I think it’s the humble nature of this post that so impresses me. Gillian Smith qualified in 1978 (so she has nearly 40 years of midwifery related experience) and yet she writes like she still has a lot to learn.
It’s amazing to see the former Director of the RCM for Scotland, who was one of the people instrumental in the RCM ‘Caring For You Campaign’ and has an MBE, being able to write about her experiences in such a candid way.
The Oblivious Bully: a Personal Story – Wear That Mirror Out
'It’s a funny old story this and probably has been at the front of my mind since I started doing work on behalf of the RCM on this issue. We all like to think we are kind and compassionate to others and blimey do we not feel the pain when we think people have not demonstrated that to us.
When I look back to my time in clinical practice I always loved the students. Whether it was midwifery, medical or nursing students, I can’t remember a time when I believed that I made them feel worthless undervalued or undermined. However as I have reflected over the years this may not have been the case for all the midwives who worked with me.
I was a relatively young midwife when I got my first ‘sister's post’ or as we know it now, ward manager role. I had been qualified for less than two years and had just become an RCM workplace representative. I was enthusiastic, energetic and determined to make a difference.
As time progressed I moved around the unit and had worked everywhere in the acute hospital setting. I became the most senior ward manager in the labour ward and loved my job but had to confess I was not really a morning person.
There was a newly promoted ward manager who I was very friendly with and I used to give her a lift to work as she lived quite near me. But I started to witness her being quite assertive to the point of rudeness with some of the senior medical staff. Now this is where it started to go wrong. Instead of taking her aside and discussing this with her in a straightforward manner (because I was avoiding ‘confrontation’) I started to isolate her and even avoided communicating with her whenever possible. I am fortunate that she had the guts to challenge me on this change of behaviour and when I explained what I was feeling we cleared the air. It was never forgotten and even although that is nearly 30 years ago the shame of that episode still lives with me and the friendship did not survive.
This was added to when I went out for dinner with a crowd of friends many not in midwifery and one of my senior midwife colleagues said to me in front of everyone how they would wait in the mornings at the shift changeover to see what kind of mood I was in to know how the day would go. I was upset and overwhelmed to think that this had been going on for so long without me realising the impact of my behaviour on others. Shocked that nobody had felt able to raise this with me. That was a huge turning point for me and I think put me on a better course, however, I will leave that for others to decide.
What it did make me realise is that we should ‘Hold the Mirror to Ourselves’. We have made this a strap line in our campaign to improve workplace behaviours.
The other thing we must do is challenge bad behaviours in others when we see it or the cycle will never be broken. We must break the cycle or careers and lives will be destroyed.
Ignorance is no excuse. We should be caring for our colleagues regardless of who is watching or where they are in the system; everyone is important. Kindness, respect and compassion is the true hallmark of a human being and for midwives that compassion extends to our colleagues as well as the women we look after.
Go out today and consciously appraise your behaviour and be kind to others.'
Gillian Smith is coming to talk at The Kindness Conference. I’m really excited about getting the experienced and new to the profession in the same room talking about how to make changes.
it's stories like this which will help us understand each other.
To kindness in midwifery,
P.S. Info on the conference can be found here: The Kindness Conference.