Confronting Incivility in Nursing


Posted to Nursing, Nursing Jobs

Nurses encounter difficult patients all the time; occasionally, family members chime in and offer their hostility as well. But as part of a team of nurses caring for patients in an already stressful situation, nurses don’t expect to encounter incivility in their colleagues. Aren’t they supposed to have your back? Unfortunately incivility is no longer limited to patients and family members. When viewed on a colleague to colleague basis, incivility is on the increase.

Dr. Cynthia Clark and Sara Ahten, both registered nurses, recently studied this growing trend and found that serious issues such as physical violence can result from incivility as minor as eye-rolling. The researchers found that the most reported incidents of incivility were racial and ethnic slurs, bullying and taunting. Preventing these behaviors from escalating to physical encounters should be an organization’s top priority.

On a personal level, what can a nurse who is the victim of incivility do? Reporting the behavior is an option, but there isn’t always time to fill out the paperwork or find a supervisor. Confronting the perpetrator is often the best and fastest way to handle the situation. Coming up with an immediate, clever retort, is probably not the best practice because emotions can run high if the comment or behavior was particularly uncivil.  Taking some time to cool off, and perhaps discussing it with someone in authority who will not gossip, is a good option.

If you do wish to involve a supervisor, he or she may ask if you desire an intervention or simply want advice. Most organizations prefer that matters are handled peer to peer rather than involving management immediately. Before you act, you may also want to examine your own behavior and ask yourself if you contributed in any way to the problem. Culpability may render your feelings moot.

If you decide to confront the person, ask first for a moment to talk. Interrupting a person’s conversation or work is not going to put them in a frame of mind to have a productive interaction. (However, if possible, avoid setting a time to talk in the far future as the suspense might result in heightened emotions, which can then make resolution more difficult.)  If the response is still negative or rude, hold him or her accountable for that response as you have tried to resolve the situation, but they are unwilling to do so. After this, you’ll want to refer the matter to a supervisor.

If, on the other hand, they are willing to talk, begin, use first-person centered statements and make the conversation about your feelings. ‘I feel unappreciated,’ or ‘I feel angry.’ Own your feelings. Ask them to own their behavior. Aim to come away from the situation as colleagues who can work together. You do not necessarily have to like each other. Remember, patient care is the top priority.

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