Unacknowledged threats proffered "in a manner of speaking": recognizing workplace bullying as shaming

J Nurs Scholarsh. 2014 Jul;46(4):281-91. doi: 10.1111/jnu.12080. Epub 2014 Apr 22.


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine workplace bullying victims' perceptions of what they heard their bully counterparts say through their use of prosody.

Design: From a sampling frame of 89 manuscripts referenced in the authors' previous studies, we identified a subset (n = 10) that included quotes regarding bullying victims' perceptions of communication experiences with their bully perpetrators.

Methods: We used hermeneutics and a recursive metasynthesis to interpret quotes embedded in the manuscripts chosen for this study.

Findings: Two-thirds of language is expressed nonverbally through prosody or "manner of speaking"-rhythm, stress, intonation, and vocabulary choice. We found that as bullies communicated with their intended victims over time, they used prosody across subtle, linked communications, or boldly and openly in public venues, to establish a context-embedded, one-way communication process of "doublespeak."

Conclusions: Bullies' confusing prosodic communication processes served to recontexualize victims' situations and, through mechanisms largely unacknowledged by the victims, to subtly demean their personhood, and to shame them and render them voiceless.

Clinical relevance: This study directs formal attention to the language of workplace bullying. Further study might strengthen opportunities to effectively address and curtail the long-term personal, professional, and organizational injuries deriving from workplace bullying.

Keywords: Workplace bullying; nonverbal language; policy; subjectivity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Bullying / psychology*
  • Communication*
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Nurses / psychology*
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Shame*
  • Workplace / psychology