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Can’t Nurses Just Get Along? How to Deal with Lateral Violence in Nursing

You know who they are: The Naysayer, The Backstabber, The “Poor Me” and The Snarky One. While most nurses are a pleasure to work with, these stand out for making things difficult. As a travel nurse and the new kid on the unit, you might even take such poor behaviors from your nurse colleagues personally.

But you’re not responsible for their behavior. You can, however, be part of the solution. Lateral violence in nursing has been a major problem for many year, don't let the cycle continue.

Instead of responding in kind, there are some positive ways to deal with nurse bullies, overcome personality conflicts and diffuse confrontations with fellow nurses.

What is nurse bullying?

The American Nurses Association (ANA) reports that incivility and bullying are both prevalent among nurses, in all settings, and describes the two issues this way:

  • Nurse incivilityis one or more rude, discourteous, or disrespectful actions that may or may not have a negative intent behind them.
  • Nurse bullyingis defined as repeated, unwanted harmful actions intended to humiliate, offend, and cause distress in the recipient. ANA reports that bullying is a very serious issue that threatens patient safety, nurse safety, and the nursing profession.

Lateral violence in nursing can take many forms, including:

  • Nurse-to-nurse hostility
  • Supervisor-to-employee negativity
  • Workplace intimidation
  • Passive-aggressive shirking of duties, and
  • Negative behaviors (acting superior or resentful).

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At its worst, nurse bullying can escalate to violence and physical aggression.

According to one Workplace Bullying Institute study, 38 percent of working adults have experienced bullying at work, 42 percent have witnessed bullying behavior and 40 percent of all workplace bullies are female.

Dealing with bullies at work

If another nurse persists in bullying you, the best thing you can do is remove yourself from the situation and show no fear. Be strong, be calm. Call the behavior quietly into focus.

Example: Since you choose to speak to me this way, I am going to walk away until you treat me with respect. I will not tolerate (this specific behavior). Be assertive, not aggressive, and don't get carried away by emotion.

Be familiar with the facility’s protocols on mitigating bullying behavior. Document incidents. If necessary, report the behavior to your supervisor, the human resources department, and your travel nursing agency.

Do not grin and bear it; hospitals recognize that nurse incivility and bullying interfere with staff morale and patient care, and should be ready to deal with the issue and offer support.

Consider these books and resources to address nurse bullying:

Resolving personality conflicts

If you've tried to be accommodating and yet find that working with someone is affecting your ability to do your nursing job competently, ask for a meeting with that person and a third party to hash out how you can resolve your differences

  • Be specific about the purpose of the meeting. Look the person in the eye and speak calmly.
  • Ask the other person what the two of you can do to improve your working relationship. “It makes us look unprofessional when we can’t get along.
  • Come to an agreement about how each of you will behave in the future if a conflict arises.

How to diffuse a difficult situation

Want to know how to transform a toxic situation with a co-worker or patient who is angry, frustrated, confused or unreasonable?

  • Treat the person with respect and dignity.
  • Speak quietly and use positive body language.
  • Ask them to tell you the issue and then repeat it back to them. “I think you are upset because of X and I am going to help you figure this out in (specific time frame) by doing Y.
  • Be sure to get all the information that led up to this explosive situation.
  • Empathize, use active listening, and know what NOT to say. Don’t let ego or anger take you down the wrong path.
  • Pursue a solution and apologize.

Learning to get along with nurse co-workers, physicians, patients and family members is an important skill for travel nurses and staff nurses alike. Lateral violence has been a part of nursing for too long, but you can help put a stop to it.

If you want to get away from a tense workplace or want a fresh start, consider a travel nursing job.

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