Dr. Renee Thompson: Common Weapons Nurse Bullies Use Against Their Targets

Dr. Renee Thompson: Common Weapons Nurse Bullies Use Against Their Targets

This post is the third in a series of posts on nurse bullying and conflict in the workplace written by Dr. Renee Thompson, DNP, RN, CMSRN. Dr. Thompson is one of the top professional development and anti-bullying thought leaders in nursing.

M.S. Nursing, Management and Organizational LeadershipNurse bullying is a problem. Bullying is destructive, pervasive and doesn’t belong in a profession dedicated to caring and compassion. Seventy-three percent of all nurses report being the target of or at least witnessing bullying behavior in the workplace. Sixty percent of all new nurses quit their first job within the first six months due to the bullying behavior of their co-workers. We are hemorrhaging good nurses from the profession due to this issue.

Nurses can be so caring and compassionate to their patients but they can be horrific to each other.

Because bullying is receiving a lot of attention in the media, we have the tendency to call all bad behavior bullying. However, not everything is bullying. Sometimes, people are just being too direct, disrespectful and unprofessional or perhaps they are just having a bad day. Read more about the difference between bullying and everything else here

Definition of true bullying

Bullying is the repeated pattern of destructive behavior with the conscious or unconscious attempt to do harm. The key is to identify if you have seen the behavior before, directed towards you or someone else.  If so, this could be a bullying situation.

What does nurse bullying actually look like?

Many bullying behaviors involve open criticism, being treated in a humiliating and degrading way, ignored, given unfair assignments or spreading false rumors. Some bullying behavior can actually lead to physical violence.

A nurse refuses to get out of another nurses “chair” so the nurse throws a cup of water in her face.

A nurse doesn’t like the assignment she receives from the charge nurse so she screams at her and pulls her hair.

Bullies use many weapons against their targets. While some bullying behaviors are sneaky and go undetected for weeks, months and even years (covert); other bullying behaviors are easy to recognize (overt). Both are destructive and do not belong in a profession dedicated to caring and compassion.

Overt versus covert bullying behavior

Example of overt bullying behavior: Your co-worker Megan starts loudly criticizing you in the middle of the nurses’ station, in front of others. This isn’t the first time Megan has done this to you.  She consistently criticizes, finds fault with everything you do, and appears to enjoy making you cry or appear weak and incompetent in front of others. Megan is an overt bully.

Common overt bullying weapons:

  • Verbal criticism or name-calling
  • Intimidation
  • Blaming
  • Ethnic jokes or slurs
  • Finding fault
  • Threatening
  • Physical violence

Example of covert bullying behavior: Your co-worker Cherie is so nice!  She frequently offers to finish your work at the end of your shift when you’ve had a busy day; she goes out of her way to reassure you that she loves new nurses, and offers to trade your difficult patient with one of her easier patients from time to time. Yes. Cherie is super nice until you find out she’s been gossiping about you behind your back telling the other nurses, physicians, housekeeping and anyone else who will listen that she has to “clean up your mess” because you can’t cut it as a REAL nurse. Cherie is a covert bully

Common covert bullying weapons:

  • Sabotage
  • Withholds information
  • Excludes others
  • Unfair assignments
  • Undermines
  • Downplays accomplishments

Remember, not everything is bullying and if are going to eliminate TRUE bullying, we need to start recognizing the destructive weapons bullies use against their targets and disarm them!

Thanks so much for reaching out. Take care and stay connected.



Dr. Renee Thompson is a keynote speaker, author, award-winning nurse blogger, and professional development/anti-bullying thought leader. Renee spends the majority of her time helping healthcare and academic organizations address and eliminate workplace bullying. To find out more about Renee, please visit her website. American Sentinel University friends and family can get 25% off Renee’s great anti-bullying products – simply enter in the code: AMSENT16.

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Dr. Renee Thompson: Nurse Bullying, Can You Guess Who is “Eating” Whom?
Dr. Renee Thompson: Two Powerful Active Steps to Stop the Cycle of Bullying