Anonymous Abuse: Describing Student Encounters With Workplace Bully Types
Patterson, Barbara J.
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Session presented on Friday, July 22, 2016: Purpose: Bullying crosses racial, gender, age, socioeconomic, and religious boundaries, as bullies level their affronts at subordinates, peers, and superiors in workplace organizations. Workplace bullies often act covertly, sometimes posing as colleagues interested in the welfare of the people they are, in fact, targeting. Using formally assigned workplace roles, bullies can change the rules by which they act to gain and maintain power over others. Through our reading, we have identified five types of bullies: the aggressor, the 'I'll save you', the martyr, the helpless victim, and the expert. These five types of bullies use actions and practices that are covert and clandestine, and not readily recognized as bullying. Their covert actions qualify as bullying because they are used to overpower targets through subtle emotional attacks that tend to shame targets. Easily-recognized, aggressive bullies demonstrate verbal abuse, and sometimes physical abuse, although the latter seldom occurs in workplaces. Verbal abuse can be defined as spoken or unspoken communication (Farrell, Bobrowski, & Bobrowski, 2006). 'I'll save you' bullies pretend to care. They undermine in front of others, belittling their targets in a 'friendly' manner through overharsh criticism or outright slander (Chapman, 2009) while suggesting that they can keep their targets safe from others in the environment. Martyr bullies suggest that they have suffered on behalf of their targets, and that, as a result, their targets are beholden to them (Guilt Trip, 2015). Victim bullies use an argument that they have 'one-down' status to overpower their targets. Victim bullies make claims like 'no one appreciates me' to gain power through sympathy. If someone points out the inappropriateness of a victim bully's behavior, he or she willl act shocked by the criticism, responding with statements like, 'now you have to earn my trust back,' saying 'I won't be so polite in the future,' sometimes becoming belligerent (Chapman, 2009). Expert bullies place themselves above reproach. They seem to have all the answers, and they will not hear counterarguments. Condon (2015) gave an example: 'Janice' said, "..I brought a research article that described how the board passage rates in one institution dropped after their curriculum revision, which happened to be the one our leader was proposing, had been revised and implemented. Bringing this to everyone's attention made the leader of the revision process so irate she started yelling at me and pointing her finger telling me I was just trying to make things difficult and that we needed to move forward." (p. 23). For those who are vulnerable to bullies' affronts, bullying results in extensive, and paradoxical psychological damage. Understanding when bullying takes place can help limit that psychological damage for individuals, and provide a foundation for helping to stem bullying in the long run. The purpose of this study was to ascertain the frequency with which undergraduate nursing students encountered five bully types and to identify the kinds of settings in which they encountered them. Methods: For this study, we asked undergraduate nursing students at an east coast, U. S. nursing school whether they had encountered any or all of the following bully behaviors: aggressor, savior, martyr, victim, and/or expert. Responding to a brief questionnaire, study participants told us if they had witnessed or been affronted by any of these behaviors. In addition, they briefly described the kinds of settings in which they encountered the bully types (work, school, through reading or video) and told us a little about the nature of their bully encounters. Using content and thematic analysis to address frequencies, settings, and characteristics of student encounters with the five bullying behaviors, we described study participants' narrative perceptions. Results: Study respondents provided narrative data regarding how often and where they had encountered the five bullying behaviors. Conclusion: Workplace bullying assumes numerous forms, not always readily apparent.