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May/June 2017, Practice Management

Bully Tactics

Julie SquiresCCFS | Rekindle, LLC

Julie is a compassion fatigue specialist who brings a unique perspective and approach to support the sustained energy and passion of animal workers. Her company, Rekindle LLC, offers on-site compassion fatigue training to veterinary hospitals, animal shelters, lab animal research facilities, and other animal organizations.

Julie has 25 years of experience within the veterinary field and with leading organizations. She has developed and executed training, workshops, and 1:1 coaching for major companies in the animal health industry. She obtained her certification as a compassion fatigue specialist through the Traumatology Institute. Julie’s clients also gain from her experience as a certified life coach and corporate wellness specialist.

Bully Tactics
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“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”
—Tim Fields

Recently, a technician contacted me for some private coaching because she was feeling bullied by one of the veterinarians in her practice. She told me how he loses his temper at the slightest things, throws things (but not at her), and is verbally abusive toward her. All of this makes her feel incredibly incompetent, even though deep down she knows she’s a good tech.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a bully as a blustering, browbeating person; especially one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.

BOX 1 What Does a Bully Look Like?

Bullying is not new. Bullies are found throughout recorded history. While historical bullies are predominantly male, female bullies exist (known as “mean girls”).

Some of the most famous TV and film bullies include the following:

  • Biff Tannen, Back to the Future
  • Johnny Lawrence, The Karate Kid
  • Nelson Muntz, The Simpsons
  • Scut Farkus, A Christmas Story
  • Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter
  • Nelly Olson, Little House on the Prairie
  • Angelica Pickles, Rugrats
  • Gordon Ramsey, Hell’s Kitchen
  • Eric Cartman, South Park

(This definition made me realize I didn’t know what browbeating meant, so in the event that you don’t know either, here is the Merriam-Webster take on that: to intimidate or disconcert by a stern manner or arrogant speech. If you are fortunate enough to not know anyone like this personally, you’ve seen them on TV or in the movies [BOX 1].)

As a veterinary technician, you may work in private practice, an animal shelter, research, or elsewhere. It may not be a veterinarian who is the bully; it could be another tech, a supervisor, a manager, a board member, a client, or a member of the general public. Regardless of who is doing the bullying, it’s important to call it out and name it bullying if that’s what it is.

The Truth About Bullying

Here is the truth about bullying: it tells you everything about the person doing the bullying and nothing about yourself. Bullies have issues with self-esteem. Some of them have very low self-esteem, but others regard themselves quite favorably. Bullies enjoy manipulating others and focus on people whom they think will let them get away with it.

So what does that mean? It means don’t be a victim, because it leaves you powerless. If you believe others can hurt you and your feelings are based on their actions, you will be powerless. However, if you acknowledge that YOU are responsible for how you feel, you will be much more prepared to deal with a bully. Others can behave however they want, but you get to decide how you’re going to feel about it by deciding how you’re going to think about it.

Bullying in the Workplace

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
—Eleanor Roosevelt

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as follows1:

Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is:

  • Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
  • Work interference—sabotage—which prevents work from getting done, or
  • Verbal abuse

In the workplace, the rules are different from those in our personal lives. Most veterinary practices and organizations have rules that employees must follow or risk termination. Find out what the policy is on bullying if you are being bullied. Report it to your human resources representative or manager, so there is a record.

BOX 2 Bullying Resources
To take action if you are bullied in the workplace, check out the AARP’s “What to Do If You Are Bullied at Work.” (aarp.org/work/job-hunting/info-11-2013/handle-bullying-on-the-job.html) Other great resources include the following:

Unfortunately, not much happens in most cases, even with a bullying incident being documented. Sometimes the bully is talented, productive, and highly regarded by senior management. Because of that, many organizations do nothing. You should be aware that workplace bullying has potential legal liability, and some of the biggest companies (Microsoft, Dish Network, etc.) have found themselves paying big bucks to employees who were wronged in the workplace. See BOX 2 for a list of online resources about workplace and other types of bullying.

Taking the Bull By the Horns

I’m all about personal empowerment. I’ve learned that I can’t control much in this world. However, I can control where I work, and changing jobs is certainly a viable option if you are being bullied at work and management has not been willing or able to stop it.

That all being said, you still have the power to choose what to think about bullying. Your thoughts are your superpower because you can decide to think ANYTHING you want about it. Anything. Isn’t that great?

If the bullying is troubling you, it’s because of the meaning you are giving it, perhaps subconsciously. She doesn’t respect me. I’m not good enough. There’s something wrong with me. He doesn’t like me. He shouldn’t be allowed to behave like that. Why can she get away with that? Who does he think he is talking to like that?

Bullies can—and will—say what they want, but you get to decide if you think it’s true, or if you think it’s just them trying to feel better about themselves. You may even decide to think the bully has no other skills with which to connect, so instead he or she chooses to connect with you from a negative place.

When you can get a little perspective on the situation, you might be able to see right through the bully. These are people who are deeply disconnected from themselves and from their own feelings as well as the feelings of others. In almost all situations, they are people trying to make themselves feel better or more powerful at the expense of others.

But remember…

  • You don’t need others to respect you, if you respect yourself.
  • You don’t need others to regard you as competent, if you know you are.
  • You don’t need anyone to like you, if you already like yourself.
  • You don’t need to care about how others act, if you act appropriately yourself.

Our thoughts, not our circumstances, cause our feelings. Bullying is a circumstance that has no negative meaning until you think something negative about it. Someone saying ANYTHING to you is not what causes your feelings; what you think about what they said is what does.

So, perhaps you can think a bully is just being a jerk and go on making your difference in this world. Why not?

“If there are no heroes to save you, then you be the hero.”
—Denpa Kyoshi

Once A Bully, Maybe Not Always a Bully

In my own life, my brother bullied me tirelessly about my weight when I was growing up. I didn’t have the knowledge that I have now, nor the tools. So instead, I kept emotionally eating and gained more weight. Then he bullied me more. This kind of sibling bullying is not uncommon.

However, in what might seem to be an ironic twist, my brother is now a school psychologist, and part of his job involves working with kids who are bullied at school! It goes to show that sometimes the bully takes stock, realizes his effect on others, and chooses for it to be productive rather than destructive. Today I have a great relationship with my brother and am really proud of who he is.


  1. Workplace Bullying Institute. The WBI definition of workplace bullying. workplacebullying.org/individuals/problem/definition/. Accessed March 2017.