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Bullied in the NICU

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Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist) Educator Columnist Innovator Expert Nurse

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

I'm a NICU nurse. I left a toxic workplace due to bullying 2 years ago and became a traveling nurse, but I'm getting tired of the constant travel and want to settle down in a more permanent position. There are only 2 hospitals with NICUs in my hometown. One doesn't have any openings and the other is the hospital I left. Their NICU is under a new manager but I'm not sure how many of the floor nurses are still there. Do I try to go back to that unit or do I need to look into changing specialties?

Dear Wants to Settle Down,

It should be easy enough to find out which nurses still work in your old NICU unit. Contact some of your previous colleagues.

Before you decide to change specialties because of bullying, consider that you are a different person than you were 2 years ago. You have gained skills from working in different NICUs. You have are more well-rounded in your practice. It very well could be that you could now take on a bully much easier than you think.

Bullies

Bullies make other people feel belittled, humiliated and oppressed. A nurse bully in a workplace unit is a bully who has established dominance over the group.

Bullying behavior can be subtle, passive-aggressive and actually cunning, which makes it hard for poorly trained managers to address. Bullies often keep their behavior discreet. Workplace bullies often operate within rules and organizational polices. They can belittle with a raised eyebrow and a look of scorn.

Often bullies are expert clinicians, high performers, and popular employees. They use expertise and popularity as weapons and as a smoke screen to deflect from their bullying behavior.

The bully comes from a place of insecurity and has an insatiable need be in control. To gain power, they often ingratiate or manipulate a weak boss, which gives them referent power.

A new nurse coming into the group will trigger the bully and will be a target. It's not a matter of if... it will happen. Be prepared.

How to Deal

Stepping back into a bullying situation can also be triggering for you. You will need to be strong from the beginning. Make sure you have support and even consider weekly therapy to talk it through. Here's some tips.

Change Your Perspective

Change your perspective. Instead of viewing the bully as a scary person, see her as the sad, small, injured, insecure person she probably is. This lowers your defense response and reduces your level of intimidation. Bullies come from a place of insecurity and need to be in control.

A well-dressed doctor being a bully? Picture him as a little kid wearing his Dad's clothes, pants pooling on the floor.

Confront

You must speak up, and it's very cathartic for you. Silence does not work to stop bullying. Not confronting a bully never works. Script your words ahead of time so you'll be prepared.

  • "Please don't talk to me that way"
  • "I noticed you rolled your eyes when our charge nurse said I did a good job"
  • "You seemed annoyed when I asked you for help."
  • "Please don't interrupt me when I'm talking".

Stand Up

Bullies are weak people posing as strong people. When confronted with strength, they back down. They feed on weak people.

It takes 2 to bully- the bully and the target. Don't be a target.

  • Make eye contact with the bully. This puts you on a level playing field, peer-to-peer.
  • Maintain assertive body posture. A lot of what takes place is non-verbal. Picture the posture you hold for parents- maybe leaning-in, concerned, professional. Now picture a victim stance- head down, hunched shoulders. Be assertive in your body language.
  • Just say No. Bullies expect others to do what they say. When told "Jena, you'll bring napkins and plates to the potluck" you can say, smiling, "No, thanks, I'll bring a dessert and let you know later what it is".

Appeal to Values

It can sometimes work to call them on the difference between their professed values and their behavior.

"I know you really care about Quiet Hour for our babies, and when you talk loudly, it affects the team".

I hope this has given you some tools for your toolbox.

Best wishes in your decision,

Nurse Beth

NRSKarenRN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Vents, Telemetry, Home Care, Home infusion. Has 44 years experience.

Kudos. Some of the best advice dealing with bullies I've read --some of which I could have used with a prior non-nurse Director.

amoLucia

Specializes in LTC.

Very realistic, down-to-earth advice.

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

14 hours ago, NRSKarenRN said:

Kudos. Some of the best advice dealing with bullies I've read --some of which I could have used with a prior non-nurse Director.

Thank you!

14 hours ago, amoLucia said:

Very realistic, down-to-earth advice.

Appreciate it 🙂

I'm going to save this advice. This part is so true!

"To gain power, they often ingratiate or manipulate a weak boss, which gives them referent power".

Jory, MSN, APRN, CNM

Has 10 years experience.

I was bullied in my first nursing job and then when I went to a different facility I stood my ground. I practiced what I would say if someone said something nasty and when the situation unfortunately arose, that first time..is the hardest, but when you see the shocked look on their face and how quickly they change their tone? You won't look back.

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

7 hours ago, Jory said:

I was bullied in my first nursing job and then when I went to a different facility I stood my ground. I practiced what I would say if someone said something nasty and when the situation unfortunately arose, that first time..is the hardest, but when you see the shocked look on their face and how quickly they change their tone? You won't look back.

Amazing how effective that is

Nurse SMS, MSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care; Cardiac; Professional Development. Has 10 years experience.

Thank you for not denying that bullying in nursing exists and blaming the bullied nurse. It is true, some are sensitive, but it is undeniable that lateral violence is prevalent in nursing.

This was fantastic advice. I personally have never had a problem with being bullied. I had a nurse try once. Its not hard to shut down once you recognize what they are doing. It always shocks them when you don't cow.

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

On 1/16/2020 at 6:33 AM, Nurse SMS said:

Thank you for not denying that bullying in nursing exists and blaming the bullied nurse. It is true, some are sensitive, but it is undeniable that lateral violence is prevalent in nursing.

This was fantastic advice. I personally have never had a problem with being bullied. I had a nurse try once. Its not hard to shut down once you recognize what they are doing. It always shocks them when you don't cow.

Thank you! It's so true, it works! I learned this from personal experience and was amazed.

speedynurse, ADN, RN, EMT-P

Specializes in ER, Pre-Op, PACU.

On 1/11/2020 at 1:11 PM, Nurse Beth said:

Bullies

Bullies make other people feel belittled, humiliated and oppressed. A nurse bully in a workplace unit is a bully who has established dominance over the group.

Bullying behavior can be subtle, passive-aggressive and actually cunning, which makes it hard for poorly trained managers to address. Bullies often keep their behavior discreet. Workplace bullies often operate within rules and organizational polices. They can belittle with a raised eyebrow and a look of scorn.

Often bullies are expert clinicians, high performers, and popular employees. They use expertise and popularity as weapons and as a smoke screen to deflect from their bullying behavior.

The bully comes from a place of insecurity and has an insatiable need be in control. To gain power, they often ingratiate or manipulate a weak boss, which gives them referent power.

A new nurse coming into the group will trigger the bully and will be a target. It's not a matter of if... it will happen. Be prepared.

Oh my goodness - every single thing you said is completely true in this! It even makes a nurse doubt herself when these bullies are good nurses and extremely competent, but continue to belittle their coworkers at every possible chance.

Leader25, ASN, BSN, RN

Specializes in NICU. Has 38 years experience.

Well said ,very good advice.

Suggest you do a topic on bullying of the RN by ancillary staff ,it is every hospitals dirty little secret.