Last week, one of my dearest friends wound up in the hospital. The circumstances that took her there were scary and indicated a potentially life-threatening condition. She was in ICU for several days, during which there were numerous hospital staff with whom she interacted.
One of the interactions that was most puzzling was with a doctor. His behavior, in a visit several hours earlier, was pleasant and respectful. But later in the day, he returned and seemed to be a completely different person. He was rude and dismissive, dripping with arrogance, behaving like a bully.
There were numerous witnesses to the incident who all seemed (and later indicated they were) appalled by his treatment toward her. It was determined by hospital personnel he would be written up, as his conduct was unacceptable.
While that certainly seems to be the right next best step, a bigger question loomed in my mind.
Why didn’t anyone say anything while this was happening?
For a moment, let’s examine the potential reasons no one did anything. This list certainly isn’t all encompassing, but hopefully gets at the most obvious ones.
- They were too shocked by what was happening. This is fair; in situations of great stress, our fight, flight or freeze responses are activated and we may not know what to do.
- They simply didn’t know what to say. This one is also fair. If you haven’t had plenty of practice with difficult conversations, you might not have even the faintest idea of a script that would serve you in this situation.
- They were concerned his behavior would escalate. Maybe, but I don’t really know how he could have behaved any worse than he already was.
- Hospital staff are used to dealing with doctors, some of whom are self-important and arrogant. These staff have become numb to the behavior of these doctors and feel powerless to intervene. Some staff believe that they are expendable when compared to a physician. While I believe this is a pervasive belief (and comparing the well-appointed, dedicated physician parking lot to rooftop employee parking lot bears this out) it is concerning and deeply problematic. None of us are beyond making mistakes and in a medical situation, they can be life or death.
Clearly, silence is problematic. When behavior is left unchecked, it will almost certainly continue and likely even increase.
So what can (or should) be done when you see bad behavior?
- Remember, you have responsibility. Particularly if you are the manager, your responsibility is to protect other employees and the organization.
- Say something in the moment. While it’s ideal if you can do it with finesse, saying ANYTHING is better than nothing.
- Say something after the incident has occurred. Raise it to the correct entity – this might be your upline manager, Human Resources, Health and Safety or someone else. Whomever it is, get it on record that you took a stand. One of the things I learned at Kerri’s knee long ago is to see the situation the way an arbitrator would see it. There are numerous choice points in an incident like this and someone is going to inquire why you didn’t seize one of them to do the right thing.
We all deserve to be treated with dignity and safe from abusive behavior. Some situations render us vulnerable or unable to talk for ourselves. In those moments, we count on someone doing the right thing.
Let’s determine we will do the right thing. Make yourself a promise, get the skills you need and don’t let fight or flight overtake you.
Because everyone is someone’s loved one and the next incident may involve yours.