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Wednesday, 16 September 2009

SDS Delegate Debate: Difficult People or Our Lack of Skills and Confidence?

Dear All

I am writing to discuss with you the recently released Boorman Report (August 2009) - the latest in a series of analyses suggesting that NHS staff suffer from ill health and self esteem problems as a result of bullying at work. It follows on closely from Unison's campaign of "Speaking Up For Social Workers" which highlighted similar pressures and stresses in the social care field.

It always seems ironic to me that "the caring organizations" are often populated by people who create stressful difficulties for their colleagues and where low self esteem and confidence issues abound. A culture that values submissiveness and uses guilt and fear as motivators is partly to blame. However, what is interesting is that some people seem to survive these pressures better than others, and in some instances actually thrive.

Stewart Collins' 2007 work on social workers suggests that using strategies that develop resilience, optimism and positive emotions may be key skills for "caring professionals" to develop in order to thrive in stressful work environment. Developing interpersonal skills for handling challenging colleagues and for boosting self esteem are also key.

SDS' courses on MANAGING DIFFICULT PEOPLE AT WORK ( and PERSONAL CONFIDENCE & ASSERTIVENESS AT WORK ( are deliberately designed to address these issues and boost delegates' skills and self belief. The courses are not designed as a "feel good" training days but are evidence based and get to grips with the practical problems of "doing things differently" when you return to the workplace.

These training days will give us an opportunity to discuss these and many other issues. I am sure they will be stimulating events for all of us. However, I welcome any of your thoughts on the topic prior to then. Please, email me and let me know your thoughts or share your ideas with other SDS delegates on SDS Forum ( It will help us to shape the discussion on the courses around the most practical issues as perceived by you.

Looking forward to hearing from you and working with you on these training days.

Kind Regards



  1. I ask the question posed often - difficult people or lack of skills and awareness?

    Personally I feel all people can and do act in difficult ways especially when receiving news/information which is 'hard to hear'

    However the art of working with people is not in the ability or authority to impart facts/information/laws etc but in how we enable those the message is intended for to open up and listen to what is being said.

    I feel often in the caring professions we are intent on doing the job - to police, to supervise, to social work but the interpersonal skills and comptence is sorely lacking. I do believe that much more time and emphasis should be placed on the training qualificing courses in this area - if you can't engage with your client then the message you are imparting is lost!


  2. I think it's an excellent topic and very important for staff at all levels.

    Pressures on staff in the NHS are intensifying and it is essential that we all know our roles, identities, competencies, expectations and also our vulnerabilities. To work without such knowledge will leave us open to the things you so rightly identified.

    On the issue of workplace bullying, this is rather more complicated. It is still the case that the law has no teeth and there is rarely a positive outcome for the complainant. Most people don't even bother taking up a grievance. They just try to move. Sadly, it is often top down bullying and options are few. The website bullyonline provides lots of good information which could be used to stimulate discussion.


  3. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for your interesting post.
    I have been very fortunate to have worked in an environment that has been caring and supportive since 1993. However, previous to that I worked on the wards and staff were made to feel guilty if they were off sick etc. Therefore staff would have struggled in despite their illness which did not help patient care.
    No doubt with cut backs within the NHS and the many changes that are taking place at present will impact on our very protective working environment and we will be infiltrated by influences from other areas of the NHS.
    So adapting to the changes will cause stress and no doubt hassle from other sources.
    Kind regards

  4. This has happened to a very dear friend of mine who 'whistle blew' a bullying manager. He has since been offered a post in the same trust which involves 3 hrs plus travelling a day or dropping a band and taking a £300 a month drop in salary. He has elected to take the drop which will cause a problem for himself and young family. I am told that new policies have very recently come out which states that if employees go to anyone outside of the trust to take legal advice they will be dismissed. Surely this cannot be so. Is it something you have come up against and is there any way around it I wonder?

  5. As I work in private practice as an Integrative Psychotherapist, these issues are not frequently brought to my consulting room. I am accutely aware of their existence, however. I agree with everything you stated in your second paragraph.

    Something relevant recently came to my attention, although not in my consulting room but from a member of my personal world.
    It concerns a young woman in her mid thirties, who is/was considered to be a rising star within her organisation. She has a degree and has been taking specialised training, which has been paid for by her organisation. Her department head changed. Her former boss, who was male, left and was replaced by a less qualified and experienced female. Since her arrival, she has done all within her power to undermine the confidence of this 'rising star' to the point where it became so unbarable, that she felt she needed to find another job. She got the first job she applied for and her new employers are 'over the moon' to have her.

    A little CBT Socratic questionning helped my friend to come to terms with this and restore her self-esteem and self-confidence. She was able to see that the reason she was treated so badly was that the new boss had personal problems - she didn't feel that she was good enough and therefore my friend was seen as a threat. The 'I'm not good enough' core belief is generally very much in evidence with bullies and indeed their targets. Once people are aware of this, they realise that its not thier problem and thus don't have to take it personally.



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