Bully Behavior or a Bad Moment?

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I was traveling from the west coast home to Pittsburgh via Washington Dulles on a Friday night. My flight from Dulles to Pittsburgh got canceled. Because I had to work at the hospital the next day from 11 am – 7 pm, I rented a car and drove home, getting home at midnight. When I went to bed, I secretly prayed for low census so I could be called off.

I didn’t get called off.

When I walked into work that morning, I was beyond stressed. Why? Because I had to catch a flight at 6am the NEXT morning.  While walking onto my unit, my brain was trying to figure out how to unpack, repack, and then prepare for another trip – how the heck was I going to do this???

I checked the assignment board at the coordinator’s desk and saw that the coordinator Terri was sending Jan (another casual nurse) home at 11 am, but she brought me in (I was always to be called off first).  My first thought was, “Are you kidding? Jan should stay and I should have been called off!!!”

I then said in a disrespectful manner, “So, you’re sending Jan home but you brought me in!”

Terri looked up at me and very sincerely said, “I’m sorry. Do you not want to be here today?”

And then I caught myself.

I TEACH kind and respectful communication and there I was being rude and disrespectful to Terri.

Then, I did what we all do when confronted with our less than professional behaviors – I did the justification dance.

“I didn’t get in until after midnight (cha cha cha). I have to catch a 6am flight tomorrow morning (running man).” But then I looked Terri in the eye and said, “I’m so sorry for taking it out on you Terri. Are we okay?”

This is what I know – We can ALL misbehave when under stress. Doing so doesn’t make you a bully. It makes you a human.

[Tweet “We can ALL #misbehave when under stress. Doing so doesn’t make you a #bully. It makes you a #human.”]


According to researchers Christine Porath and Christine Pearson, 98% of adult workers reported being treated rudely at work. 50% said that it happened weekly.

In another survey, Civility in America 2016, found that 74 percent of the 1,005 U.S. adults surveyed believe civility has declined in the past few years and 70 percent say incivility has risen to crisis levels.

An evaluation of federal health data concluded that 8.3 million American adults suffer from serious psychological distress. Suicide, depression, and anxiety disorders are on the rise. Often, people suffering go untreated and unnoticed until this distress seeps into the workplace.

How do you know if your coworker is having a bad moment or is indeed, bullying you? 


As I’ve written about numerous times, for a behavior to be considered bullying, three things must be present:

  1. There must be a target
  2. The behavior has to be harmful
  3. The behavior has to be repeated over time

It can’t be one time I get testy with you in a work or life crisis situation.


Healthcare is stressful. Life and death situations occur without warning every day.

Your stable patient crashes while the patient you think is hovering one step above the ground turns the corner. While many of us who work in healthcare LOVE the unpredictability (you’ll never get bored), this stress can build up, like a pressure cooker, and cause even the nicest, kindest person to release that pressure by lashing out at their coworker.

It’s not just the work stressors that lead to the occasional bad moment. Life stressors such as a divorce, a sick child, or a crazy travel schedule like mine, can ooze into the work place leading to bad moments too.

So if your coworker lashes out at you, take a step back and think – is she only lashing out at me?  Is how he is treating me harmful, especially to patients? Is this a pattern of behavior (repeated over time)?

Or, is my coworker having a bad day or could there be something going on at home?

What if YOU lash out at someone in a moment of high stress? What can YOU do to rectify the situation and make amends?


Once you realize you’ve behaved in a way that is unprofessional, rude, or inconsiderate, etc. – apologize.

Here are a few scripts to do that:

“I’m so sorry I treated you that way (you could get specific here). I’ve been under a lot of stress (today/lately) and I took it out on you. I’m sorry. Are we okay?”

“I’m sorry I yelled at you (or reacted unprofessionally, etc.). What can I do to make it right?

“I treated you unprofessionally this morning/yesterday/last week (it’s never too late to apologize) and I’m sorry. Are you okay?

Warn your coworkers

If you’re really having a rough day, or you’re struggling with a personal crisis, warn your coworkers by letting them know you’re stressed.

Warning them doesn’t then give you permission to get testy, but it may prevent them from taking your less than chipper behavior personally. And, they may be more empathetic towards you and offer to help. It’s so important that when one member of the team is stressed or struggling with a work or life issue, that the others pick up the slack and support that person. A team is only as strong as the weakest member!

Manage your stress

We KNOW healthcare is stressful and that our society is experiencing more life stressors than ever before. Yet, many of us aren’t engaging in stress reducing activities to mitigate our stress before it reaches the boiling point. Whether it’s eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep or smelling lavender, meditating, and deep breathing – there are proven strategies to decrease your stress whether you’re at work or at home.

I wish I could go back to that moment when I was unprofessional and rude to Terri, but I can’t.  I still feel badly about how I took out my stress on Terri but learned a valuable lesson that day.

I learned that…

  • I need to get control of my stress before it got to the point where I’m behaving in a way incongruent with who I am.
  • A sincere apology, plus taking full responsibility could mend any relationship.
  • All humans can have bad moments – even the kind, caring, and considerate ones. Forgive them – forgive yourself.

If your organization needs help with cultivating a happier, healthier workforce, contact us today!

Be kind. Take care. Stay connected.

Helping you cultivate a healthy happy workforce,

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1 thought on “Bully Behavior or a Bad Moment?”

  1. Yes – this demonstrates good rapport with fellow colleagues and being able to overcome circumstances when communication has been somewhat not too professional and managing stress.

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