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Tackle bullying in your nursing team


Confronting bullying can be challenging because bullies try to avoid accountability

As a manager or supervisor of a nursing team, you may spot a team member using bullying behaviour and decide to confront them.

However, this can be challenging because workplace bullies are often adept at avoiding accountability for their use of aggression towards colleagues. Each bully will have their own tactics for avoiding responsibility during a confrontation with their manager or supervisor. These tactics often fall into two categories. Either the bully justifies their use of aggressive behaviour in the workplace by citing a need to drive their team members to prevent them from failing. Or the bully switches the conversation away from their bullying behaviour onto you, making you the problem for suggesting they are employing unwarranted aggression.

Here are some of the most common responses from a workplace bully who wishes to dodge legitimate feedback from their manager or supervisor. The bully may:

  • Deny the validity of your feedback and claim they don’t know what you are talking about, or say there must have been a misunderstanding;
  • Demand you tell them who has complained about them, what that person said, and why you believe it;
  • Deflect attention from the feedback you want to give them onto your supposed failings as a manager, supervisor or leader;
  • Cite your flawed feedback as an example of your inability to give effective feedback and a clear indicator of the challenge of reporting to you.
  • Create plausible-sounding justifications for their use of robust behaviour such as claiming one or more people in their team is under-performing and needs driving towards higher standards.
  • Turn the tables by suggesting your perception that they use overly aggressive behaviour is misguided, flawed and vexatious.

To limit the bully’s options for creating fog around your feedback you need to adopt a carefully crafted approach. You could:

  • Select one or two instances of their use of bullying behaviour you have witnessed;
  • Write down what you want to say in advance and rehearse it so that you are thoroughly familiar with the content of your feedback before the confrontation;
  • Describe what you observed the bully saying and doing, along with a factual description of the impact you witnessed those behaviours having on the target;
  • Outline how those instances have negatively affected your view of the bully;
  • Clarify your expectations of the bully’s future behaviour;
  • Outline the consequences for them of continued use of the aggression you have brought to their attention;
  • Reiterate the key points you have made, emphasising the fact that you are playing back to them behaviour which you have observed them using.


What workplace bullying involves

● One-off, frequent or repeated personal attacks which the person who is targeted experiences as emotionally hurtful or professionally harmful

● A deliberate attempt by the bully to undermine the target’s ability to carry out their work, or to injure their reputation, or to undermine their self-esteem and self-confidence

● A deliberate attempt by the bully to remove personal power from the target and keep this control for themselves

● This article contains extracts from Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying (Mint Hall Publishing, 2015)


Aryanne Oade has worked as a chartered psychologist for more than 20 years. She coaches clients to recover from the sometimes debilitating effects of workplace bullying

Free yourself from workplace bullying


Readers' comments (2)

  • To often managers dismiss bullying complaints as a personality conflict and therefore not much they can do about it.

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    Nursing... the caring profession. Bullying should not be tolerated or excused.

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