7 Action Steps to Take if You Witness Bullying

Have you ever wondered what you should do if you witness bullying?

Many of us have witnessed bullying and/or incivility against others but have kept silent. Sometimes, we’re just thankful the bully’s focus is on somebody else and not us! Other times, we are caught off guard or simply don’t know what to say or do. However, by our silence, we unwittingly condone and contribute to a culture of bullying and incivility.

When we're silent we condone and contribute to a culture of #bullying and #incivility. Click to Tweet

Did you know…

  • 73% of all nurses have either experienced or witnessed bullying behavior by other nurses.
  • 40% of all targets never tell anyone they’re being bullied.
  • 50% of all bullying incidents occur in front of other people.

The most powerful intervention to stop the cycle of bullying is for the WITNESS to speak up, so it’s time we start raising our collective voices to eradicate workplace bullying and incivility, one incident at a time.

Follow the action steps I’ve listed below to help do just that! 


The reality is that we live in a world in which good people remain passive in the face of bullying and injustice.  A few years ago, a study of 1700 healthcare employees revealed that 90% would stay silent if they witnessed bad practice or bad behavior, even in life and death situations!

Why is that?

Sometimes it’s because we think it’s someone else’s responsibility (like the boss), we’re worried about how that person will respond, or we’re just caught off guard and don’t know what to say or do.  Knowing this can help. From now on, make a conscious decision to confront any acts of bullying behavior immediately when you see them happening. It’s about stepping up by sending a message that bad behavior won’t be tolerated anymore.

Not here – not now – not ever!


Chances are, you’re not the only one who is sick and tired of the phrase, nurses eat their young. Find others who are just as fed up with the bad behaviors and are willing to confront and support.  What I know for sure is that there is strength in numbers. Remember, there are more of you than there are bullies! Once you’ve all agreed that you want to create a professional, nurturing, and supportive work environment, it’s easy to influence others to do the same. Then the bullies stand out like a sore thumb.


When nurses share experiences where someone ripped their coworker a “new one” in front of others, I always ask, “Well – what did everyone do?”


Everyone looks at each other as if I was asking them if they gave up their first-born child. What I’ve found is that nobody is speaking up IN the moment when they are witnessing a coworker being tortured. That ends today! When you witness an act of bullying, you need to step up and confront! The easiest way to do this is to just name the behavior. For example:

When you witness an act of #bullying, you need to step up and confront! #speakup Click to Tweet

Coworker says to new nurse: “You won’t last a week here.

You should say this: “Whoa Whoa. Time out. Telling her she won’t last a week here is inappropriate and inconsiderate.

Coworker is yelling at a nursing assistant.

You should say: “Stop it. You are yelling at <insert name> and you need to stop.”


One of the most powerful weapons we have against bullying behavior is our ability to document. Seriously, as they say in legalese – if it wasn’t documented, it wasn’t done. Document any acts of bullying you witness with the date, time, person, and facts. To strengthen your documentation, align the behavior to a patient safety, patient quality, or patient satisfaction concern! Think…how did this person’s behavior impact patients?


Once you have sufficient documentation, share the information with a trustworthy person in an authority position. If possible, begin with your manager. Don’t assume that management knows what’s happening. Tell them.


If your attempts to confront the bully and alert an authority figure do not result in positive change, consider filing a formal complaint with an HR representative. While a formal complaint is an extreme step, the culture of your unit is at stake. If a bully culture isn’t impacting you today, it may do so tomorrow.


Any time you witness your coworkers being treated poorly, help them!

Let them know that the way they were treated was inappropriate and unprofessional. It’s so reassuring to them to know that others recognize it too and that they aren’t just being too sensitive. Ask if they are okay and offer encouragement. Never underestimate the power one person has to make a difference in someone else’s life. This person may be on the verge of quitting or may be suffering physical, emotional, and mental stress. Offering them your support can make all the difference!

RTConnections Stand up to Bullying Banner (1)


One person who stands up to the bully can inspire others to do the same. The world will not end if you stand up to a bully. In fact, others around you will see that an assertive response is possible. A mirror phenomenon can occur where others start to model or “mirror” your assertive behaviors. Not only will you be providing a role model for professional behavior, but you will be sending a message to others that bullying doesn’t have to be tolerated.

It only takes ONE person standing up to a bully to #inspire others to do the same! Click to Tweet

Take care. Be kind. Stay connected.

Helping you cultivate a healthy happy workforce,