I frequently get asked by organizations to help them eliminate workplace bullying. The conversations we have are always about BULLYING – the physicians bullying the nurses, the nurses bullying each other and the support staff, etc. And then I go in, “pull back the covers and lift up the gown” to find out if there is really a bullying problem.
The Difference Between Bullying and Incivility.
Here is what I find:
SOME bullying – not a ton, but an awful lot of incivility.
Even though I’ve written about this, talked about this, and created a few videos about, I’m not confident people truly understand the difference between bullying and incivility. Keep in mind; both bullying and incivility are NOT okay. Both need to be addressed but it’s important to understand the differences because the strategies to eliminate are a bit different.
For a behavior to be considered bullying, it has to include 3 things:
- A Target
There HAS to be a target. This target can be a single person or group of people. For example, someone might pick on just one new nurse and make her life a living hell. But is nice to everyone else. Group targets can include the opposite shift (nurse on days hates all nurses on nights), new nurses, or nurses who have a particular ethnic background.
The behavior has to be harmful in some way. This harm can be to the target (I get diarrhea every time I see that I have to work with this person) or harmful to a patient (a nurse who sabotages or sets a nurse up for failure, affecting patient care).
I do believe this is the most important element of bullying. The behavior can’t be just a one-time event (I scream at you during a code situation). The harmful behavior has to be repeated over time. Some experts say 6 months or more. I disagree. I would consider a behavior as bullying if it repeated several times over the course of a week or so.
How to address bullying:
Bullying behaviors tend to be more actionable because most organizations have policies about bullying behavior. Get a copy of your policy and use the language in that policy to take action against bullying .
Incivility is different than bullying. While the behaviors can be similar, they tend to be lower level. This is your typical rude, inconsiderate, or just crusty nurse. However, make no mistake about it, incivility is a healthy and professional workplace killer! Incivility needs to be addressed too but bullying should be a NEVER event.
How to address incivility:
Uncivil behaviors tend to be less actionable and not always easy to address using policies or codes of conduct. Sometimes the best strategy to address incivility is to actually focus on CIVILITY. What does civility LOOK like? What behaviors SHOULD we be seeing in our coworkers?
If I’m a bully, I’m mean to a target or a group.
If I’m being uncivil, I’m just mean to everyone.
Do you see the difference?
Bullying and incivility can destroy your work environment AND impact the patients you serve in a negative way. The key is to get very clear on the behavior – is it bullying (target, harmful, repeated) or incivility (low level, rude, and unprofessional).
We are hemorrhaging nurses due to bad behavior and it’s time we stop EATING each other and start nurturing, supporting, and celebrating each other!
Thanks so much for reading. Take care and stay connected!
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Dr. Renee Thompson works with healthcare organizations that want to overcome the leadership and clinical challenges their people face every day. If you’d like to find out more about her programs, please visit her website www.reneethompsonspeaks.com.
Contact Renee today at firstname.lastname@example.org to bring her to your organization to talk about ending the cycle of nurse bullying.