to workplace bullying because they don’t know how to protect themselves at the time of an attack. So how can you coach a team member to avoid the common pitfalls that inadvertently make it easier for a workplace bully to bully?

There are several pitfalls to avoid during an attack, each of which involves the target nurse using well-intentioned but ineffective strategies. When a nurse uses any of these it is often because he or she feels bewildered or self-doubting about being bullied and tries to mollify the bully. None of these approaches is in their best interest. Examples include:

  • Appealing to the bully’s “better nature”: a strategy that assumes the bully possesses a measure of goodwill and the nurse can somehow induce them to extend it to them.
  • Trying to reason with the bully: which presupposes that a logical argument will prove influential with a person whose use of angry emotion at work suggests that they are unlikely to be persuaded by rational argument.
  • Trying to appease them: this assumes the bully is amenable to being calmed and soothed, and that if the nurse tries hard enough they will work out how to do this effectively
  • Feeling sorry for the bully: which supposes that the bully is somehow being unfairly treated and deserving of sympathy, when it is actually that person who is choosing to mistreat the nurse

What you will learn about bullying

● How to prevent the bully from being aggressive
● How to reduce the bully’s level of aggression
● How to cause the bully to change their minds entirely about using bullying behaviour
● This article contains extracts from Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying (Mint Hall Publishing, 2015) available to from Amazon

As a manager, the starting point for coaching any nurse who has fallen into any or all of these ways of thinking is to assert the truth that the nurse did not do anything to provoke the bullying behaviour they were subject to. It is really important that your team member gets this. Even if their performance is not up to scratch - something that they will need to address - they still did not do anything to warrant the aggression they were subject to. Effective influencing skills and bullying are two entirely different things.

Many workplace bullies will do anything they can to blame the nurse they are targeting, to make that nurse “the problem” they complain about, and to single that nurse out for personalised enmity. These are their decisions and their responsibility alone, and they are not the behaviours used by effective colleagues.

Aryanne Oade has worked as a chartered psychologist for more than 20 years. She coaches clients to recover from the sometimes debilitating effects of workplace bullying,



Readers' comments (5)

  • I wonder would it work with Jeremy Hunt and Jane Cummings?

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  • I started work as a cadet nurse in 1974 and qualified as a State Registered Nurse in 1978. I was shouted at, publicly humiliated and demeaned on a regular basis. We were the lowest of the low until we were qualified, made to stand when a sister or Dr entered the room. This was the treatment meted out to the vast majority of student nurses. To say that bullying is on the increase baffles me; is it that it is now simply not accepted?

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  • do you mean by bullying them or do you feel you are a victim of their bullying? I would hardly describe either of them in the latter category they both come over as rather too meek.

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  • available knowledge and an understanding of bullying behaviour and what leads some to engage in such behaviour helps to some extent in dealing with it as well as good self knowledge and a sense of security on one's own position.

    Oliver James book on 'Office Politics' is useful in understanding and dealing with Narcissism, Machiavellism and Sociopathy and what he describes as Triadism in individuals who exhibit all three of these traits.

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  • I was recently bullied had 3 days off sick as I was so distressed.
    I have been back to work since but my immune system seem low as three days later working on the ward I have picked up a diarrhoea and sickness bug. I am now sitting by the toilet, just vomited and had an episode of diarrhoea, stop for that and I am back to type. I want to say that I called the ward a little while ago telling them that I had diarrhoea , no sympathy there, nurse answered saying she will try and find cover. In her answer I can hear disbelief. Why are nurses so distrusting of each other? I just feel that I am only a pair of hands,feet and a head on a busy medical understaffed ward.

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