The Case of the Abrasive Perfectionist
Is that nurse a perfectionist with high standards or a bully?
Liz was thrilled when she accepted a job in the medical ICU (MICU) at a large Level I trauma center. However, it wasn’t long before she wondered if she had made the right decision. Liz’s preceptor, Clare, a 30-year MICU veteran, was not what you would call warm and fuzzy. She didn’t smile and had a drill sergeant’s demeanor, becoming abrasive any time Liz made a mistake (even a minor one) or admitted not knowing something.
While Clare was well known for her excellent clinical skills and ability to quickly act in a crisis situation, many nurses and physicians were somewhat afraid of her. Clare ran a tight ship whenever she was in charge, but no one wanted to get on her bad side, which was all too easy to do. Some said that Clare was just a perfectionist with very high standards. Others said she was a bully. Liz wasn’t sure what to think.
Wanting to be as competent as humanly possible is usually a good thing, especially in healthcare, where the stakes are high. However, wanting and expecting the best from yourself and others is one thing; being a bully is another matter. Unfortunately, when someone is highly skilled, we often justify or rationalize their uncouth behavior by saying things like:
“She’s just very particular.”
“He’s an excellent nurse as long as you don’t get on his bad side.”
“Don’t take it personally. She has impossible standards. She’s like that with everyone.”
Perfectionism vs. Bullying
Where do we draw the line between brusque perfectionism and bullying? Ask yourself these questions: