Remember Scut Farkas, the bully of A Christmas Story? That classic coming-of-age movie wouldn’t be the same without the infamous bully that Ralphie ultimately defeats. Sure, the main thrust of the film is Ralphie’s quest for a Red Ryder carbine-action air rifle, but our hero’s real turning point is when he finally defeats his yellow-eyed nemesis.
Most of us have had to endure a bully in our lifetime, but we typically view them as a childhood threat that we leave behind when we grow up. Only that’s not really the case. Bullies are all-too-common in the workplace, whether they intimidate by their words or by physical actions. Workplace violence may get the media headlines, but rudeness at work is every bit as damaging.
Take the healthcare setting, for example: a 2010 British Medical Journal editorial noted the link between rudeness and employee mistakes, and how that link poses a threat to patient safety and quality of care. Scrub nurses report that they sometimes have to tolerate surgeons’ bad temper and tantrums. Research suggests that in confined areas, the act of simply watching rudeness between colleagues might impair team members’ thinking skills.
In a survey of 391 operating room (OR) staff, 66% of respondents said they had “received aggressive behavior” from nurses and 53% from surgeons during the previous six months. Disagreements between surgeons and OR nurses were reported by 63% of respondents, and 58% reported disagreements between nurses.
A bully is someone who enjoys controlling the behavior of others. Most bullies are narcissistic, thinking only of themselves and having little or no capacity for empathizing with others. People who bully may have once been the targets of bullies; they use intimidation to gain control and mask their own insecurities and inadequacies. Bullies usually prey on those they perceive to be weaker or who they believe will not fight back.
What should employees do when their co-workers are rude or bullying?
– Keep a record of the dates, times and places where incidents occur. Should you need to seek assistance from your Human Resources department, this will be very helpful information.
– Be more assertive in a respectful way. Bullies tend to “prey” on those they perceive as passive or submissive.
– For more information about assertiveness techniques, consider reading the book Crucial Conversations.
– Contact Human Resources. HR staff will know if your company has a policy against bullying and may be able to help you address the situation in a confidential and professional manner.
It’s important for every company to establish and maintain a policy that addresses workplace bullying, and senior management should support and role model civility when interacting with colleagues and staff. A respectful workplace is a win-win for everyone. Employees benefit from a safe and harmonious atmosphere, and the organization benefits from increased engagement, loyalty, quality and productivity.