Chartered psychologist Aryanne Oade uses a three-part definition to examine whether an incident at work is bullying, or just an unfortunate circumstance.
Is the attack personally emotionally or professionally harmful?
Is it a deliberate attempt to undermine your self-esteem or block you from doing your work?
Is it an attempt to remove personal power from you and keep it for themselves?
When you’re feeling awful, use these questions to work out whether or not you’re experiencing bullying.
In yesterday’s example, a mentor had questioned whether I’d been using the staff coffee, tricking me into accepting a drink before criticising me for doing so. Subtle, but I’d say this is bullying, especially if it fits into a bigger pattern of undermining behaviour.
The attack was undermining, it was to do with the mentor overruling me as a student, and was definitely about taking power away from me.
How I’d address this:
- Write down everything that happened, with times and dates
- Reflect and plan what to say
- When the conversation or event comes up again (it almost certainly will as it’s about making a drink) say something like: ‘It’s unclear what the policy is on drinks for students. It’s making me feel uncomfortable, as you know I care very much about the midwives and the workplace. I know you’ll want to clarify this so I can feel welcome in the team and continue my learning.’
- This message should be delivered with strong body language, like eye contact, and good posture (see power posing here)
When we feel attacked we either get angry, people please or avoid the situation entirely, these are the standard human coping strategies.
In this coffee break incident, these strategies might have played out for me as follows:
- Angry: ‘Are you saying I can’t have a cup of coffee? Because that’s ridiculous. I can’t believe you’re so petty. You should remember what it’s like to be a student and be more welcoming’ (Not good as you’re aiming to cause hurt, which isn't nice, and you want a good relationship with this staff member!)
- People pleasing: ‘I know you’re looking out for the unit and really care about how much midwives are paying for tea and coffee, and there’s not much money around right now. It’s such a demanding job. I hope I'll be a midwife like you one day.’ (Oh god, I do this. This isn’t true, isn’t fair to yourself and is a response that will make you feel sick to your stomach!)
- Avoid the situation: disappear whenever it’s time to make coffee, say you’ve given up having hot drinks, or bringing in your own tea and coffee without saying anything more
The strategy I’ve suggested above works much better than these because:
- You’re displaying self-assurance, integrity, and clear thinking
- You’re leaving no room for the professional to question you further
- You’re working on your own self-trust, essential in a profession as demanding as midwifery
I hope this helps. Do email me back with any other tools you’ve found for addressing bullying behaviour.
Remember the National Bullying Helpline number is here.
And if in doubt, talk to a midwife you trust, or you can post anonymously in the Say No To Bullying In Midwifery Facebook group by contacting myself or one of the other admins.
To kindness in midwifery,
P.S. Info on the conference can be found here: The Kindness Conference.