Is there a bully at your dental office?

Bullies aren't just confined to the playground. Here's how to take control of the situation at your practice.

No one ever believes that they’re the problem, but what if you actually are? I can sit here and write article after article about mean girls in the workplace, but does the bully actually see what he or she is doing? Instead, they may think, “Are you delusional? How could I could possibly have a mean bone in my body?”

Are you evolved enough to honestly take a look at your own behaviors? (I’ll be honest, I hate doing that for myself.) Do I gossip? Am I being negative about another person? What happens when YOU don’t realize that YOU are the problem? Nothing changes. Instead, we’re stuck in ignorance. I believe that when you realize you’re the problem, this is a great thing. Why? Because then, and only then, are you ready to become the solution.

Let’s dig deeper. What about the recipients of the bullying? I prefer not to call them victims since that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Yes, semantics do matter.) I get letters from readers on a regular basis who are nice, quiet, meek and not able to stand up for themselves in the dental practice. They write to me, rage to their friends and family, and nothing improves. (You may think that bullies only exist on the playground. Can we ever outgrow them?) When someone bullies on the playground, does he or she turn over a new leaf, mature, and become empathetic and sympathetic creatures? Sometimes, but not always. Sometimes those victimized as kids victimize others as adults. It happens - and more frequently than we would imagine.

More from the author: How to set boundaries in your dental practice

Let’s talk about that sweet kid who’s taken advantage of over and over again in your office. You have this introvert who doesn’t know how to stand up for himself or herself and is fearful of the bullying getting worse. There may be a subliminal or overt threat of losing the job as a result of taking action. What should you do? Some situations you shouldn’t address. I know that that goes against many of the articles I’ve written about how communication is the most important thing in solving problems. But some situations are toxic and addressing them can harm you in the form of disciplinary action, termination, or not getting a good referral. Some of you live in very small communities where everyone knows your business in the dental world. Finding work could be a true challenge if you get blackballed.

So, what should you do if you’re the person being harassed?

1. Start a documentation trail. Write down dates, times, incidents and who was present in a journal. Include what actions were taken to rectify the situation and outcomes. This paper trail may be utilized in many ways down the road.

2. Find someone you trust to discuss the situation. Talk to someone you don’t work with. You need a good sounding board and someone’s objectivity as you figure out what you want to do. At times this may be a counselor or lawyer.

3. Talk to your direct supervisor or whomever is higher up if your supervisor is the bully.
Make sure that you have your ducks in a row before going down this path.

4. Keep documenting everything that happens regarding the situation.

5. Decide what you’d like the outcome to be. That may include quitting your job or taking legal action.

I know that not every dental practice experiences this. Keep in mind that if you’re fortunate to work in a great workplace, then that’s wonderful! But not all practices run the same way that yours does.

Admitting that you’re being bullied is a nightmare as a child and can be just as traumatic as an adult. Bullies don’t stop bullying on their own. They either need to be confronted or have consequences as a result. You get to decide which path is appropriate. This is empowering you so that you’re not a victim but a survivor.

Email me at and share your experiences.