How Dental Assistants Can Deal with Workplace Bullying

By: Dianne Auger, RDH, BS

Have you ever loved your position on the dental team, and then it starts to all go downhill? Have you ever thought that being in a profession such as this one that there are no conflicts or acts of workplace bullying? Well, there is!

I was just as surprised as you are, or maybe you are relating to this right now. If that’s the case, I am so sorry.

My grandma used to say, “People will shake each other up, no matter if it is in a car together or a place of work or even in a family.” I used to think that was just a wise grandma warning, and then I experienced it!

My Personal Experience Being Bullied in the Dental Office

I was bullied at my last clinical office as a dental assistant. How did it begin?

Well, it all started out with just a comment or two that landed wrong, then it escalated fast when I did not stick up for myself and did the old, “Brush it off and move on. “

When I told the dentist, he told me that is just her way and to not cause problems and just wait it out because she would move on to her next victim. Well, the team was only eight of us so I figured I would get her wrath about every four weeks or so.

When did the unacceptable become so acceptable that the dentist did not find this surprising? Well, I did find the courage to quit, despite not having another position in line, and it was OK. I did not sit in my car convincing myself to go in only to be the victim of her bullying schemes. I worked for a practice management firm in NYC and I adapted and adopted the methodology that this was not acceptable and there needs to be a process to deal with those dysfunctional bullies in dentistry. 

How To Deal with Workplace Bullying in the Dental Office

With that in mind, here is what I call the “SWAK IT” process for situations of conflict or bullying between team members. 

Now when you are being bullied, it is best to take the situation to a third party, someone who is not in the circle of your team. This could be another dental professional or a mediator (something I have done on several occasions).

In this process, a meeting is called where all involved are included and the SWAK IT process goes like this:

“S” Stands for “Simple”

Keep emotions out, only facts. Document all that has happened and, if others are witnesses, have them write a statement describing what they saw. I have seen this be done anonymously, but having a third party or mediator also works really well. 

“W” Stands for “World-Class”

Keep the atmosphere world-class. I know we are talking about conflicts here, yet how can we make a meeting that is centered around conflict and workplace bullying “world-class?” Think how you feel when someone empowers you and you leave feeling heard and valued. In this meeting, you should leave feeling that you were in a “world-Class” extraordinary experience.

“A” Stands for “Aligned”

The standards of the office are always in play. If the practice you are in has a policy in place to handle this kind of thing, start there. Go through the process and, if that is not working for whatever reason, ask for a “SWAK IT” meeting. 

“K” Stands for “Know your Value”

Remember that you are important and it is your right to work in an environment that is safe and free of continuing conflicts. 

“I” Stands for “Intuitive and Immediate”

The resolution of conflicts is based on what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning. Have a good cry, then focus only on the facts of what has occurred. Don’t let this go on and on. It is way easier to “SWAK IT” early so as to not have to endure the negative feelings of conflicts or workplace bullying. 

“T” Stands for “TRUST”

I leave this to the last element of the process because that is the most important and what needs to be restored above all else. Trust is a hard one; the loss of security and loyalty needs to be restored and, in some extreme cases such as the one I experienced, that was not going to happen. Yet I have seen relationships rebuild and become a stronger bond between team members once they have applied these elements. 

Remember, You are Valuable – SWAK IT

Always remember to “SWAK IT.” If that does not fix the situation, remember you are valuable and one practice’s loss is another’s gain. My dental mentor once told our graduating class that it takes working with over 10 practices before finding the right one to retire with. That is our goal: To retire in happiness knowing we made a difference in the lives of all, including our own. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Up Next: Dealing with Workplace Drama

Dianne Auger

Dianne Auger

Dianne Auger, RDH, BS, always believes that the dental team can be stronger when they put the right people in the right places doing the right things. After receiving her RDH degree and working for a few years, she went into education as a dental assistant program administrator within a college. She can be reached at