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3.1 Am I really bullying or undermining?

It can be upsetting and stressful to be accused of bullying, and it can be difficult to keep an open mind about how our own behaviour might be interpreted.

We know that misunderstandings will sometimes occur, even if we don’t mean them to.

Importantly, bullying and undermining are defined by the way they make the recipient feel, irrespective of how they were intended.

Poor workplace behaviours can take many forms. Sometimes they are obvious, but sometimes they are harder to identify.  They are most often performed inadvertently.  Stress and pressure at work is a common contributing factor.

How to know if you are bullying or undermining

  • You may have said/done something that has obviously upset a colleague
  • You may be aware of an interaction where you felt your behaviour could have been better
  • You may be ‘called out’ and receive feedback about a negative interaction
  • You may receive a complaint
  • You may receive negative feedback at appraisal

Module 7 "I want to learn more about workplace behaviour" will help you explore and recognise types of poor workplace behaviour such as bullying, undermining and incivility. 


Self reflection exercise

Ask yourself the questions on this page and answer them honestly.

  • Do you listen to the other members of your team or do you do all the talking?
  • Do members of your team come to you with ideas or suggestions?
  • Does your sense of humour involve jokes that could be racist, homophobic or sexist?
  • Do you make remarks which could be seen as culturally insensitive or upsetting?
  • Do you feel that ‘you had it tough so they should too?’
  • If you are senior, do you use your position to offer mentorship or do people go to others for this?
  • Do you treat colleagues who are new to your team, or new to UK, with kindness and inclusivity?
  • Do you always apologise to someone if you lose your temper?
  • Have you written derogatory comments about someone on WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter?
  • Do you ignore any of your colleagues?
  • Do you blame others for problems that occur?
  • Do people speak freely in your theatre / clinic or do you dictate how people behave?
  • Does banter form a big part of your interactions with others?
  • Do you see tough talking as character building?
  • Have you ever fired off an angry email?
  • Do you prefer to email colleagues about difficult situations, rather than discuss things face-to-face?

With thanks to RCSEd for allowing us to utilise their content in the creation of this list.

If, through reflection, you have identified episodes or patterns of your behaviour that could be viewed as bullying or undermining then this is a difficult, but brave and constructive, step towards addressing them. Visit Question 2 "I think I may have been bullying or undermining, what should I do now?" to explore what to do next.


What if I don’t think I’ve been bullying or undermining?

Sometimes a bullying accusation can result from a simple misunderstanding.

If you have completed the self reflection exercise above, and do not feel that you have displayed bullying or undermining behaviour, try to find out more information about the accusation.

In some cases the accusation may be a mistake. In other cases the interaction you have had with the accuser may have made them feel bullied or undermined, even if it was completely unintended on your part.

  • Get practical support and wellbeing support
  • Offer to meet with your accuser with an impartial third party
  • Be open to their comments and feedback
  • Reflect upon your communication skills and the experience and how future such interactions can have a more positive outcome
  • Resist the temptation to publicly "set the record straight", however upsetting it might be
  • Your response to this can be a real force for change for others