How to Identify and Respond to Bullying and Incivility

  1. Workplace bullying is often described as aggressive behaviors that may include: alienating, intimating, public humiliation or sabotaging, and are usually perpetrated by someone in a higher level of authority. This behavior may involve covert or overt acts of verbal and non-verbal aggression. These types of behavior have been reported to result in enough psychological distress to nurses that it has caused them to leave the profession altogether.

    How to Identify and Respond to Bullying and Incivility

    According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), bullying is a major barrier to enhancing the nursing profession. The ANA and other nursing organizations have provided several resources to empower nurses in ending workplace bullying and incivility in the workplace.

    According to Dr. Renee Thompson - an expert on the subject, uncivil behaviors include:

    • Condescending body language
    • Texting or talking during someone else's presentation
    • Mocking a co-worker
    • Jamming the copier
    • Gossiping
    • Treating someone like a child

    Dr. Renee Thompson continues by saying that bullying is defined as repeated patterns of uncivil behavior with the conscious or unconscious attempt to do harm. This harm is typically directed at an individual or a group and is typically coming from the same person, or groups of people. It is important to understand that bullying is targeted, and repetitive.

    Dr. Thompson also says that you should ask yourself the following questions to help in identifying bullying behaviors, or whether you've simply experienced some isolated incivility:

    • Do they behave this way frequently?
    • Do they only behave this way towards select people (maybe you and not anyone else)?
    • Is there an underlying intent to do harm (remember, conscious/deliberate or unconscious/unaware)?

    If you have indeed identified bullying behaviors, here are 5 easy ways to respond:

    Remain Confident

    By remaining confident in your abilities, you can avoid being a target of bullying behaviors. Just remind yourself that you are a nurse and have met the minimum requirements by your school, your state and the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) to practice as a nurse. You've earned your spot alongside the other nurses and should be treated with respect and dignity. With that being said, it is also your responsibility to know your knowledge limits and seek out additional assistance, guidance and training where appropriate. By demonstrating confidence in your ability to learn and practice as a new nurse, you will surely keep bullies from picking on you.


    Remain Professional

    It's easy for someone who is being bullied to demonstrate unprofessional behaviors such as arguing, yelling, screaming, using aggressive body language, using profane language or creating a disturbance within operational flow. It is crucial to your success that you remain calm, collected and professional in all of your responses to a bullying individual. Avoid any behaviors or actions that can come back to negatively reflect your level of professionalism.


    Confront the Bully

    Often times bullying behaviors are not recognized as such by the perpetrator. Regardless of whether bullying behaviors are intentional or not, it is important that you share your concerns with the individual who you feel is bullying you. This is best done after a shift and in an informal matter (i.e. pulling the person to the side, away from other colleagues). This will provide an opportunity for you to be open and honest with the individual. Please note that it is important for you to allow for the person to respond and that you fully listen before making any further judgment. In most cases, the person who demonstrated bullying behaviors will apologize and your working relationship will improve afterward. If this does not stop the bullying behaviors then it is time to report it to the nursing management, which is included in the next step.


    Report the Bullying Behaviors

    No one wants to get to the point of having to bring someone to the manager's office to be counseled, especially when it's you! Unfortunately, sometimes it is absolutely necessary to involve nursing management when bullying occurs. If the bullying behaviors continue after you confronted the individual(s), then it is imperative that you notify your nursing manager/supervisor immediately. Make sure you provide detailed information regarding the behaviors demonstrated, what your actions were to try to establish resolve, and how these behaviors are affecting you at work. Your manager will then follow through with a plan that will best address the situation.


    Advocate for Peer Accountability

    Creating a culture of peer accountability should come easy since most nurses come into the profession later in life and have gained a plethora of interpersonal skills, management skills, and have been in some form of supervisory position in previous positions. Even those of you who are entering into nursing as your very first job, you too can hold your peers accountable for their behaviors. By holding everyone on the team equally accountable for their behaviors, bullying behaviors decrease and work morale increases. Always practice by the standards of - if you see something, say something.


    Of course, there is always the potential for meeting resistance in all of these steps provided. Just remember one thing - your determination to provide a positive impact will eventually overshadow the negativity that others may create. With consistent positive role modeling by following the above steps, you will surely help to create a healthy workplace environment!


    Best Wishes!


    -Damion
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    About Damion Jenkins, ADN, MSN

    Hi! I am Damion - a Registered Nurse, Educator, Tutor and Writer! I am the owner and operator of TheNurseSpeak.com - a nursing education and consulting company & blog. I love to help nursing students, new graduates and nursing professionals alike to develop strategies for success!

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    28 Comments

  3. by   Leader25
    AS far as reporting to the manager, how can you when it is the manager doing the nasty deeds,have seen this on more than one unit.Tugging at peoples uniforms,hair pulling,yelling names out loud in hallways,interrupting during report , blocking the areas and ignoring those trying to pass by, Oh and upper management just ignores the problem.
  4. by   SpankedInPittsburgh
    Jamming the copier? Texting during a presentation???

    We have way dumbed down the definition of bullying. Perhaps we should look into another nurse problem that prevents us from being taken seriously. Sniveling & whining like a child & then waiting for an "adult" to handle the problem for us.

    If somebody is treating you bad then adult-up and confront that person. Bullies like easy prey so don't be it. If that doesn't work get management involved but not for some twitsville reason like somebody rolled their eyes at me or wasn't in complete attention for my presentation they could care less about.
  5. by   meanmaryjean
    Quote from SpankedInPittsburgh
    Jamming the copier? Texting during a presentation???

    We have way dumbed down the definition of bullying. Perhaps we should look into another nurse problem that prevents us from being taken seriously. Sniveling & whining like a child & then waiting for an "adult" to handle the problem for us.

    If somebody is treating you bad then adult-up and confront that person. Bullies like easy prey so don't be it. If that doesn't work get management involved but not for some twitsville reason like somebody rolled their eyes at me or wasn't in complete attention for my presentation they could care less about.
    Post of the month!

    *adds "twitsville" to my vocabulary
  6. by   AnnieNP
    Quote from SpankedInPittsburgh
    Jamming the copier? Texting during a presentation???

    We have way dumbed down the definition of bullying. Perhaps we should look into another nurse problem that prevents us from being taken seriously. Sniveling & whining like a child & then waiting for an "adult" to handle the problem for us.

    If somebody is treating you bad then adult-up and confront that person. Bullies like easy prey so don't be it. If that doesn't work get management involved but not for some twitsville reason like somebody rolled their eyes at me or wasn't in complete attention for my presentation they could care less about.
    Love this!!!!
  7. by   Damion Jenkins
    Thank you SpankedInPittsburgh for demonstrating bullying behavior. By using condescending language, and treating others like a child - your actions have met the definition of bullying, which is defined in Dr. Renee Thompson's article. Rather than validating the points made in the article, you decided to devalue the work of others, and add distracting discourse that actually supports bullying and incivility in the workplace. For what ever reason you've chosen to respond in this way, thank you for giving our target audience - Nursing Students, an example of said bullying behavior.

    Best,

    Damion
  8. by   SpankedInPittsburgh
    Damion,

    Hilarious!!! Thanks for making my night. If you are a professor who is instructing your nursing students that they will work in some fantasy where everybody is going to hold hands and sing kumbaya and when in the rare occasions they don't some committee, authority figure or the Mother Mary is gonna come save them well then you are pushing nonsense. Nurses are human. We don't always get along but neither does the rest of the world.

    I thought bullying was done with some intent to intimidate? Are we so thin-skinned now that a post on the internet with a contrary opinion is bullying? That's outrageous and not reflective of anything that I've seen practiced in any work environment anywhere ever. I've seen actual nurse bullying and it doesn't involve eye-rolling or playing on a phone and its always involves picking out the weakest sheep in the flock who is waiting to be saved


    Happy Sunday


    Spanked
  9. by   Damion Jenkins
    Thank you SpankedInPittsburgh for your thoughtful contribution to this discussion. I can see that you are an expert on bullying as you continue to validate my point. Having a contrary opinion is not the issue here - mocking others and using dismissive language is what meets criteria for defining bullying behaviors.

    You're welcome.

    Best,

    Damion
  10. by   meanmaryjean
    Sorry- your definition of bullying is WAY out of scope OP. No one bullied you here. Spanked expressed an opinion on the nature of what bullying is and is not. You are reading a LOT into that opinion.
  11. by   Damion Jenkins
    Thank you meanmaryjean for your insightful contribution to this discussion. It appears that you are also an expert on the subject. Adding derogatory terms such as "twitsville" to your professional vocabulary is exemplary of nursing excellence. You are a stellar role model for our future nurses.

    Best,

    Damion
  12. by   heron
    How's about you take a look at your own behavior, OP. From where I sit, it looks as though you are the bully here, attempting to silence disagreement by way of sarcasm so thick it comes across even in an internet post.

    I'd like to read your take on what makes the difference between bad manners and bullying.
  13. by   Rocknurse
    Is this some kind of joke?
  14. by   RTConnections
    Interesting but somewhat concerning conversation. Although we are all entitled to our opinion, it's how we communicate our opinion that matters most. Nursing is a profession and as a profession, we are expected to conduct ourselves at the highest level of professionalism. I have not seen that here. And although I'm not one to defend my work...to be clear...for a behavior to be considered bullying, there must be a target, the behavior has to be harmful, and has to be repeated over time. This isn't about being thick or thinned skinned...this is about the evidence that shows that disruptive behaviors (bullying or incivility), impacts patients in a negative way. If any of our moms, dads, sisters, brother, etc. were patients on our units, behavior would matter.

    Respectfully,
    Renee

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