What nurse hasn’t heard the phrase “Nurses eat their own.”? You’ve probably witnessed it at some point in your career. Or maybe you’ve personally experienced the burn of cattiness, gossip, condemning verbal attacks, or bullying.
Plain old meanness seems to pervade nursing, and you wonder, Is there anything I can really do about it?
Letting this behavior go on will progressively change nursing for the worse. We’re in a nursing shortage, and if we don’t address this issue, we’re in trouble. Nurses are leaving already. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With effort, the ideal workplace--where everyone gets along and supports each other--is attainable. Here’s how to make it a reality:
Speak Your Truth
When you hear that someone is talking about you behind your back, or someone says something hurtful to you in public, don’t just walk away. Do something about it. But have patience. Ask to speak to them in private and tell them what you heard. Explain that if they have something to say to you, they should just say it. Then the two of you can work it out. Most bad feelings are left unaddressed in the workplace. So take a stand, speak your truth, and fix the problem.
Never Be a Silent Witness
Nurses who are unprofessional talk about people behind their backs or gossip. And while that’s not acceptable, remaining a silent witness isn’t much better. Never stand by saying nothing. Don’t be the ears that listen while one nurse is slamming another nurse or bringing someone else down. Never. Take a personal vow of integrity. Say, “Professionals do not do that.” Or tell the complaining person to go talk to the person directly involved, not you. At the very least, walk away.
Don’t Ignore Non-Verbal Language
It’s pretty typical for a nurse to be passive aggressive, especially since the average age of a nurse is 47 or higher. Remember, the Boomer generation isn’t as open as Generations X and Y. If you ask a nurse how she’s doing and she says, “Fine,” but her vocal inflections or body language say otherwise, ask her what’s really going on. Take the time to show that asking “How are you?” isn’t just a standard greeting—and that you really do care
Compliments Go a Long Way
Few nurses actually take the time to give positive feedback to their nursing coworkers, even though it’s a critical component of creating cohesion on your unit. Complimenting someone isn’t just a warm fuzzy. You can’t compliment someone for something specific unless you actually pay attention to what they did. We need to celebrate our differences, and affirm each other’s strengths. Sure, we have the same educational backgrounds and training, but it’s the particular things we do on the floor that we have to notice: “Wow, you can get a Foley into anyone!” Or, “Gosh, you really deescalated that patient. You’re really good at that.”
Take Time to Listen
Nurses are labeled as “snobs” or “self aggrandizing” if they talk about their own successes at work. That’s why it’s important to encourage other nurses--especially new nurses--by saying, “I want to hear about your work and your day.” By giving nurses permission to talk about their successes, they become confident in their own strengths—and less concerned about others’ perceptions of them. It also helps nurses to find value in each nurse’s contribution to the unit.
Appreciate the Art of Nursing
The profession isn’t just a science. It really is an art. A nurse becomes more than a skillful practitioner when he or she enters a perfect stranger’s room, who is probably in an extremely vulnerable place, and makes that patient feel at ease within five seconds. That’s talent. It’s the art of connecting with another human being. And it’s incredibly important to remember that you are the artist. When you recognize you and your co-nurse aren’t just “handmaidens”—but professionals integrally involved in helping your patients become healthy—you will see the benefit of putting aside the behaviors that undermine your professionalism.