I find it frustrating to acknowledge that despite all the work of recent years to implement initiatives aimed at creating healthy and safe workplace environments, that lateral and horizontal hostility still remains within the nursing profession. I think we all hoped that when the idea of Zero Tolerance bloomed into an actual Human Resource policy the darkest days were behind us. Disappointingly, this is not what I hear from my private coaching clients and other professional caregivers across the country. The elephant remains in the room and the reluctance to talk openly about it continues as well.
I do not feel the need to define bullying behavior or outline the toll such shadow behavior takes on individuals. You are all too familiar with it most likely because you have been on the receiving end of it. What I want to shed some light on is the nature and makeup of someone who engages in bullying tactics. Having insight into the mindset of the enemy goes a long way to taking the power away from them and empowering yourself.
First I want to point out that we often use the term Bully to describe a coworker or leader that exhibits uncivil conduct but is not a true bully. Unfortunately, we live in a time where uncivil behavior is celebrated. Just consider some of the popular reality TV programs currently enjoying high ratings let alone the antics demonstrated along the campaign trail of 2016. Engaging in uncivil behavior is the consequence of a low emotional intelligence and an unrefined ability to manage one’s emotions under stress in the workplace. Keep in mind that we are all capable of giving into the needier side of our neurotic selves under pressure.
People who are, at times, uncivil usually have the ability to step outside themselves and reflect on a disagreeable interpersonal exchange and take ownership of their behavior when they cool off or are held responsible and accountable by others. They are also capable of expressing genuine remorse and of taking steps to improve in the future. Bullies do not have that capacity.
Consider the following characteristics of an individual with the neurotic personality disorder known as narcissism. They include but are not limited to:
- Having a strong need for control
- A desire to dominate people and situations
- Perceiving themselves as a special, elite individuals that are deserving of VIP treatment
- Lacking in empathy toward others
- Having a tendency to be exploitative of others
Now think of someone you work with that is knowingly intimidating and/or cruel; someone who has no desire to consider how their words or behaviors affect others. That’s right! Bullies are narcissists. Investing time and efforts into trying to appeal to their higher nature and grow from coaching sessions or disciplinary actions will prove very frustrating. An individual must first be capable of acknowledging that there is an issue before they can buy into their responsibility to remedy the issue. Narcissists lack the ability to grow from insight and introspection.
Addressing both uncivil and bullying behavior requires a true collaboration between administration, the human resources department and in organizations with collective bargaining agreements, labor. All stakeholders must agree on a unified definition of bullying behavior and a unified approach to bullying conduct. The finish line for tolerating this type of misconduct must be fixed and unaffected by the manipulating skills of the bully.
Managing someone who is given to uncivil behavior is very different than addressing someone with a true bullying mentality. The person given to regular demonstrations of low emotional intelligence must understand that we are now in a time in the industry of healthcare and the profession of nursing when skills and knowledge are not enough to secure your professional future.
The literature demonstrates that the level of one’s emotional intelligence directly correlates with that person’s ability to demonstrate a consistent caring behavior to patients and families as well as own their responsibility to maintain a healthy work environment (McQueen 2004). If these individuals are not willing to grow from in-the-moment feedback, coaching and in-depth discussions during the performance evaluation process then; the conversation must move onto asking if they are in the right working environment.
Unfortunately, the personality of a narcissist does not make them amenable to demonstrating sustained improvement with conventional managerial interventions. In these instances, clear performance improvement plans must be crafted and immediate and sustained improvement demonstrated. The push-back will be relentless but there are very few options.
So my question becomes, if we are not willing to put an end to abusive conduct in the workplace now, when will we be willing? Let us resist getting caught up in finger pointing and complaining about how our inter-professional colleagues may mistreat us. Let us decisively address the issues in our own house first. We must commit now, not later, to peace in our time.
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- Benson G, Martin L, Ploeg J et al (2012) Longitudinal study of emotional intelligence, leadership, and caring in undergraduate nursing students. Journal of Nursing Education. 51, 2, 95-101
- Codier E, Codier D (2015) A model for emotional intelligence and patient safety. Asia Pacific Journal of Oncology Nursing. In Press
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- McQueen A.C.H. (2004) Emotional intelligence in nursing work: Journal of Advanced Nursing 47(1), 101–108