Dr. Renee Thompson: What Happens When You Confront a Bully?

Dr. Renee Thompson: What Happens When You Confront a Bully?

This post is part of 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.

Nurse-to-nurse bullying is a problem that isn’t isolated to a particular country, to acute care hospitals, or to an age, gender, or ethnic group. Nurse bullying is isolated to just one common trait – humans.

Bullying is a human problem. However, wouldn’t you agree that bullying by nurses just feels worse? Nurses can be so kind and compassionate to their patients yet they can be horrific to each other. When humans treat other humans badly, bad things happen. When bullying happens in healthcare, ultimately, bad things happen to patients.

In my YouTube Video Series, I’ve shared why nurse bullying continues and spend the majority of my time working with individual nurses and organizations to eliminate bullying behavior. These strategies, in some way, involve confronting bad behavior.

Unfortunately, the majority of nurses (managers too) DON’T confront bad behavior. Instead, they use silence as a strategy.

Why don’t we confront?

Fear is the number one reason why we don’t speak up when we know someone is bullying us or someone else. Fear stops us from confronting because we are either concerned the bully will retaliate against us (and sometimes they do), we don’t know what to say, or we don’t know how they will respond.

Let’s say you’re a manager and you decide to talk with your bully about her (we will assume female) behavior. You begin the conversation by saying, “I’m not sure you realize this but sometimes you can come across as being abrasive and intimidating.” And then you share specific examples of this behavior and how it impacts the work environment.

What happens when you confront a bully?

  1. Self-realization. “I had no idea I was coming across that way. That is not my intent.” And then this person asks for help. This situation is the best! And, some people DO respond this way. You see, the problem is that many bullies have never been told they were perceived as bullies!!! As a manager, you can help this person.
  2. Deep-seated issues. This might be someone with significant personal or mental health issues. Not all of our patients are mentally healthy and neither are our co-workers. You may need to suggest professional help from an Employee Assistance Program or counseling if you suspect deep-seated issues. As a manager, you may or may not be able to help this person.
  3. No sense of self-awareness. Some people are not willing to take responsibility for their behavior and blame everyone else. They have no sense of self-awareness and are unwilling to change. Luckily, these people represent only three percent of the average workforce. If unwilling to take any responsibility for her behavior, she is a virus that will infect your workplace (and probably already has). As a manager, you cannot help this person and you need to fire her!

Confronting doesn’t always work. However, I guarantee that not confronting never works! We all have to do our part to speak up and confront bad behavior when we see it. After all, what we ignore, we condone.

Thanks so much for reading, 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

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