Toppling the Tyrant: The Bully at Work

By Donna Clark Love posted 08-11-2020 14:08


Toppling the Tyrant: The Bully at Work

By Donna Clark Love


Thank you for attending my session, “Toppling the Tyrant: The Bully at Work”.  I wish I could have seen you all in person, but I feel like I was able to connect with you through the chats you sent me and the discussion at the end of my presentation. I know that some of you are experiencing bullying in your schools, and some of you are also tolerating behaviors that are outside the realm of considerate conduct among your nursing teams. I hope that my presentation equipped you with some strategies you can utilize. During the chat session, I was not able to answer all of your questions. I have included replies to many of your chat questions we didn’t have time to discuss. Remember the “Power of One”. You can make a huge difference at your workplace by speaking up and helping your peers when they experience bullying. I wish you the best!

Can you differentiate bullying vs harassment?

Bullying and harassment are often used interchangeably when talking about hurtful or harmful behavior. They are very similar, but in terms of definition, there is an important difference. Bullying and harassment are similar as they are both about:

  • power and control
  • actions that hurt or harm another person physically or emotionally
  • an imbalance of power between the target and the individual demonstrating the negative behavior
  • the target having difficulty stopping the action directed at them

The distinction between bullying and harassment is that when the bullying behavior directed at the target is also based on a protected class, that behavior is then defined as harassment. Protected classes include: race, color, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, age, disability, perceived disability, and national origin. The defining difference is that workplace bullying is legal in most of the U.S., and discrimination and harassment are illegal. Harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct that is intimidating, hostile or abusive. Examples include using racially derogatory words, telling inappropriate jokes, making offensive remarks about skin color or age, hanging offensive posters, expressing negative stereotypes and more. 


Is bullying the same as horizontal violence?

Horizontal violence has many aliases, but is rarely called by name.Lateral violenceWorkplace bullyingIncivilityHazingRelational aggression. Horizontal violence is a form of nonphysical abuse in the workplace between co-workers and is mostly referred to in the nursing profession as ‘nurse against nurse’. Examples are: being hypercritical, blaming or put-downs, unwarranted criticism, exclusion, gossip, intimidation, belittling gestures or comments, inappropriate or unjust evaluations, withholding information, unfair assignments, sabotage and a refusal to help or support. In schools, when working with students and discussing the above bullying behaviors, I label it as relational aggression.

What is the nurse to do when bullying occurrences happen in the health office and based on the layout of the health office the school nurse cannot walk out or escape?

The goal is to never be alone with a perpetrator. Bullies do not favor others witnessing their bullying behaviors. You need to have a plan in place that when this bully enters the health office, you refuse to have any interaction with him/her until another person shows up to be your support person. You may need to use a texting S.O.S code to alert this other person. It would be most helpful if your support person could be an administrator who would have the power to invoke consequences. Another recourse, is to alert your principal about the situation and to list the perpetrators(s) and state that you refuse to have any interaction with them unless the principal is in attendance. Emphasize the toxicity and the lack of safety aspects.

Is it appropriate to document parents that bully the school nurse, as well?

Absolutely! A school employee has the right to work in a safe environment. No one should have to endure bullying, intimidation, and/or harassment from anyone in the school building, including parents. Your school and district bullying policies should include all adults, students, and any other stakeholders who are involved in school operations. After you have multiple documented incidents or if one incident is sufficiently severe, make a report to an administrator. State that you will not have further interaction with this parent(s) unless he or she is present.

Can a co-worker have aspects of each type—meaning could they be a combo of types?

Yes!  People can have aspects of all of these personality types: Screaming Mimi’; “The Two-Headed Snake”; “The Prancing Peacock”; and The Barbed Wire”.  They are much harder to confront, but it is possible. When deciding on which intervention to use for a particular bullying episode, refer to the description of each personality type and match the behaviors with the appropriate strategies for detaching, confronting unacceptable behavior and disengaging from power struggles.

Can you address the co-worker who withholds information to undermine one at work?

The only way to address this form of relational aggression is to keep copies of all written correspondence and document verbal interactions. When you have documentation, you have multiple choices of action. You can schedule a meeting with co-worker and display documentation. Make sure you have a person of support to be at this meeting, also. End meeting with your expectation of how and when important information is to be delivered to you. Another option is to take your documentation and concerns to an administrator or supervisor and ask for his/her feedback of how you should handle your concerns. Maybe even request that in the future, if there is info you need to do your job effectively, you would like this info delivered to you from a different messenger.

How do you handle disparaging remarks about you by staff or parents placed on social media websites (whether on their own personal web pages or on school web pages)?  How do you handle individuals that bully via emails or group chats?

Keep a file/log of documentation of dates, times, witnesses and specific details of bullying incidents. Include screenshots and copies of inappropriate emails or degrading texts, etc. In order to prove that it is the true bullying, one has to show that the incidents are happening often, over a period of time, and that the bully is intentionally inflicting harm. One has to build a case by providing documentation of occurrences with specific details. When a school or department conducts an investigation, they first request all documentation. It is very hard for administration to intervene on cyber-bullying situations based on here-say and personal testimony. This documentation CAN include things posted on your own personal web pages, as well as school web pages.

Resources to Order: 1.Bullying Manual for Educators and School Staff
2. Thrive: Channel Your Courage, Speak Your Truth, and SHINE in the Midst of Life’s Challenges