"Hey!" The orthopedic surgeon enters the OR. "Where are the x-rays for this case?"
The resident thought he'd prepped everything, but left this one thing out. "Oh, sorry, I guess I forgot them in emerg...."
The surgeon grabs the resident by the scruff of the neck and pins him to the wall. "If this happens again, I'll have your balls for breakfast." The resident's feet dangle in the air. He keeps his cool but silently vows revenge one day.
THERE'S ALWAYS ONE
Hopefully you've been fortunate enough to have escaped the level of wrath of this incident, recalled by a now-veteran doctor. But the surgeon in the story reminds you of someone someone you've worked with or for, or are dealing with right now. You know the type. Ask a question, you get a surly response. Exudes attitude that screams "I know my stuff and I'll rub your face in it."
Think nausea-inducing swagger. Think bad bedside manners. Think of the person who single-handedly ruined your day on a regular basis. Think House, MD.
Maybe it's a power struggle or a clash of egos. But that person is, unequivocally, a jerk. Unfortunately in medicine jerky behaviour has long been tolerated and indeed encouraged, the rationale being that it 'toughens up' junior docs. These days, however, it's acknowledged that this kind of bullying has an adverse effect on doctors' mental health, which can in turn impact on their productivity.
"Most of us at times are situational jerks," observes John Yardley, PhD, an organizational psychologist at Brock University in St Catharines, ON. A lot of this 'jerkdom' is a result of working in a stressful environment, and few workplaces are more stressful than healthcare settings. "Because of the situation that we're in we're tired, we're frustrated, we don't have enough time, we can't communicate quickly enough, we can't communicate clearly enough we lose it in the moment," says Dr Yardley, fresh from a workplace health conference in Toronto where he gave a talk on workplace psychosocial toxicity.
While everyone acts like a jerk sometimes, some people seem to suffer from it as a chronic disorder. Dr Yardley calls them "genetic jerks." These are your colleagues who have a "long-term disposition towards being problematic to work with," he explains, adding these are the ones you really need to watch out for.
But how can you diffuse encounters with a genetic jerk? Dr Yardley has some tips:
1 Check your own ego at the door. "Anything that causes you to be insensitive to others is automatically going to mean that you're going to have a lowered radar for the problems you're creating for others," Dr Yardley says. That's what the genetic jerk does. Don't repeat that behaviour. One jerk is enough.
2 Take control. Griping to other colleagues may feel good, but it won't make the jerk disappear. "The best two people to fix it are you and I," says Dr Yardley. That doesn't mean there has to be a showdown, but you should try to confront the jerk in a calm, non-adversarial way. If handling the matter on your own fails, then you may need someone else to intervene.
3 Don't point fingers. Blaming others will only exacerbate the problem. But being submissive doesn't work either. You might have to take a deep breath your approach matters. Talk to the so-called jerk to find the root cause of the problematic behaviour. Maybe they aren't a jerk after all.
4 Share ideas. In a profession driven by expertise, there can be a clash of ideas and a tendency to butt heads. "The creative professional is the one who puts two ideas together," says Walter Podilchak, a work and organizational consultant. No one wants to work alongside a know-it-all.
5 Negotiate. Once the ideas are on the table, it's easier to come to an understanding. And remember, that's the whole point.
6 Purge negativity from the team. Team members who accentuate the positive function much better. If possible, keep the jerks out before they get in. And if you're the boss, make sure you have a non-punitive reporting system in place for staffers to report jerky behaviour and nip it in the bud.
7 Don't expect every moment to be Zen-like. "There has to be a bit of an edge," says Dr Yardley. In the heat of a surgical moment, for example. "People have to be a little on edge in order to perform well." If it's a high-tension situation and someone snaps, it's easy to take it personally. However, when the words get demeaning or offensive, there's a need to address them.
Remember our resident whose attending threatened to "have his balls for breakfast"? Well, the resident was scheduled to work with the same surgeon the very next morning. When the surgeon showed up, he was greeted with a bowl of cereal with two whole kiwis on top and a note that read "Breakfast, sir!"
1. You refer to your colleagues as "those useless malcontents"
2. You throw scalpels around the OR when someone breathes too heavily
3. You have a stopwatch running while your patients tell you their problems
4. You frame grievance reports filed against you and display them next to your med school degree
5. You hum TV show theme songs, file your nails or think about golf while a colleague is giving you a status report on a patient
6. You have notches on your belt for every resident that you've made cry