December 1, 2016

How To Deal With Mean Nurses | Lateral (Horizontal) Violence & Bullying


We all have been there. You are trying your best, and someone at work says something sarcastic or mean about a task you're performing. It seems benign but as time goes on, the taunts and joking turn into outright bullying. The jokes become more personal and direct. The jokes then evolve into overt signs of aggression. You then go from being an outgoing, efficient nurse to a quiet, skittish one who has anxiety every time you clock-in. That was me, I've been there. It wasn't until a friend said to me, "You need to say something, it's not getting better. You are breaking. You need to deal with this and stop trying to internalize it," that I realized just how much I was changing. Internalizing is your enemy, and it will eat at your potential as times goes on. Many nurses internalize their stress and end up either quitting the floor they work on or leaving the nursing profession entirely. You need to stand up for yourself in a professional manner and understand this is not your fault. As annoying as it is, it's solely up to you to resolve this problem. You don't get to sit back and hope it goes away. The longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. It's like an infection, and we all know how bad infections can get if left untreated. Avoidance and being passive will only exacerbate matters. Here are some tips to help you with working alongside offensive nurses.

When a work associate is bullying you, you must stand up for yourself at that very moment. You should provide feedback at that moment and not wait. Whether the person listens to you or not, the feedback will stop the internalizing of negative feelings. You will no longer have to play the conversation back in your head over and over again, hoping you said this and wishing you said that. You simply approach it as a regular conversation and articulate how you feel. For example, if you make a mistake and someone says, "You're an idiot." You then can say, "I'm learning and your rude comment isn't helpful, nor is it professional." The goal is to make the person aware of their unprofessional behavior while standing up for yourself at the same time. You don't need to stoop to their level in order to teach them a lesson in human decency. You simply need to verbalize how you feel. Two things could happen - either the bully understands you will no longer be a quiet victim and moves on, or the bullying continues. Either way, you made a move and expressed yourself. You have no idea how refreshing it is to stand up to a bully in a professional manner. It shows you're level-headed and you will not allow their behavior to deter you from being the best nurse you can be.

If you continue to stand up for yourself and it's ineffective, we move the defense up to management. No time frame needs to pass for you to proceed to managerial assistance. Verbal abuse and bullying shouldn't EVER happen. The second you feel harassed, it's time to go to management. There might be miscommunications and mistakes from time to time, but calling someone an "idiot" isn't a mistake. It's a deliberate comment used specifically to hurt someone. Understand it's in our human nature to downplay our feelings and second-guess them. We want to believe everyone in the world is kind and perhaps we're confused. If your feelings are wishy-washy, wait until you're certain. But understand that bullies use this hesitation to their advantage, in hopes you brush these encounters off as meaningless. Your non-response is, in reality, a response. Your inaction can be interpreted as you being accepting of the current dynamic, which in turn, encourages the bully to continue the current course of action.

When you approach management, please explain the encounters on a professional level. You need to provide specific examples and not mere generalities. You don't need to go into why you're not an idiot nor do you need to scream and cry. The goal isn't to make it personal. The objective is to explain that this behavior isn't professional, and its continuance will only divide the team. Managers are all about the team dynamic and people impacting that effort is a concern. You don't need to defend yourself or examine that you're a new nurse and learning. The focus should always remain on the acts of bullying themselves and how they're affecting you as a nurse. No one can take being berated, demeaned, and teased for an entire 12-hour shift. I sure can't. Allowing this behavior will not make you stronger, trust me. Get the support you need and talk to management about your concerns. Don't be pessimistic about management - they are there to help. And yes, there can be situations where middle management is complicit in the abuse, and you might need to go to the human resource department for assistance. Each situation requires a unique approach, but make sure you stay within your organizational chart and speak to the appropriate parties. Again, the goal is to shine a light on the bullying and not to throw a tantrum. Having an emotional incident will only create a distraction and water down your message.

Some people say, "Older nurses eat their young" or "Critical care nurses are always mean." I don't speak in generalities. What I do know is that people are people. Alpha-type personalities tend to tease people who allow it, people who say nothing. The world is full of undiagnosed, unstable individuals looking for the right victims. It has nothing to do with age, experience, or department. It has to do with people finding vulnerable individuals and using that vulnerability to their advantage. Bullying feeds an aspect of the bully's ego. It's a sick cycle of acceptance and abuse. So when you say nothing, you feed the cycle over and over. Don't get it confused, nurses are great people, but we are people - people who have their own faults and issues.

In the end, you must verbalize yourself and talk to management in order for this bullying behavior to change. Some individuals might say that these tips are extreme and unnecessary, but they probably haven't had someone bully them to the point where they contemplated quitting their job or leaving a profession they spent four years of college to enter. It's terrible, you feel terrible. Hell, terrible can't even describe how awful you feel. I love nursing, and it's a passion of mine. I've wanted to a nurse ever since I was a little girl. And honestly, when I was a graduate nurse, I was a week away from saying "Screw it!" and leaving the profession for good. That's how powerful bullying can be. It's an emotional trigger that only you can stop. There are people in this world that can take something you love and turn it against you. Don't allow someone to take nursing from you. You've worked too hard to make it here. Stand up for yourself, speak to management, and continue to help your community.