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Bullying M Strange

When bullying happens to you

June 24, 2020
Bullying can have devastating consequences in our workplaces and personal lives. Learn how to deal with bullies in healthy ways to make a positive difference in our profession and in the world.

Being a new graduate fills you with excitement and joy, and you are eager to get started in your new career. Unfortunately, sometimes that excitement is stifled by the behavior of your new colleagues. When you are affected by bullying—online or in your office—know you are not the only one, and you can use that experience to grow stronger in your new profession.

Bullying in any form is reprehensible and can destroy lives. In our modern society, much of it has moved online where the perpetrator can maintain a safe distance and often act anonymously. Online social media forums are rampant with this type of behavior.

In our personal lives, bullying can have devastating consequences, annihilating self-esteem, triggering mental health issues, and causing stress to the victim. Similarly, in a professional setting, bullying causes chaos and can negatively impact the professional’s quality of work and the care they provide patients.

Cyber and workplace bullying

Sometimes it might feel like there is no escape from online harassment, especially if it occurs in discussion forums or group platforms necessary for your professional development. It can make you feel like you can never comment or post a question.

So what can you do to combat bullying and prevent it from impacting your life and work? First, try to understand it a little more, and then it is easier to devise methods of dealing with it to lessen its destruction.

Described as the constant abuse of someone, bullying can be physical, verbal, or emotional. Often used to dominate or show power over someone, cyberbullying occurs on online platforms or through text messaging, emails, and even social media direct messaging.1 We often see bullying in the form of shaming when a poster will screenshot a message or share information about a person in a group, encouraging participants to berate the person. This is the new age of bullying and online intimidation.

Bullying is also prevalent in the workplace, with colleagues and managers “picking” on another member of staff and making them feel like they are not welcome or part of the team. There are many forms that this unfair treatment can take, but all have the potential to create a toxic, unhealthy work environment.2

Unchecked, it can flourish in the work setting, particularly if the harassment is being done by a superior. Others may be reluctant to speak up or to bring it to the attention of management for fear of repercussions. Coworkers often do not report it, afraid of then being on the receiving end themselves. This may result in the “bystanders effect,” where those observing the mistreatment do nothing to help end the bullying. Surveys have found that approximately 37% of the workforce have experienced bullying at work, and only 12% report what they witnessed.3

However, it is not all black and white; there are many gray areas when it comes to human behavior. What can be perceived as bullying by one person may just be friendly teasing, or the recipient may have an oversensitive nature. Accusing someone of bullying behavior is serious and can make situations worse if not handled correctly. It is helpful to have self-awareness and explore if you are being sensitive about the situation or if someone is deliberately trying to bully or intimidate you.

How to deal with being bullied

If you foster a respectful environment in your practice, you are less likely to have episodes of bullying among your team. However, if something does occur, it should be dealt with immediately and transparently to demonstrate your commitment to an office built on respect and professionalism.

Should the bullying occur in an online forum, report the matter to the moderators and insist that they deal with it promptly. If the moderators are the ones being bullies, leave the group and find a better online community.

When you are the victim of bullying, you can feel extremely angry, and while this is natural, how you manage this emotion can dictate the outcome. While it is tempting to vent, this may not be the best method of resolving your anger.4

Taking a step back and examining the reasons behind the mistreatment with a little detachment may help you more in the long run. This isn’t always easy, but getting to a place where you can feel less emotional or neutral will help you to move past the situation.

Taking a few deep breaths, using mindfulness techniques, and removing emotion from the equation will lead to a more balanced mindset, allowing you to discuss the problem rationally with someone who may be able to help. Quite often, bullies are or have been the victims of torment themselves and may be harassing others as a cry for help.5 The saying is very true: Hurt people hurt.

Bullying in any situation is wrong and is something we all need to be mindful of, particularly in the professional environment, and work to eradicate it for all our sakes. If this has happened to you, don’t let it stop you. Grow from the situation and let it help you to help others. Be mindful of your own behavior at work and on social platforms, and speak up if you see someone else being a bully or bullying others.

I am 20 years into my career in dentistry. I have experienced online bullies, intimidation, and shaming. I have been bullied by an employer and even accused of being a bully because of my blunt way of delivering information. I have seen others go through it online and in their dental practices. Some of you may never experience it. If you are the victim or even the bully, just know it does not define you. You can move past these experiences and behaviors and still do amazing things in your career. I encourage you to have people in your life who don’t enable your behaviors—people who will lift you up, hold you accountable, and be there when the situation isn’t always rosy and wonderful. Best of luck in this profession! You will be an amazing asset!


1. Konnikova M. How the internet has changed bullying. The New Yorker. Oct. 21, 2015. https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/how-the-internet-has-changed-bullying. Accessed Jun. 13, 2020.

2. The Joint Commission. Bullying has no place in health care. QuickSafety. 2016;24:1-4. https://www.jointcommission.org/-/media/tjc/documents/newsletters/quick_safety_issue_24_june_2016pdf.pdf. Accessed Jun. 13, 2020.

3. Riggio RE. Why workplace bullies thrive: the bystander effect. Psychol Today. Jan. 26, 2011. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201101/why-workplace-bullies-thrive-the-bystander-effect. Accessed Jun. 13, 2020.

4. Bushman B. Four questions on the catharsis myth with Dr. Brad Bushman. All the Rage. Oct. 26, 2011. https://alltheragescience.com/commentary/four-questions-on-the-catharsis-myth-with-dr-brad-bushman/. Accessed Jun. 13, 2020.

5. Seunagal G. The psychology of bullying: understanding what’s behind the bully. Better Help. Feb. 6, 2020. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/bullying/the-psychology-of-bullying-understanding-whats-behind-the-bully/. Accessed Jun. 14, 2020.

Michelle Strange, MSDH, RDH, brings 20 years of experience to her roles in dentistry. She is the cofounder and cohost of A Tale of Two Hygienists podcast, TriviaDent, Level Up Infection Prevention, and owner of MichelleStrangeRDH. A graduate of the Medical University of South Carolina with a Bachelor's of Health Science and the University of Bridgeport with a Master's in Dental Hygiene Education, Strange focuses on expanding the knowledge of her colleagues in health care. Her passion for dentistry and its connection to overall health extends to her community and global efforts, most notably in her work as a weekly dental hygienist volunteer and annual dental mission trip leader.