Nurses don't eat their young any more than electricians do, or bookstore clerks do, or lifeguards do. There are bullies in every profession; the thing about nursing is that we're expected to be all warm and cuddly and friendly and healing angels of peace yadda yadda. So when "horizontal violence", or bullying, happens, everyone clutches their pearls and has a little crinoline-lifting moment.
Still, if you have to deal with a bully at work, things can suck hard. I deal with three on a regular basis. Two I've dealt with fairly successfully up to now and the other I've ignored. Here, therefore, are the three types of bullies you'll encounter most frequently and the ways I've come up with to handle these people. More suggestions in the comments would be welcome.
(Nota Bene to new nurses: If your manager is the one who's determined to clean your bones, get a new job. There is no winning with a bullying boss, unless you're willing to spend a whole lot of time and effort to get them reprimanded repeatedly and then fired. If you're new, quite frankly, you have better ways to spend your time. Get the hell out and leave the crusade to older nurses who don't have to worry about ruining their future careers through one bad apple. Seriously.)
Bully Number One: The Know-It-All.
This person just wants to help you. Yeah, right. They know more than you do (debatable) and are better at their job than you are (extremely debatable), and are determined to let you know it every single time you two work together. It's wearing and exhausting to have to listen to unsolicited advice when you're trying to get something done, and a lot of what the Know-It-All does involves criticizing (ever so subtly!) the people who taught you how to do those things in the first place.
How To Deal With Bully Number One: Speak Up.
This is the hardest sort of bully to work with, though he's often the least damaging to you personally and professionally. Bullies in general are easily recognized by other people that you work with; it's likely that this guy has a reputation that preceeds him. Still, he can make you (meaning me) freeze up and screw little things up when he's got you under the microscope, no matter how much experience you've got.
Therefore, the only way to handle such a person is to be frank. You have to tell them--sometimes repeatedly, in a variety of situations--that you're doing fine, thanks, that yes, you understand that X, Y, and Z lead to Q, and that the way you're running that line is just fine with your preceptor, manager, and the attending.
Doing it respectfully is the key. Doing it without losing your temper is critical.
Oh, and by the way: Never, ever, ever ask this type of person for help. They'll likely defer to the patient care aid, the charge nurse, or Santa Claus before actually being useful.
Bully Number Two: It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Off-The-Handle Man (or Woman)!!
This sort of person can be nurse, doctor, or aid. Or respiratory therapist or X-ray person or whatever. The thing that distinguishes this sort of bully is that everything will be fine for some time.....when suddenly, they'll blow up at you over a situation or problem over which you either have no control or weren't involved in in the first place.
There's usually shouting involved. There's also usually hand-flapping, eye-rolling, and perhaps some loose spittle here and there. It's scary and can be enraging, but like the Know-It-All, the actions of OTHM, while disturbing, really don't make much of a lasting difference to anybody.
How To Deal With Bully Number Two: Employ Heavy Weaponry.
This is another sort of situation you gotta deal with immediately. It's fresh in my mind because I just had a mild, drama-free showdown with our local OTHW the other day, and here's what I did:
I waited as calmly as possible until she finished screeching, and then I said, "There's obviously a problem here. Let's take it to Boss Lady as soon as she gets in."
OTHW backed down immediately, saying that oh, no, that's not necessary, but--and here's where the heavy weaponry part kicks in--I would not let her off the hook. She'd yelled at me for something completely beyond my control, made some remarks about my parentage and my personality into the bargain, and scared hell out of a student I was precepting.
So in the morning, off we went to see Boss Lady. As we walked into her office, I said, "OTHW got very upset with me this morning, and so we need a mediator. I'll let her talk first." And then I sat down and made myself comfortable while she ranted.
This is, again, crucial: you must let the nutjob spew gaskets and bolts all over before you respond in a reasoned, logical manner. Not only will it make you look like a fair person, but it's golden for getting your point across in such a way that showcases the other person's wackiness.
Not only, then, do you show your boss where the problem is, but you do something equally important: you let OTHperson know that you are on it, you are down with it, and you are not afraid to bring it to their doorstep (as the kids say). Not being intimidated is what makes these bullies leave you alone.
And finally, Bully Number Three: She Who Must Not Be Named.
I have no good name for this person. If there's a nurse that eats her young, this is the one: passive-aggressive, condescending, subtly critical, and prone to complain about other nurses to residents and attendings. This is the bully that you have to watch out for, as she can be damaging to your reputation as a nurse and your standing with your boss and the people who aren't there all day (like doctors).
How To Deal With Bully Number Three: Get Ready For The Long Haul
Unfortunately, like all things toxic and explosive, this person is the hardest sort of workplace bully to handle. You can go about it two ways: ignore what's happening and just keep your head down, or write everything down and make a near-Federal case of it when you have enough evidence.
You know how everybody always tells you, "Write everything down", right? Well, it's true: it does give you ammunition when and if you want to confront SWMNBN in the boss's office. (Don't ever do it alone, without a senior person there. That way lieth disaster, verily.) You'll need to be as careful at recording what she says or does as you would be in documenting the care of a very ill patient with litigation-happy family: that's the only way to keep yourself from becoming mired in she-said/he-said Hell.
Try to mitigate this person's actions and words by forging close relationships with the doctors and nurses (and everybody else) you work with. In dealing with our unit's SWMNBN, the reputation that I've developed--carefully and consciously--over the last eight years has been invaluable. You may not have that depth of experience, but it's never a bad time to start building respectful, open relationships with your peers.
And, if it comes to the point that you have to say something to your boss (it might not; often this bully's teeth are pulled when you ignore her or him), it's usually best to meet alone with the boss and show them the evidence you've compiled, then let him or her take it from there. The more ammunition you have, the better--and the higher quality ammo you've got, the better. If a doc reports that SWMNBN told her that you'd not done some vital thing, ask the doc to write that down for you, and keep it with your other documentation.
I wish you luck in dealing with this particular bully. I was fortunate that, when my unit's bully complained to an attending about the care I supposedly hadn't given a patient, she chose an attending with whom I'd just discussed that care, and with whom I have an excellent working relationship. The doc basically nipped that particular bitch in the bud, and I've had no problems since, but it was pure chance that it happened that way.
Tell your fellow Faithful Minions and any new Minions out there how you deal with bullies in the comments, please. And thank you.