Have you ever worked incredibly hard, only to find yourself being criticised and dominated? Especially in midwifery, where all you want to do is get it right for women and families, this can be hugely damaging to your confidence and your practice.
If you’re a kind and empathetic person it can be hard to identify that what you’re going through is bullying and that you need to do something about it.
Enter Aryanne Oade’s ‘Bullying in Teams’. I’ve written about Aryanne Oade before, she’s a chartered psychologist who specialises in challenging workplace dynamics. I came across her on a recommendation of an NHS midwife friend of mine.
Bullying is a toxic, dangerous phenomenon in midwifery.
Research and reports (The Francis Report, The Kirkup Report) show that care is compromised and morbidity and mortality can occur when the culture is bad enough. Every student and midwife needs to know how to stand up for themselves and their workplace.
I know many of us go into midwifery wanting to believe that all professionals will be kind towards everyone.
The problem is when you believe everyone in the midwifery is lovely, you bend yourself into pretzel shapes to keep this belief intact – even if they’re being unkind. When they’re having a bad day, or when they have methods of coping with the work that adversely impacts other staff members, you find yourself making excuses:
‘They’re reacting to the pressure of the service.’
‘I must have a personality that they don’t gel with.’
‘They’re lovely to the women, they probably just don’t have the head space for me.’
You might find yourself thinking things like this even when a midwife colleague has just said something like:
‘Some people pick things up quicker than others – don’t they (your name)?’
Charming. And not constructive.
Without getting into my personal life too much, I’ll just let you know that it was unacceptable for me or my siblings to get too angry or advocate for ourselves while growing up in our family.
If there was someone bullying us my parents would always ask ‘and what did you do? What’s your part in this?’
This isn’t a bad thing, I owe my parents a lot and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my mother and both my siblings are in caring professions.
My parents were doing the best job they could to keep three wild kids under control and we probably needed reminders to think of others.
But in the adult world, if empathy is the only tool in your toolbox, you’re going to struggle.
There are patterns of behaviour that prelude bullying and in midwifery practice, they’re just as important to pick up on as clinical signs of pre-eclampsia or APH.
The information in ‘Bullying in Teams’ is vital. In practical style with lots of examples you’ll learn how to:
- Protect yourself from being affected by poor culture
- Restore your dignity
- Understand that bullies are adept at exploiting any room for manoeuvre you may inadvertently give them through using unassertive behaviour. You can learn to protect yourself and the book will show you how to do this, through acquiring both mental and behavioural skills
- Identify patterns of behaviour that lead to bullying and how to respectfully challenge them, for you and others
- Recognise undermining behaviour
- How to use phrases and body language that will establish your reputation as a student or midwife who deserves respect
- How to encourage those around you to support you and challenge bullying
- Restore your self-confidence
A ‘standing up for yourself’ toolkit is vital and you have a very good chance of turning poor culture away from you and your practice.
And as a sensitive, excellent student or midwife you have every right to get your voice heard. In fact, we need you to lead.
But if you’re anything like me, the thought of even needing such a toolkit is difficult to accept.
In practice, I aspire to be a midwife Gandhi. I rage against the idea any midwife could be unkind, I’m committed to seeing the best in everyone.
In reality Gandhi was actually lawyer and was amazing at standing up for himself and others.
One of the hardest lessons I’ve learnt in my life is this:
You can empathise even while recognising someone is behaving badly.
You can know that a person attempting to bully you is a good human being at heart and they’re doing the best they can.
But at the same time, you have to realise that not everyone experiencing distress reacts in the same way as you.
There are many who are desperate and though they come across as tough, they’ll do anything to save themselves, including bully and power grab.
Empathy is wonderful but there have to be boundaries. Without boundaries, you lose yourself as a person and a midwife and you let other people decide your path.
You might also be thinking ‘but constructive feedback is important, shouldn’t I be listening to everything and working out what might be helpful?’
Yes, absolutely. But there’s a big difference between constructive feedback and someone trying to take you down. You know the difference in your gut. Trust it.
In the example at the start of this blog, where the midwife said ‘some people pick things up quicker than others – don’t they?’ a good response might be something like ‘you seem to be implying I’m not a good midwife or learner. What exactly do you mean by that?’
This would have alerted the midwife in question that her colleague’s good standing and ability to learn wasn’t up for debate.
We have record numbers of newly qualified midwives leaving the profession. And one RCM report found 43% of midwives and student midwives have been bullied (NB: there are study limitations)
There’s only so much self-doubt that is actionable and helpful so you need to draw your own lines around your self-belief and keep them there.
To me, this is just as important as knowing what to do during a PPH. Women’s safety depends on it.
Aryanne’s books are like nothing else on the market; I have no idea why this isn’t a mainstream topic? Why are there not guides to behaviour in Myles and Mayes midwifery?
Possibly it’s just a hard skill that few are prepared to teach professionally.
The RCM ‘Caring For You’ Campaign and the government report ‘The National Maternity Review’ are drawing attention to the importance of workplace culture in achieving satisfying, safe care for women. The way we think about these skills is changing.
I believe both Aryanne’s books, ‘Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying’ and ‘Bullying in Teams’ should be on every student and midwife’s reading list.
Now I’d love to hear from you:
- Have you read any of Aryanne’s work? What did you think?
- Do you already have a ‘standing up for yourself’ toolkit? Any tips?
- Have you developed any of these skills and is there anything you can share?
Leave a comment below. I hope this helps and I’m sending so much love and respect,