Caring Responses to Uncaring Behavior

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By Vivien Mudgett, RNC, MA, MSN

two nursesChances are, if you have been a nurse for more than six months you have been exposed to bullying or disruptive behavior.  Research shows that more than 82% of nurses have been a target of bullying or have witnessed it. Over 60% of novice nurses who experienced bullying are planning to leave their jobs. The frightening part of these statistics is that bullying is underreported!

Bullying is not an isolated incident. It is Deliberate, rude, inappropriate, and possibly aggressive behavior of a coworker(s) to another coworker. The behavior is repetitive in nature, and may be overt or covert.  It can also reflect an actual or perceived imbalance or power or conflict.

Bullying and disruptive behavior has been recognized as a threat to a nurse’s well- being, and a threat to the safety of our patients. When a care team cannot get along, errors are made, patients feel the tension, and patient outcomes suffer.

As nurses, we are all working today in a very stressful environment with heavy workloads, and more demands being added on almost a daily basis. We are struggling to take good care of our patients and the stakes are high. Adding bullying to this equation makes the situation worse.

The paradox of bullying in nursing is that we all joined this marvelous profession because we are caring individuals. We want to show our compassion and be a healing presence to others. So how is it that this behavior is so prevalent in nursing? Research shows that the behavior continues because nurses are afraid of retaliation, normalize the behavior, don’t like conflict, and don’t really know what to do.

Here are 5 steps you can take to address this uncaring behavior in a caring way:

  • Stop and breathe! Separate yourself from the behavior for a moment and realize that YOU are not the cause. Sometimes reacting too fast  can cause you to behave unprofessionally also.
  • Try to diffuse the situation with phrases like: “Can we talk in private?” “Are you OK? You are yelling in the middle of the nurses’ station”. If the behavior continues, walk away if it is possible.
  • Move the conversation to a private place.   Here is a sample  script that is simple to use, and works well: “  When you two nurses talkingyelled at me in front of the patient,  I felt humiliated, it was unprofessional, and now the patient’s trust of the healthcare team has eroded…”  “ “Was that your intent? “ “In the future can we agree that if you have a problem with me you will address it with me privately?”
  • Here are some other phrases than can help: “Are you OK?”  “Help me to understand” “I’ve noticed a conflict between us and I think it’s affecting the way we work, can we talk about it?”
  • If you see someone else being bullied, don’t be a passive bystander. Stand next to the person and use the same phrases if they are not able to speak for themselves.

Most importantly, and most difficult to do: Stay calm, stay relaxed, be confident and always behave with integrity. Take the higher road.

Vivien MudgettVivien Mudgett, RNC, MA, MSN, is the CEO of the Healthcare Leadership Coalition.  She is a seasoned Nurse Executive, with over 25 years of progressive management experience.  She is passionate about subjects that affect healthcare providers today, and is an expert on disruptive behavior, the Affordable Care Act and Leadership in healthcare. The Healthcare Leadership Coalition exists primarily to educate, inform and empower both healthcare professionals and consumers. She connects her readers and clients  with information related to healthcare change, communication, dealing with bullying and disruptive behavior and transformational healthcare leadership in a turbulent time. Vivien is well known as a national speaker. She is a member of various organizations, including Sigma Theta Tau Honor Society. She holds a Masters in Educational Leadership and a Masters in Nursing and she is currently enrolled in a Doctorate Program.  You can find Vivien at, on Twitter @vmudgett and on LinkedIN


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3 Responses to Caring Responses to Uncaring Behavior

  1. Pingback: School Nurse’s Corner: Caring Responses to Uncaring Behavior | PediaStaff Pediatric SLP, OT and PT Blog

  2. Sad and horrifying that this goes on in “professional” settings. Studies are showing that the people observing the uncaring behavior can be key to stopping it. Excellent suggestion to go stand next to the person and use your voice if they cannot. It can be difficult to confront someone when you have no power in their eyes. Leaders be aware and accountable to ensure this is not happening on your watch. This is a great article to review in a C-Suite meeting.

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