Using Emotional Intelligence to Combat Nurse Bullying

Submitted by Dr. Chinazo Echezona-Johnson, DNP, EdD, LLB, MSN, PCC, CNE, CNEcl, NPD-BC, RNC-MNN

Tags: bullying conflict resolution emotional intelligence mindfulness

Using Emotional Intelligence to Combat Nurse Bullying

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During a leadership meeting about budgeting, a departmental director reported a recent sentinel event that resulted in a severe fall of a patient. The director attributed this fall to a lack of staffing due to the agency's reductions in staffing budget. The Chief Operating Officer (CFO) became so angry with the director. The CFO became very contentious. He would not listen to the director's explanations and interrupted the director every time she tried to talk. Finally, he started using expletives and told her to "shut up." This CFO does not have emotional intelligence. Instead, the CFO was aggressive, confrontational, egotistical, a poor listener, impulsive, and critical.


Nurse bullying and incivility is an epidemic happening in all settings, including among nursing leaders. Many nurses admitted to being bullied in the workplace (Edmonson & Zelonka, 2019). The American Nurses Association, 2015 defines nurse bullying as "repeated, unwanted harmful actions intended to humiliate, offend and cause distress in the recipient," calling it "a very serious issue that threatens patient safety, RN safety, and the nursing profession as a whole."

Bullying and incivility contribute to decreased employee and patient satisfaction scores, increased nurse turnover rates, psychological and physical distress, and a lack of motivation and engagement. Bullying can be overt, such as verbal criticism, name-calling, and insults. Indirect bullying can be rumors, gossip, and sabotage (American Nurses Association, 2015; Edmonson & Zelonka, 2019).

Therapeutic relationships and Emotional intelligence

According to the American Nurses Association 2015 Code of Ethics for Nurses, Nurses must maintain professional, respectful, and caring relationships with colleagues and are committed to fair treatment, transparency, integrity-preserving compromise, and the best resolution of conflicts.

Therapeutic relationships entail being empathetic, genuine, and respectful. Empathizing with others through other peoples' situations, feelings, and motives helps establish rapport and excellent interpersonal relationships (Chignell, 2018). Genuineness includes exhibiting no defensive, sincerity, transparency, and openness. These attributes encourage interpersonal relationships by allowing an open environment to seek information without repercussions. Finally, respect provides safety for all relationships and allows a trusting and unrestricted relationship (Kornhaber et al., 2016).

Everybody possesses five components of emotional intelligence: Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Empathy, and Social Skills. Emotional intelligence (EI) includes some of the attributes of a transformational leader and professional. These include excellent communication skills such as active listening, assertiveness, and sociability. EI also had to be patient, consistent, predictable, and decisive (Crowne et al., 2017). The tenets of EI allow for supportive therapeutic relationships and partnerships by ensuring the cognizance and managing of one's emotions, self-management of any adverse moods, and recognizing the importance of building interpersonal relations and rapport with others through empathy, respect, and authenticity. EI allows for the use of creativity, accountability, and people's motivation. Emotional intelligence entails using emotional awareness to think and solve problems (Raeissi et al., 2021).

The literature suggests teaching nurses about the principles of emotional intelligence (EI) and how to use the principles of EI in their daily work. Also, literature shows that EI helps deal with the stressful work environment, decreases nurse attrition and staff burnout, and increases nurse retention (Crowne et al., 2017). Nurses should use the tenets of emotional intelligence when dealing with the negative emotions of others. Traditionally, the training and expectations of professionals encourage regulating their emotions when dealing with others by suppressing intense emotions instead of acting out those emotions. Literature documented that suppression of overwhelming emotions decreases the outwards adverse feelings but can cause severe emotional scars and limitations such as anger, frustrations, and even mental disorders (Gully, 2021). Nurses must ensure they adequately manage their emotions to support their team and the organization and effectively lead in this chaotic and complex healthcare arena (Chignell, 2018).

Also, nurses could use mindfulness strategies when regulating their emotions and expressing them in the workplace and beyond (Gully, 2021). Mindfulness encourages and supports accepting overwhelming feelings in real-time by acknowledging and naming the feelings, understanding the emotion, and strategizing how to handle the feelings. These approaches entail identifying the intense feeling, causation, and strategies to manage and cope with the overwhelming emotions and balance healthy and unhealthy emotions. Mindfulness helps with the controlled expression of emotions, keeping emotional and physical distance from extreme feelings, and using physical strategies to understand and handle intense emotions (Shankland et al., 2021). These include thinking non-judgmentally, deep breathing, and stress-relieving activities such as walking and meditating.

Application to practice

According to Goleman, 1995, the application of the tenets of emotional intelligence include:

  1. Self-Awareness: Knowing and understanding one's emotions, moods, triggers, and effects on others are essential in every interaction. Self-awareness helps to keep negative emotions in check and refrain from impulsive decisions.
  2. Self-regulation: Importance of learning how to regulate emotions in every situation to maintain positive interactions and environment.
  3. Motivations: Finding meaning and engagement with work will help to relationships. Motivation means finding other reasons to be a nurse that has nothing to do with money and title.
  4. Empathy: Understanding the emotions of others during stressful and adverse events is crucial. Empathy means that before reacting to negative communication, it is vital to put oneself in another person's experience and see another person's perspective.
  5. Social skills: It is essential to use social and excellent communication skills such as non-verbal skills - eye contact, nodding, speaking softly, showing respect, etc. It is imperative to find strategies to self-regulate emotions. Emotion regulation could be achieved by learning to use mindfulness and conflict resolution strategies.


Nurses are trained to remain calm in stressful situations. However, some cases may trigger overwhelming negative emotions. Nurses are encouraged to practice and use the tenets of emotional intelligence when dealing with those situations. However, nurses need to practice emotional and physical self-care throughout their careers. To prevent burnout and negative emotions, nurses must learn consistent care for themselves using therapeutic and mindfulness strategies such as exercising, yoga, meditating and seeing a therapist.


  1. American Nurses Association. (2015). Code of ethics for nurses with interpretive statements.
  2. American Nurses Association. (2015). Position Statement: Incivility, Bullying, and Workplace Violence.
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  4. Chignell, B. (2018, February 13). The importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace.
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  11. Shankland, R., Tessier, D., Strub, L., Gauchet, A., & Baeyens, C. (2021). Improving mental health and well‐being through informal mindfulness practices: an intervention study. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being, 13(1), 63-83.