Even if you’re not part of the 85 percent of nurses who’ve been abused by a fellow nurse, you’re still probably aware that bullying among healthcare workers is a pervasive problem. Perhaps you’ve heard that 1 in 3 nurses has considered quitting a job due to bullying — or you’ve seen it at your own workplace.
Regardless, nurse bullying will only truly disappear when every single nurse make an effort to eliminate this problematic culture. A simple (but not always easy) way to get involved is by standing up to bullying when you see it.
How to confront nurse bullies
Here are some strategies from one of the foremost experts on this topic, Renee Thomspon, DNP, RN, CMSRN, CSP, founder of Healthy Workforce Institute.
Name the behavior.
Simply respond to the difficult individual by explaining exactly what he or she did — no sugar-coating and in a matter-of-fact tone. For example, “You just called me an idiot in front of patients and family members.” Often that’s all it takes for people to realize how absurd their actions were, Dr. Thompson says.
“I’m not willing to respond to that.”
This double-pronged approach shows the bully that the behavior is off-putting while also allowing you to remove yourself from what is likely an uncomfortable situation.
“I’m not sure if you’re aware, but sometimes you can come across as…”
This strategy is less confrontational because it reframes the problem not as the individual’s deliberate choice but rather a communication issue. It also still lends to open, honest conversation. Don’t forget provide an example of the troubling behavior early on.
“It’s been brought to my attention that… Is this true?”
This is especially effective if you’re in a management role and need to confront one of your employees. For extra emphasis, Dr. Thompson recommends placing your hand over your heart when you say, “Is this true?” That way, your body language also shows how unprofessional and rude you find the behavior.
“I never want to find out that you’ve done something like this again.”
Again, if you’re in a leadership position, it’s crucial to tell your team members exactly what you expect of them so they can’t make excuses going forward.
Mistakes to avoid
Justifying the behavior
Dr. Thompson notes that managers often overlook bad behavior because the perpetrator is good at his or her job. This may seem like a passive approach, but in reality, it actively encourages nurse bullying to continue.
Addressing a bully in a big group
To maintain a healthy workforce culture, Dr. Thompson stresses that you should speak to individuals who are bullying in private. Leave staff meetings out of it.
Not documenting enough
The more you document problematic individuals’ behavior, the greater likelihood you’ll be able to hold these bullying employees responsible, whether it’s through termination or something less severe.
Calling out nurse bullies can seem scary, especially if you’re worried about retribution or convinced your employer will never address the problem. Just know that consistently standing up for your values will have many positive effects long-term, both for your workplace and your own moral fortitude.
8 things to know about nurse bullying, Becker’s Hospital Review.
1 in 3 nurses consider quitting because of bullying, Becker’s Hospital Review.
Nurse Bullying: How to Respond to Rude Employees, Dr. Renee Thompson (via YouTube).
How to Respond to Nurse Bullying Behavior: 3 Powerful Scripts, Dr. Renee Thompson (via YouTube).