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Nurse bullying is a problem. We’ve ALL heard the phrase “nurses eat their young” yet it continues. Why? Consider this – Dealing with human behavior versus clinical performance isn’t simple. It’s much easier to tell someone she needs to work on her IV insertion skills versus that she needs to treat others with respect. It’s not intuitive to be able to address bad behavior. There’s not a specific guideline that will “fix” every behavioral situation.
So, ending nurse bullying is difficult at best. But the complexity of human behavior isn’t the biggest barrier to end nurse bullying. So what is?

Fear of retaliation is the #1 barrier to ending nurse bullying and in my opinion, the #1 reason this problem has continued for so long. 
Although I’d like to say that you and I could fix this, again, it’s not that simple. But I do want to offer a few strategies that will buffer the impact of retaliation.
Tips to decrease the impact of retaliation
1.   Document
I talk a lot about documentation but really; it’s an important step to ending nurse bullying. It’s even more important if you are concerned about retaliation. Start documenting objective behavior of the bully. Perhaps you confront the bully when she openly criticizes you in front of others and then when in charge, she gives you the worst assignment. Document this. Be as objective as possible. Do this ongoing until you have a collection of objective bad behavior. You may need this if her retaliation gets worse. 
2.   Link bullying behavior to patient safety
Anytime you can link the bully’s behavior to a patient safety issue – ding, ding, ding. Now YOU have some ammunition to protect yourself from retaliation.  Why? Because you have a better chance of the bully’s behavior being addressed by more than just you. Patient safety is on the radar of administration and is more likely to be addressed.  One nurse shared with me that the bully took away her trach patient’s call bell and then wrote her up for “not having the call bell close to her patient.” What the bully didn’t realize was that patient witnessed her (bully) moving his call bell and reported it to the manager. Wow. Huge patient safety issue. If I were the bully’s boss, I’d fire her on the spot!
3.   Gather your posse
There is strength in numbers.  Chances are, you are not the only nurse who is getting “eaten” by this bully. Find others like you. Start joining forces – protect each other – watch each other’s backs – act as scouts for one another.
4.   Share your fears
The word retaliation is hardly ever spoken. It reminds me of the movie, A Lion King, when no one was allowed to say, Mufasa.  Tell your manager, educator, HR person, etc. Tell someone that you are experiencing a bullying situation but you’re keeping silent for fear of retaliation. Why does this help? Imagine if 10 nurses on separate occasions approached the manager and shared their concerns about retaliation. It would get someone’s attention! Say the word – RETALIATION. After all, the fear of retaliation is what is preventing us from ending the cycle of nurse bullying. We need to say it.
Reality insight: If you document, link the behavior to patient safety and gather your posse, and she finds out – she may still retaliate.  So be prepared. You may decide that it’s not worth it and stay silent – that the fear of retaliation is too great.  Remember that the bully is relying on you and her other victims to think this way. That’s how they exert their power over you. Fear of retaliation is their most powerful weapon. They wield fear like a knife. Don’t give into that fear. Tap into your moral courage muscles and speak up. It’s time we stop being passive about “eating our young”, middle aged and older nurses!
Last resort – if you are working in a toxic environment where you can’t even imagine taking any action against a bully – GET OUT! Leave. You deserve to work in a supportive and nurturing environment.
Would love to read your comments about retaliation and any tips you think would benefit others.
Thanks so much for reading. Air hug to you all!
For more great tips on ending nurse bullying, make sure you “like” me on Facebook,”follow” me on Twitter and YouTube and subscribe to my blog.  

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  1. Wow! Thanks for this info.! I;m sure glad that I read it and will definitely use the suggestions in the future. It's good to know that someone else understands..

    New Nurse in NY

  2. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! My favorite thing to do is to help individuals and organizations end nurse bullying. It just doesn't belong in the nursing profession – or any!

    Glad you found my blog valuable!
    Warm regards

  3. You are so right, Renee! This is a difficult thing to address as it is not cut-and-dry as skills are. I like your ideas about gathering your group. There is definitely support in numbers. And if you can reach out and ask for help from your peers you are more likely to have a positive result. The other piece I like about your post is the end. If you are feeling that bad there is no need to work there any longer. Nursing is such a beautiful and wonderful profession with many, many options!! Just do what you love, follow your heart and your gut, and you will then go to work each day with a smile instead of a frown. Thanks for the article! Have a wonderful weekend. :- D

  4. It's even harder if you are a manager and the bully is an executive (your boss). Yes, you can leave, but then that person came make sure that references, etc. are not reflective of your capabilities, etc. I have seen this happen and personally experienced it. I had to seek therapy to endure it and learn how to change my reaction to it. Go to HR? Not possible in most organizations. HR is not the employee's friend, it's a tool for management.

  5. I did my MSN thesis on bullying and I can tell you that you are spot ON the number one barrier nurses reported was fear of retaliation. The 2nd one is that they are afraid of conflict and don't know how to address it. I find that if I help coach RN's and help them script what they are going to say when they address the person who is doing the bullying, it helps a lot. While I agree that documentation is important, I think one of the first steps is to pull the person aside and address them individually whenever possible. THEN when you document you can say that you attempted to approach the person and they were either cooperative or not, and as time goes by you can document trends. Most bullies, when addressed will say " I wish someone would have told me " So addressing the behavior as it happens is helpful. I understand that when the bully is your executive it is a harder deal. There has to be someone though up the chain of command that you can talk to…:

  6. On having a bully for a boss….an analogous topic is having a Theory X boss[Mcgregor]For THAT situation producing accurate ,fast work is helpful.I should suppose that if someone is bullying you showing yourself as a really good nurse and THEN taking them on by asking what else they are looking for might help in some situations.Have I been bullied-yes…the difficult thing is all situations are different and there is no one size fits all solution.GOOD LUCK TO ALL and remember…the person with the problem is the bully..don't let them make it yours!

  7. All great comments!! The reason bullies bully and the solutions to end bullying are complex – as we've identified. In the end it boils down to how we treat other people. In healthcare, it's about recognizing the impact bullying behavior has on patient outcomes.

    Organizations with a high rate of bullying have worse patient outcomes. We all have a moral and ethical responsibility to do our part to ending it – no matter how difficult – no matter what might happen to us if we do.

    Glad to see we are all doing out part!

    Warm regards

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