By Vivien Mudgett
Chances are, if you have been a nurse for more than six months, you have been exposed to bullying or disruptive behavior. Research shows that more than 82% of nurses have been a target of bullying or have witnessed it. Over 60% of new nurses who experienced bullying are planning to leave their jobs. The frightening part of these statistics is that bullying is underreported!
Bullying is not an isolated incident. It is deliberate, rude, inappropriate, and possibly aggressive behavior of a coworker(s) to another coworker. The behavior is repetitive in nature, and may be overt or covert. It can also reflect an actual or perceived imbalance or power or conflict.
Bullying and disruptive behavior has been recognized as a threat to a nurse’s well-being and a threat to the safety of our patients. When a care team cannot get along, errors are made, patients feel the tension, and patient outcomes suffer.
As nurses, we are all working today in a very stressful environment with heavy workloads. More demands are being added on almost a daily basis. We are struggling to take good care of our patients and the stakes are high. Adding bullying to this equation makes the situation worse.
The paradox of bullying in nursing is that we all joined this marvelous profession because we are caring individuals. We want to show our compassion and be a healing presence to others. So how is it that this behavior is so prevalent in nursing? Research shows that the behavior continues because nurses are afraid of retaliation, normalize the behavior, don’t like conflict, and don’t really know what to do.
Here are 3 steps you can take to address this uncaring behavior in a caring way:
Stop and breathe!
Separate yourself from the behavior for a moment and realize that YOU are not the cause.
Diffuse the situation.
Do not react. Sometime reacting too fast can cause you to behave unprofessionally as well. As calmly as possible, ask to talk in private. If the behavior continues, be prepared to be the one to walk away.
Address the behavior.
Find a private place to openly discuss the behavior and address the conflict.
Two open ended discussion starters can be:
“When you yelled at me in front of the patient (or our co-workers), I felt humiliated. It was unprofessional and now the patient’s trust in the healthcare team has eroded. Was that your intent? Can we agree that in the future, if you have a problem with me, you will address it with me privately?”
“Are you OK? Help me to understand the situation. I’ve noticed a conflict between us and I think it’s affecting the way we work, can we talk about it?”
In a perfect world, these 3 steps can alleviate and resolve the conflict between nurse co-workers. However, be prepared that it may take further discussion and possibly, include your unit supervisor or nurse manager. By addressing uncaring behavior, you are standing up and choosing not to be a victim.
If you see someone else being bullied, don’t be a passive bystander. Stand next to the person and use supportive phrases while helping the person being bullied. This is especially if they are not able to speak for themselves at that moment. Most importantly, and most difficult to do: Stay calm, be confident, and always behave with integrity. Take the higher road.
Have you dealt with nurse bullies in the past? How did it go? Let us know in the comments.