‘Ellie, are you having a drink?’
Thanks, Ann, that’d be great.’
‘Ok…coffee, is it?’
‘Yeah, thanks,’ (Struggling with a big box of scales and knitted boobs and other postnatal check equipment to put in the back office.)
‘Oh so did you bring your own?’
‘Coffee? Did you bring your own or have you been drinking ours?’
‘I’ve been drinking yours.’
‘Oh. Right, well. Historically, we’ve asked students to bring their own in, otherwise, we end up paying for student drinks…have the other staff just been telling you to help yourself?’
‘I guess so. Leave it, if it’s a problem.’
‘Oh no, we’ll give you a coffee. We should just make it fair for everyone, if other students are getting away with it...honestly..’
‘If it’s an issue, leave it, it’s fine, really.’
‘No, it’s ok. Here we go. Hope you enjoy it. Anyway, about those notes you did…’
This conversation looks fairly innocent, perhaps a bit picky but basically just a workplace negotiation.
However, it’s the kind of undermining conversation that can make lower ranked professionals or students feel very awkward indeed. There’s no resolution – should I have brought my own coffee in as a student or paid a bit towards drinks? And it says, as a student, you don’t belong here.
If it’s in a pattern of putdowns like: ‘yes, well done for noticing that but it’s not really my job to teach you that’ or ‘I hope you’re not finding training too intense, some people pick things up faster than others’, it’s subtle, undermining behaviour that needs addressing.
It can feel like Machiavellian levels of clever sometimes. It’s really hard to pick up on until you’re feeling awful. The main factor to hold in your mind is, I think, am I feeling ashamed here? Is this mentor teaching with shame? Is this a deliberate attempt by this person to remove personal power from me and keep it for themselves?*
In our society, we still use shame as a teaching tool and this is very dangerous. It pushes bad behaviours like hiding mistakes, gossiping and more serious, self-hatred, with all the addiction and mental illness problems that’s associated with.
None of this stuff is good for learning or safety, people!!
Just like with clinical skills, it pays to have some strategies in your muscle memory. You need to recognise what's going on even when it’s subtle and react to protect yourself, your trust, and even the person who’s causing the problem.
You’re an important member of the team and you owe it to yourself to ensure you are treated well.
Students and midwives really do leave the profession over things like this.
Letting someone get away with poor behaviour is bad for them too. It’s important to address because even if the person doesn’t realise it at the time, being a bully hurts the bully. You can’t treat someone as less than you without questioning your own kindness and humanity. The odds are they are high in emotional struggles of their own, otherwise, they wouldn’t be treating you this way.
This doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to sort their issues out. But establishing boundaries is important for their ability to mentor you.
Tomorrow we’ll look at some of the techniques you can use to stand up for yourself,
To kindness in midwifery,
P.S. Info on the conference can be found here: The Kindness Conference.
*see more in Aryanne Oade’s ‘Free Yourself From Workplace Bullying’