Nurses eat their young.


Chances are, you’ve heard this phrase before. And if you’re a nurse, you’ve not only heard this phrase, but you’ve probably seen it play out in your work.


In 2017, nearly 83% of physicians and nurses reported disruptive behaviors in their hospitals. Disruptive behaviors can be defined as any negative behavior in healthcare that should never occur and that disturbs work getting done. This can include nurse bullying, incivility, physical violence, gossiping, public criticism, and even the silent treatment.


Here are 3 things you need to know about disruptive behaviors in nursing:


1. Disruptive behaviors can harm the patient, too.


A survey reported that 71% of physicians and nurses believe there is a significant link between disruptive behaviors and medical errors, and 27% believe disruptive behaviors led to a patient’s death.


When nurses experience disruptive behaviors, they can often shut down and disengage from their work, which lowers the quality of patient care. Additionally, workplaces where nurse bullying is prevalent often have greater turnover, which can create a shortage of nursing that negatively impacts patient satisfaction and outcomes.


2. Creating a culture of giving and receiving feedback can reduce disruptive behaviors.


As a species, humans generally have a difficult time receiving constructive feedback. This can be a huge factor in the prevalence of disruptive behaviors because talented clinicians are often excused for poor behavior.


Fostering a culture where giving and receiving feedback is a habit  will lead to high-performing and respectful teams. Instead of getting defensive when receiving feedback, healthy teams embrace and even seek out feedback as a necessary part of improving their practice. Cultivating this habit begins with clinical leaders and their own willingness to admit their shortcomings.


3. Recognize what bullying is… and is not.


Bullying does not include a manager holding staff accountable for performance or behavior, differing opinions, a hard conversation, or letting a bad mood get the best of you on a stressful day. Everyone has acted unprofessionally from time to time, especially when working in high-stress environments.


You’ll know that bullying has occurred when there is a target, the actions are harmful, and it’s happening repeatedly. This includes behaviors such as uneven workloads due to favoritism, exclusion, gossip, constant nitpicking, open criticism, and sabotage. These actions are not just the result of poor staff behavior or a stressful day but are meant to cause harm to another individual.


While disruptive behaviors are prevalent – and may even feel normal – in healthcare settings, we shouldn’t stop working to eradicate them. To learn more about how to prevent disruptive behaviors, explore nurse bullying expert Renee Thompson’s organization, Healthy Workforce Institute.