7 nurses share advice on dealing with bullying from co-workers

Seven nurses talk about how they handle bullying behavior.

We invite all nurses and nursing leaders currently working in healthcare settings to participate in series of Q&As about their experiences.

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Please send responses to Anuja Vaidya avaidya@beckershealthcare.com by Monday, March 16, 5 p.m. CST.

Note: The following responses were edited for length and clarity.

Question: How do I deal with bullying behavior with other staff members?

Trish Celano, RN. Senior Vice President, Associate Chief Clinical Officer and Chief Nursing Executive at AdventHealth (Altamonte Springs, Fla.): A culture of support and empowerment is key to an effective nursing team. As nursing leaders, it is important to empower our nurse managers to recognize bullying and address it — even if it may be uncomfortable.

We have four service standards — love me, keep me safe, make it easy, own it — which guide not only how we care for patients, but also the way we relate to each other as teammates. These standards give us a framework to have discussions about anything getting in the way of our teamwork.

Becca Smith, RN. Learning Specialist in the Neuroscience Trauma Unit at Primary Children's Hospital (Salt Lake City): The first step I take is to assume good intent. I believe that people are good, but sometimes make poor choices (and I think we can all relate to a choice we regret!). Starting from this standpoint helps me approach the situation to see if it was a mismatch of intentions and perception, or something else entirely. If we can reframe it to see how it was heard or felt instead of how it was intended, it helps the person realize the impact of their actions and maybe a way to approach situations differently next time.

Rachel Hayes, RN. Maternal Child Health-Staff RN at Saint Clare's Health Network (Denville, N.J.): Although I am fortunate and I have not had to deal with much bullying on my unit, I am confident and comfortable with how I handle differences and conflict. I tend to sense bullying very quickly and handle it with a direct conversation early on before it escalates into a bigger matter. I also reflect on the fact that most of the time a bully has issues with themselves more so than with me. If the matter made me uncomfortable to work on my unit, I would then bring it up the chain of command. However, I do try to handle my work relationships myself.

Jackie John-Mull, RN. Inpatient Wound Care Nurse at Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center (Reno, Nev.): In the moment when I have been bullied, I tend to walk away and think 'was that appropriate behavior?' I will think about the interaction and process it — if I were in the other person's shoes would I have behaved in the same way? I might process the interaction with one of my trusted peers to get an opinion or validation that the behavior was inappropriate. After processing and contemplating the interaction, I will return to the person and discuss what had transpired.

Candice Frix. Chief Nursing Officer of Piedmont Walton Hospital (Monroe, Ga.): Our team is dedicated to building connections, developing rapport and fostering an environment of being a team player. Our dedicated efforts with employee engagement set the tone for behaviors that will not be tolerated. We are very fortunate to have a culture that promotes speaking up. We encourage our employees to report all incidents related to bullying and we partner with employee relations and our human resources team to help address these issues if they arise.

Tammy Richards, RN. Assistant Vice President of Professional Practice and Learning at Intermountain Healthcare (Salt Lake City): Being as calm as I can be in the moment [and] recognizing I make mistakes too. I do remember a common phrase I would use when I worked at the front line in the ICU and that was 'I'll be right over here when you want to speak with me in a respectful manner.' It would usually defuse the situation immediately and set a clear expectation, with them and other nurses overhearing the conversation, on how I was willing to communicate.

Kelli Hohenstein, RN. Chief Nurse Officer at Dallas Regional Medical Center (Mesquite, Texas): I have zero tolerance for bullying behavior and address these staff members according to our policy. As nurses, we tend to eat our young, and I find myself as a nursing leader constantly reminding the staff to share their great knowledge, to mentor others and to keep a culture that is collaborative and supportive of each other.


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