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Use The Power Of Words To Reduce Bullying Of Nurses

Yelling at, humiliating, excluding, gossiping about others are a few of ways we humans cleverly demonstrate disrespect for others.  And we all know that lack of respect is a persistent and pervasive problem in health care.

As we work to establish and maintain safe cultures and respectful workplaces, there are three reasons for using terminology that addresses individual and organizational behaviors rather than trying to identify and blame one person.  Each of these will help to reduce resistance, fear, and confusion about zero tolerance for abuse.
Reveals the true problem. When we use the term “bully,” it allows us to blame one person.  “Bullying,” on the other hand invites us to consider victims, bystanders and culture.  Since all of these are part of the history and cause of workplace violence, it makes sense to understand and address these aspects of the problem.

A bully can’t exist without a victim or in an environment that doesn’t tolerate bullying behaviors.

Reflection process is safer. Looking inward is often a difficult process for many of us and yet an integral part of changing behavior.  Consider how these reflective questions might feel:

  • “I wonder if I am bullying the new nurse?”
  • “I wonder if my behaviors could be perceived as bullying?”
  • “I wonder if I am a bully?”

The first and second statements allow us to be human and imperfect and include another person’s perception as part of the picture.  The third one is more threatening and defines the very core of our being.  If we are going to change these dynamics, doesn’t it make sense that we give ourselves and each other permission to make mistakes?

In so many of our stressful environments, we have to be quick and accurate.  A seasoned nurse’s decisive comment and action may be excluding and humiliating to a newer nurse.  Our chronic sense of urgency becomes a license for poor conduct.

I know that I have been short-tempered, impatient or frustrated at work. With over 25 years as a nurse, I have rolled my eyes, smirked, or used unfriendly body language.  I have also joined in conversations about other professionals behind their backs.  At this point in my life and career, even with much work in communication and emotional intelligence, I am not a perfect communicator. However, I am more able to own my part of a conflict and respect how other’s may be impacted, work to modify my behavior, apologize and forgive myself and others.

Bridges to healing conversations. As we become safer and more skilled in our reflection process, we will automatically be more prepared to show ownership in a conflict.  This is one of the most powerful factors that leads us to productive conflict rather than remaining stuck in a power struggle.  It is part of the dance of speaking up assertively and listening respectfully that I am often referring to.

An example might be a new OR nurse who is upset and fighting tears because her preceptor humiliated her in front of the team.

The preceptor who perpetuates the status quo might say: “You are going to have to develop a thick skin if you are going to make it as an OR nurse.”

The preceptor who is committed to building a more positive workplace might say: “I think I was pretty rough on you this morning.  I could have given you feedback on your set-up without the condescending tone and language I used.  What thoughts do you have?”

The second example is a great way to build a respectful and collaborative relationship which we know will contribute to safer, more cost-effective care and long-term rewarding careers.

Ultimately, as we address disruptive behaviors that arise from stress, lack of awareness, inadequate communication skills, and toxic organizational cultures we will filter out the few remaining individuals who persist in bullying behavior despite feedback and learning opportunities.  These are the bullies, and they should be terminated.

You may view the original post at KevinMD.com. Guest post by Beth Boyton.


Guest post by Beth Boynton RN, MS

Beth Boynton, RN, MS, is a nurse consultant, author, and teacher specializing in communication and collaboration among healthcare professionals and within organizations. She offers interactive workshops, leadership coaching, a ‘whole systems’ approach for culture change efforts, and a new method for building ‘people skills’ called ‘Medical Improv’. She has recently completed her second book, a core text called: Successful Nurse Communication: Safe Care, Healthy Workplaces, and Rewarding Careers which is scheduled to be published by F.A. Davis Publishing Co. Spring 2015. She writes about related issues at, “Confident Voices in Healthcare” blog. Her video, “Interruption Awareness: A Nursing Minute for Patient Safety,” and blog have drawn audiences from all over the world. She is trained in the Professor Watson Curriculum for Medical Improv through Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She has one grown son who is works in India, loves improv, Zumba dancing, walking, and swimming, and lives in Portsmouth, NH.

You may view Beth's online continuing education course - 4 Essential Strategies that Promote Patient Safety. This is a 2 contact hour course that features Beth in 10 short video's designed to engage and teach the student.  This instructional continuing education course is designed for nurses who are in direct care or middle management positions in hospitals; long-term care facilities, and other frontline in- and out-patient practice settings.  Despite 15 years of national focus on improving patient safety outcomes, we continue to have staggering statistics involving preventable deaths, illnesses, and injuries that are due to medical errors. And because communication breakdowns and associated problems with inter-professional relationships have long been major contributors to these alarming problems it is imperative for nurses to develop skills and promote positive interpersonal dynamics. Respectful interactions and effective communication seem simple on paper, yet successful efforts to practice them in the field remain elusive.  In this course, students will examine patient safety statistics and root cause analysis data in order to understand the scope of the problem and how persistent issues with communication and human dynamics are interfering with providing safe care.  This foundation will provide the incentive to commit to exploring and practicing communication strategies that will help to solve them. A basic knowledge of assertiveness, listening, and emotional intelligence is required as students take a ‘deeper dive’ with Beth Boynton, RN, MS to develop their abilities to:  set limits, delegate tasks, and give and receive constructive feedback.


Is nursing incivility or nurse bullying a problem in your workplace?

Take our Workplace Bullying Quiz or distribute the quiz to your employees to find out.

You have the right to be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace. Sometimes it is difficult to determine if you are being bullied at work. This short quiz includes a sample of issues you may be experiencing. If you answered ‘often’ or 'sometimes’ to some of the items on the quiz, you are probably the target of a workplace bully. Bullying can affect all aspects of your life as well as the safety of your clients.  With education and practice, you can to learn how to successfully deal with bullying.

Our online education course is a solution for facilities facing this prevalent issue, provide your entire facility staff this education for a one-time fee of $300*, and show your commitment zero tolerance of workplace incivility.  

Healthcare Bullying Solutions

Posted: 2/18/2016 8:10:04 AM
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