What’s the culture like at your workplace? Is it generally a harmonious place or does the undercurrent of nurse-to-nurse hostility have you looking for another job?

A hostile environment in a nurse’s workplace is hardly of the raised voice type (although that can certainly happen). “It’s the subtle, nonverbal things,” says Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN, author of Ending Nurse-to-Nurse Hostility and other nursing-related books. “It’s your intuition or the conversation that stops when you walk in the room.” We all have a tendency to personalize those incidents and think it’s all about us which has a huge impact on your own morale and how you go about your job.

Most nurses work in a great environment,” says Bartholomew. To keep that going, communication has to be open and consistent. Nurses, she says, need to be as skilled in communication and creative collaboration as they are in their clinical skills. “But no one seems to teach it,” she says. And often, workplaces don’t encourage feedback unless it’s positive. Often, nurses who are critical are often told they aren’t team players.

What can you do to help reduce and prevent any hostility in the workplace?

You have to recognize it and be aware of it,” says Bartholomew. “Acknowledge that most behaviors are nonverbal.” Bartholomew says that when verbal and nonverbal cues fail to match up (such as when a colleague rolls her eyes when she sees you coming and then gives you a cheery greeting) most people will react to the nonverbal cues.

Once you recognize it, you have to speak up. It can be something as simple as saying, “I need to talk to you about something in private,” after a colleague is disrespectful or clearly unhappy with her nonverbal actions after getting an assignment.

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Sound intimidating? It is, but you can’t let that prevent you from saying something. The business culture, particularly in the United States, isn’t very open to sharing feedback and opinions, says Bartholomew. “It’s in all industries,” she says, “but it’s noticeable in healthcare because the stress is high.”

To keep hostility from brewing in the first place, it’s helpful to ask for feedback and encourage that in your workplace. Bartholomew recommends asking colleges two questions: “What do you like that I do well?” and “What would you like to see me do more?” If you are in a manager position or administrator, recognize that leadership, on all levels, needs to be on board to committing to having a culture that encourages openness. No one will speak up if they feel there will be any kind of retribution.

And if you hear some feedback that’s critical? Try not to have that natural, knee-jerk reaction of getting defensive. To promote openness, you have to take a step back. Start by saying “Thank you for pointing that out,” says Bartholomew. Recognize that we are all human and make mistakes and will not always do the right thing or say the right thing. Be happy that someone is willing to approach you and is taking a step to make a change. Then figure out how to bring that change about.

What ‘s your experience with nurse-to-nurse hostility?

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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