6 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Nurse Colleagues

Written by
Jenna Elizabeth
May 10, 2023

Being a nurse means working as a team. That’s because the nursing profession requires a nurse to work closely with other healthcare professionals such as doctors, social workers, dietitians, nursing aids, and other nurse colleagues to provide the best care for patients. Accordingly, a team-oriented approach in nursing ensures the highest quality and level of care for patients. But what happens when a difficult nurse colleague gets in the way of a smooth teamwork synergy in the workplace? Operations can go awry real quick, and you may find that working with a difficult nurse colleague can negatively impact patient care and job satisfaction. 

Dealing with a “Debbie Downer” nurse colleague? Really, don’t let them get you down. Here are five quick tips on how to handle a difficult nurse coworker:

1. Stay Firm, But Be Kind

two upset nurses

Trust us; we get it. Working with difficult nurse colleagues can be stressful. Depending on how challenging a nurse colleague is and what the underlying issues are, finding common ground with a fellow colleague can seem impossible. Yet, sometimes the best solution for dealing with difficult nurse colleagues is to set an example. For instance, if you find that a nurse colleague is constantly criticizing or talking about others, don’t engage. Set a clear boundary and explain that you are not interested in engaging in conversation that involves negatively talking about others. You can also offer an alternative to your nurse colleague by redirecting the conversation to something more positive. In the end, be firm, but be kind; sometimes, leading by example can help build trust and inspire others to live up to their potential as well. 

2. Reflect on the Situation 

If you find yourself dealing with a difficult situation and colleague while working as a nurse, before taking action, it may help to reflect on what factors contributed to the problem. This means reflecting on personal actions, being open to feedback, or taking accountability if necessary. Sometimes, it’s possible to take a step back and look for common ground and compromise when possible. At the same time, after reflecting on the situation and realizing that the intentions of a nurse colleague were malicious or abusive in nature, it’s important to speak up and confront the situation immediately. 

3. Confront the Situation

One way to deal with a challenging nurse colleague is to confront the situation or person head-on. This could mean arranging to have a conversation with a difficult coworker in private. From there, you can explain to your nurse colleague how their behaviors and actions are affecting you. Keep in mind that if the discussion begins to escalate, it’s best to take a break and return to the conversation later. Likewise, if you feel uncomfortable at any point in the conversation with your nurse coworker, it may be better to ask for intervention from a supervisor. Confrontation can be intimidating, but sometimes it’s the first step in repairing communication and improving a relationship. 

4. Improve Your Relationship 

Sometimes dealing with a difficult colleague is as simple as improving your relationship with them. If you sense that there is tension between you and a nurse colleague, you could attempt to build rapport with them and find common ground. More often than not, using effective communication strategies with a difficult nurse colleague can help patch up the relationship enough to remain professional and focus on providing exceptional patient care. That said, a nurse colleague's negative behavior can sometimes feel overwhelming. At this point, it’s always best to reach out to a supervisor. 

5. Talk to a Supervisor 

If you are a nurse and have made multiple attempts to resolve a challenging situation with a difficult coworker with no success, it may be time to speak with management. One way to do this is to set up a time to speak with your supervisor and explain how the behavior of a coworker is harming the nursing team’s productivity and morale. Ask your supervisor for suggestions on how to address the situation effectively, and, if needed, ask if they could step in and speak with the uncooperative nurse colleague directly. Generally, a supervisor who is equipped to handle difficult situations or people won’t hesitate to intervene and attempt to resolve the problem. 

Surround Yourself with Positive Relationships

nurse crying on other nurse

Inevitably, most nurses will work with disruptive colleagues at some point in their careers. Depending on the gravity of the situation, speaking up and/or confronting the nurse colleague may be the appropriate course of action. On the other hand, if you notice a nurse colleague is just negative by nature, it’s okay to ignore them while still maintaining professionalism in the workplace. Instead, focus on positive nurse-coworker relationships that encourage you to pursue your goals and be the best nurse you can be!

Jenna Elizabeth
Blog published on:
May 10, 2023

Meet Jenna, a contributing copywriter at Nursa who writes about healthcare news and updates, empathy and compassion for nurses, how to show staff appreciation and increase retention, and guides that help nurses navigate career pathways.

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