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Do you have a practice bully?

By Lynne Curry  bio

At first you hear rumblings, and then they turn into a rockslide. If you have a practice bully, a domineering charge nurse, an it’s-all-about-me IT manager or a physician so aware of the dollars he brings to your clinic that he could not care less about those he rides roughshod over, you’ve got a problem.

What happens if you don’t address a workplace bully? Others leave, and you often lose your best employees first. Productivity plummets. Absenteeism and mistakes rise. The increasing absenteeism puts extra workload pressure on others, who now show signs of stress. The wrong mistake creates liability, or the bully directly creates legal exposure by picking on the wrong person, leading to a hard to resolve discrimination or harassment complaint or lawsuit.

As the medical office manager you need to handle your practice bully. The problem is, how? Often, practice bullies bring in major amounts of revenue or possess unique skills your practice needs.


Your first step is to assess whether or not you have a bully in your midst. Many falsely toss the bullying allegation at hard-charging, task-oriented individuals. If you see a pattern of repeated, intentional humiliation or intimidation, in the form of ridiculing, insulting, shoving or sabotage, you may have a bully on your hands.

Make a business case

Because bullies often kiss up and kick down, your practice partners may not believe you when you say you need to handle a bullying situation. Because the bully may bring valuable revenue into your practice or may even be one of your partners, you’ll need to make a business case in terms of bottom-line impact and legal liability to get the backing you need to handle the bully.

Target first aid

While you’re assessing what to do and making your business case, you need to provide assistance to those the bully targets. You’ll want to create an effective grievance channel that keeps what targets tell you as confidential as possible and to provide staff training in handling conflict and difficult people.


Based on the credible evidence you’ve uncovered as you’ve assessed the situation, you can then choose among options.

  • Turning the bully around: Some bullies will change, particularly if presented with evidence they need to. A 360-degree review that summarizes what seven to 11 people say when assessing the bully in areas such as “How does this individual handle those with views other than his/her own?”; “How does this individual demonstrate leadership?”; “How does this individual work with peers and other team members?” can often shock a bully into wanting to mend his or her ways. Using the 360-degree review or the results of your internal assessment as a base, you can provide the bully with targeted coaching.
  • Mediation: If the bully possesses valuable skills that you want to keep in your practice, you may get good results from mediating between the bully and those with whom the bully interacts. The mediation needs to conclude with specific, clear operating agreements defining how future interactions will occur. For example, if your bully rules by shouting, an agreement might read, “If voices are raised above normal workplace conversation, the others may leave the room and/or immediately invite the office manager to intervene.”
  • Discipline: If your practice bully violates your practice’s code of conduct, you can provide discipline, up to and including termination.

Do you have a practice bully? How do you plan to handle it?

Lynne Curry, PhD,¬†author of “Beating the Workplace Bully,” AMACOM 2016, and “Solutions” regularly presents to the Medical Group Management Association, Alaska Chapter and provides services to multiple medical practices and hospitals. You can contact Curry @

The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.









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