Dr. Renee Thompson: Disarming Workplace Retaliation

Dr. Renee Thompson: Disarming Workplace Retaliation

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.

Retaliation. It’s why we don’t speak up. It’s why we continue, day after day, putting up with behaviors we know to be wrong.  As scary as it feels, and as much as we fear what we may lose in attempts at defeating it, we don’t have to put up with it. It’s a rocky mountain to climb, because bully retaliation behaviors are not within our control, but if we call it out, and use effective strategies to buffer its impact, we’ve taken steps toward change. 

Strategies to diffuse retaliation’s impact

  1. Keep a record: Documenting bad behavior is the most important step, and your strongest weapon against retaliation. Note times, dates, behaviors and events and their consequences as objectively as you can. Facts carry more weight than judgments or assumptions. Maybe the bully cuts you down in front of patients or co-workers, and that affects job performance, workplace respect and patient trust. If the bully’s behavior occurs without witnesses, that’s more reason to write it down. Documentation can be the only proof to back you if your situation gets worse. 
  2. Connect bully behavior to safety: Bullying makes you feel bad, but it can also adversely affect the safety of you and those around you, including patients! If the bully behavior is affecting patient safety, you’ve got serious ammunition! You’ll get better response from administration when patient safety is at risk.  A nurse bully once moved a call bell from a patient’s bedside, then pinned it on her victim nurse. Luckily, the patient saw the whole thing and complained about the safety issue to the nurse’s manager.  Not every bully target is so lucky to have a witness when she needs one, so be sure to write it all down!
  3. Band together: Bullies rarely pick on one person. It’s likely if you’re a target, someone else is too. Seek them out and support one another. Join forces. Watch each other’s backs and do all you can to build a case for yourselves to make the bully stop damaging the workplace culture. 
  4. Communicate your fears: The word retaliation is hardly said. Similar to how characters referred to Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, retaliation’s the issue “that shall not be named.” Let’s take control by calling it out. The sooner we say it out loud, the sooner we overcome it.  Tell your supervisor or HR person that you fear retaliation. Imagine the change that could happen if every person under attack by the same bully brought their issue to the supervisor! 

Time for a little reality check: In your fight against retaliation, be prepared that even if you have strength in numbers, document your issues, notate patient safety, and bring it to your supervisor, you may still experience retaliation. Perhaps even more so.  Only you know if the fear of retaliation in confrontation will be too great. Whatever you decide, be strong. If retaliation makes your environment unbearable, get out! You deserve to be uplifted and supported in your work, and you can have it. 

What are your thoughts on retaliation? Share them with myself and American Sentinel University on their Facebook page. 

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. 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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