Bullying in dentistry: Characteristics of a workplace bully. Do you know one?

If you're suffering from the wrath of a workplace bully in your dental practice, or know someone who's being bullied, it's time to do something about it. Bullying is demeaning and damaging.

May 24th, 2018
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This article originally appeared in Dental Assisting Digest e-newsletter. Subscribe to this informative monthly ENL designed specifically for the dental assistant here.

Do you have a bullying story? Drop Kevin Henry a line at kevin.henry@igniteda.net and share your experiences. It may be used (keeping you anonymous in the process, of course) in an upcoming edition of Dental Assisting Digest so others can learn from your experience.

As a dental assistant, I’ll look at the inside view. As a consultant and advocate for assistants, Kevin Henry of IgniteDA and editorial director for Dental Assisting Digest, will look at the outside view.

The inside view (Natalie)

Last month, Kevin and I discussed bullying in the workplace. For many, it was an eye-opening read. We’ve all heard about bullying in schools or from friends and family who know someone, but we never expected it to hit so close to home—the dental office. Bullying in the workplace can be verbal, non-verbal, psychological, and even physical abuse. Something as innocent as a snarky comment or isolating another team member can be perceived as bullying. An estimated 54 million Americans have been bullied at some point in their careers. Doesn’t it make you wonder how many in dentistry are part of that statistic?

Bullies in the workplace usually operate from a position of power. Statistically, 80% of bullies are in positions of authority. In most cases, the bully’s target is a peer, subordinate, or team member who is below that person in the organizational hierarchy. However, in a reversal of roles, the subordinate’s insulting, harassing, passive-aggressive behavior can wreak mayhem on a supervisor. Bullying is often associated with poor management style or lack of management in a workplace.

Bully characteristics can range from the obvious to the not so obvious. These include low self-esteem and poor communication skills (both verbal and written). Many bullies have unresolved work issues from earlier in their careers that make them believe they have the right to inflict controlling and abusive behaviors on others. They often bully in order to mask their own insecurities and weaknesses. Those who bully tend to have psychological issues that spill into their work environments. They often lack social skills and cannot handle conflict.

First in Scandinavia, then in Great Britain, Japan, the Netherlands, Canada, and finally the United States, researchers have started dissecting the bullying trend. What they’ve found is as heartbreaking as it is disturbing.

  • Bullies begin as a special breed of children. Two-thirds of all children are never involved in bullying. Early in development, most children acquire internal restraints against such behavior. But those who bully do it consistently and their aggression begins at an early age.
  • It takes a very specific set of conditions to produce a child who can start fights, intimidate peers, and create havoc. Bullying causes a great deal of misery to others, and its effects on the victims last for decades, sometimes even a lifetime.
  • The individual hurt most by bullying is the bully. It’s not obvious at first, but the negative effects increase over time. Most bullies have a downward spiraling course through life. Their behavior interferes with learning, friendships, career, personal relationships, income, and mental and physical health.
  • Bullies turn into antisocial adults and are more likely than non-aggressive kids to commit crimes, abuse spouses, and abuse their children, thus producing another generation of bullies.
  • Females can also be bullies. The aggression of females has been vastly underestimated because their bullying takes on different forms. It is often more a subtle and complex means of being mean than the overt physical aggression males tend to use.

I have witnessed more bullying by females in dentistry than by males during my 25 years in the field. Changing social mores, shifting values, and the ability to hide behind social media are all fueling the opportunities to bully.

The outside view (Kevin)

We seem to live in a society where bullying has become more accepted. With social media playing a bigger role than ever before, and “trolls” able to hide behind fake identities or anonymous usernames, it’s easier than ever to tell someone how wrong, dumb, or ugly they are. That’s truly a shame.

We face bullying in so many forms every day. Personally, I’ve seen it destroy dental practices when someone assumes the throne in his or her mind and thinks it is his or her world to run and manage. It changes lives and chases people away from somewhere they might enjoy working and may even be making a difference in a patient’s life.

When you witness bullying, it’s important to stand up to the bully, and this needs to be a unified effort. As I have said numerous times, life is too short to be miserable. If a bully in your practice is affecting you, it has to stop today.

Think about some of the characteristics that Natalie mentioned and think about how some of those characteristics would impact you and your ability to provide quality patient care. If that’s happening, the business of the practice and patient care has to come first and the bullying has to be stopped.

Letting people know that bullying is not OK is one of the first steps toward stopping it. However, having multiple people share the same message is critical to ending bullying in the practice.

Know the characteristics. Take a stand. Stop the bullying where you work and let change finally happen in your business. It’s one of the most important things you can do for your own sanity and for the sake of the practice.

Have you been bullied in the dental industry? Please drop me a line at kevin.henry@igniteda.net and tell me your story. We may use it (keeping you anonymous in the process, of course) in an upcoming edition of Dental Assisting Digest. This way others can see what’s happening elsewhere and learn from your experience.

Natalie Kaweckyj, LDARF, CDA, is president of the American Dental Assistants Association, and Kevin Henry is the head of IgniteDA.

ALSO BY NATALIE KAWECKYJ & KEVIN HENRY
Bullying in dentistry: Is it getting worse? What can you do?
Dental assistants: Gain the respect you deserve!
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to dental assistants


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