Conflict With A Nurse-Coworker


I work in a small busy nursing unit and am one of two full-time nurses. The other nurse is my problem. She has been a constant source of negativity with myself and other staff. I have discussed this with my supervisor and the nurse has been counseled. It doesn’t seem to help. Maybe a short period of time then where right back where we started.

I am at the point that I would rather be over worked or seek another job than put up with this any longer. I have worked in this unit for 16 years and love what I do and really don’t want to leave but I am now thinking more of my mental health.

Here are some of the complaints the staff and I have with her: Not supportive of the unit as a team, hides information(this has gotten better, but still a problem),condescending, rude(complaints from staff, physicians and patients), picks and chooses what she wants to do when she can, skirts around learning specific tasks, something emergent happens and she’s blaming some one else, usually the other person in the case–with her embarrassing them in front of the physician; instead of teaching the new person she rushes around and gets it done before they have a chance; holding back a new employee from becoming independent, has never thanked me for anythin(she’s worked with me 6-7 years), clocks in 15 minutes before me.

There’s more but you probably have the picture. My manager wants us to go to a seminar called Conflict Management Skills for Women. I’m hoping this will help but what do I/we do in the mean time?


Getting More Frustrated


DearĀ Getting More Frustrated:

My first observation is this: If your manager thinks the solution is to send BOTH of you to a class on conflict management, she thinks of you as part of the problem. Have you talked to your manager about that?

That is not to say that it isn’t helpful to learn to deal with conflicts, but the things you have described are not a matter of different goals or opinions, they are openly contentious issues that involve more than you and her apparently.

I would suggest you talk frankly to your manager and ask her what changes she would like to see you make in your dealings with the other nurse. Put her on the spot a bit to find out what you can do that no one else has been able to do, to deal with the coworker.

Ask her directly, “Do you think this is a mutual conflict in which we both are contributing? If so, what do you see as the things I do that create a problem for Carla and that lead to things being worse?”

You could also ask, “If everyone else is having the same problems with Carla, I don’t think I can learn anything in a day long class that will let me make Carla get along with everyone else better. What do you think I will learn?”

You might also want to ask: “Are you hoping I will learn to tolerate Carla’s behavior or do you want me to come back with some ideas for getting her to behave better or am I supposed to learn to change my own behavior?”

You could also ask: “Do you think Carla’s behavior is OK and it’s the rest of us who are causing the problems, or is it equal, or is it mostly Carla?”

You may not want to take on the manager in that way! But, still, I think it would be good to find out just what your manager thinks you have contributed to the situation and what she wants you to change after you return from the class.

It could be that you have become so sensitized to everything the coworker does that you complain about her every action to everyone. For example, you may put a negative interpretation on everything, even things that appear to others to be benign. (Like, the fact that she clocks in before you. If few people want her there anyway, that doesn’t help her reputation any.)

So, it could be that over the last 6 or 7 years you have become as challenging as she is in some ways. Maybe not–but that is possible. One thing is for sure, that is a long time to have an irritant in the office, and a long time for your manager to do nothing effective to improve it permanently–whether that involves dealing with the coworker, you, both of you or everyone else too.

It would seem to me that if everyone expresses their views strongly, at some point someone higher than your boss would become concerned. Perhaps that needs to be encouraged.

In the meantime–which is what you asked about–let me suggest a few things which may help you deal with the situation.

1.) Do not talk about the negative coworker to others, unless it is focused on doing something specific and constructive right away. That means no more, “Did you see what she did???” No more rolled eyes or sighs and no more venting about her. (I’m not implying you were doing that, just knowing that it’s a temptation. You can even stop it others, by saying you’re staying focused on your own work and letting the manager deal with her.)

2. Focus on your own work and let the manager deal with her. Unless there is a link to YOUR work, let it be your manager’s role to take action. If doctors, patients and other employees are unhappy with your coworker, let them be the ones to do something. It’s not your responsibility and your manager may actually resent your interference about it.

3. Either do something specific, such as submitting a written request for a complete investigation or making a written complaint and asking for specific action, or do nothing. But, stop obsessively thinking about the situation and the person.

4. If she does something that inteferes with your ability to work or that harms you in some way, confront it directly in a civil but firm way. “Carla, I asked you that question courteously, so for you to answer with that tone wasn’t appropriate. Do you want to talk to Jan (the manager) about it or will you promise not to talk that way to me again?” If she denies wrongdoing, just be a broken record about it and ask again if she wants to talk to the manager about it or will she promise not to talk that way to you again. No matter what her response, you can bet that will get her attention. She’s used to people talking about her behind her back–she’s just not used to having them say things to her face.

5. Build your own influence with others. Don’t make her the center of your worklife, make others the center and the focal point of your caring and concern. Be more caring to patients than ever. They need fully focused help. Provide the best service to customers (doctors and other medical staff) and even to vendors and of course to support staff. Be sincere, caring, personable and valuable to them. They all need you. And if the other nurse is as you say, they need you even more than ever! Let your manager deal with the nurse. You be the strong, solid, positive element.

6. Do not ever, ever give your coworker evidence to use against you, that you were snippy, unhelpful, gossipy, blaming or self-serving. Let her live her life and deal with the consequences without you being part of it, unless you are directly involved or if someone asks you to be a witness for them. If you see her do something unethical, unsafe or definitely harmful to others, that’s one thing. But if it’s just irritating to others, let it go. If it’s irritating to you, decide if you MUST do something about it to save your reputation or your ability to work.

In the meantime, be aware of your impact. Be aware of how others notice you and you when you’re around her. Be the example of professionally handling frustrations. If professional people can’t do it, who can?

I hope these thoughts are helpful to you. I do think though, that you should talk to your manager about what she has in mind with the class you are attending. It won’t hurt to attend it, but it is important for you to know what she is thinking about it.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.