Dr. Renee Thompson: Two Powerful Active Steps to Stop the Cycle of Bullying

Dr. Renee Thompson: Two Powerful Active Steps to Stop the Cycle of Bullying

This post is the fourth 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.

Nurses who find themselves targets of bullying behavior suffer physical, mental, emotional and spiritual damage. They call off work, seek medical care for stress related conditions, and may develop depression and anxiety disorders. As a result, we are hemorrhaging good nurses from our profession; a profession that is supposed to be dedicated to caring and compassion.

Many targets of bullying think they’re powerless, especially if tortured by a gang of bullies or if the bully is their boss. However, that’s what the bullies WANT you to think.

The bullies are wrong! 

It’s time we stop ignoring bullying behavior and start taking action. While organizational leaders need to do their part, individuals who find themselves the targets of bullying behavior can take action too.

Below are two action steps I can recommend to address bullying behavior.

Step One: Name the behavior

One of the most powerful actions you can take when dealing with a bullying co-worker is to name his or her behavior. Bullies who feel a sense of power during their tirades gain momentum as they scream, yell, or spread rumors and sabotage their co-workers.

Naming the behavior as it occurs can stop things immediately and prevent an escalation of that behavior.

Examples of “naming it”:

  • “You are yelling and screaming at me in the middle of the nurses station where patients and families can hear you.”
  • “I just saw you roll your eyes when I asked you for help with a patient.”
  • “Yesterday, when I gave you my report and told you I didn’t have time to finish everything, you smiled and told me not to worry about it; that you had all night. But then I found out you were speaking badly about me behind my back.

Naming the behavior can send a powerful message to the bully that you are NOT going to accept being treated in an unprofessional manner. 

Step Two: Document, document, and document

If you are being bullied, start a documentation trail. Keep a small notebook with you and write down dates, times, witnesses, verbatim comments, and any behaviors you believe undermine a culture of safety and a professional work environment. Keep growing this documentation trail until you are at the point where you can file a formal complaint.

I received an update from a nurse who reached out to me regarding a bullying situation resulting in HER termination from employment. This nurse had been documenting her experiences all along – dates, times, verbatim comments, facts, etc. She decided to take legal action* against the bullies and sought the help from an attorney. Although it was a long road, she won her case!

In her update, she shared the following advice:

“Document, document, document everything you see, hear, and suspect to be occurring. This proved to be vital to my case, as the themes I documented in my notes (while still employed) and had given to my attorney well before the discovery (sharing of records) process began approximately two years later. As discovery began, it became more and more evident how much of what I suspected to be occurring was occurring during the 8-10 months prior to termination.”

You don’t have to just take the abuse. You can take action. We have to stop the outflow of really good nurses from our profession. Nurses deserve to work in nurturing, supportive work environments – free from the bullies!

*Note: Not everyone seeks legal counsel but it is an option. If you plan to seek legal counsel, please review your Nurses State Practice Act for guidance.

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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