Nurses: How to Handle Difficult Coworkers

They say nurses eat their young. That is an old cliche that refers to older nurses giving new ones a difficult time. But it is not just older nurses who do this. There are difficult people to work with of every generation, inside and outside the healthcare sector. Toxic people are everywhere, and they bring their poor habits and difficult mannerisms with them to work. In fact, some people use work as an environment to project their power issues or things they have difficulty coping with at home.

So how do you handle working with difficult people so that it doesn’t throw you off, affect your mental health, or make your shifts even longer than they are? That is what we’ll explore in this article.

How to Identify Toxic Coworkers

First, how do you know if someone is a toxic coworker? Here are common characteristics:

*Abrasive conversation style

*Being consistently rude or inappropriate

*Crossing professional boundaries

*Pushy, aggressive, bullying behavior

Now that we have identified some common behaviors of toxic coworkers, how do we handle working with them?

Focus on Work

It is true that people befriend each other at workplaces. But always remember that is not what you are there for. Making friends at work is not your priority. Your priority is your work. If you happen to work with people with who you do not bond well, that can make the job harder at times, but that is not devastating. Accept it for what it is and remember what your priorities are. For most of us, our priorities are having an impact on clients/customers, improving our skillset, and, of course, getting a paycheck. These things are non-negotiable and your main priorities, not new friendships.

Being courteous to coworkers is important, but becoming friends with coworkers is optional. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. You go to work to do the job, not to get new friends. Plus, everyone you work with will not be friend-material. And that’s perfectly okay. Accept it and move on. When you drop expectations around your coworkers, it helps ease the pressure. You also are less surprised when you encounter coworkers who are not your ‘cup of tea’. You will have zero expectations around your coworker’s friendliness or lack thereof.

Remove Yourself from Irrelevant Organizational Politics and Gossiping

Many times the politics of an organization can be draining. Hearsay about management and leadership happenings are rife, with complex dynamics. But most times you cannot do anything about these topics. And so gossiping about them with coworkers is a waste of your time and energy. Outside of circumstances that directly affect your daily tasks and future employment, remove yourself from the politics because they will often embroil you in gossip and negativity.

Toxic coworkers are often at the center of gossiping and rumors. They may initiate and instigate these conversations. Do not get involved if you do not have to. Maintain your distance, focus on your work, and remain professional.

Minimize Contact When You Can

Can you minimize contact with difficult coworkers as much as possible? You can’t change toxic people, especially in workplaces. What you can change is how much time you spend interacting with them.

You cannot change an adult. Do not attempt to do so. If you work with someone who is difficult and disruptive, you will not be able to single-handedly teach them how to be better team members. That is deeper, character-work beyond your job description. This is work they must do themselves. It is not your battle. The less you engage with toxic co-workers,  the better.

Report Relevant Grievances, Bullying, and Serious Offences

Bullying behavior can affect your quality of work and your mental health. If a situation is continuous and getting worse, speak up. Remember your chain of command and tactfully and professionally report bullying, aggressive, or harassing behavior. Take notes of when these situations occur so that when you do speak up, you have a record of specific dates, times, and incidences.

Oftentimes multiple people are being bullied by the same person(s), but many are afraid to report it.  But once someone speaks up, it gives voice and permission for others who may also come forward to share their experiences. Use your discretion and speak up if your organization is open to honest, fair reporting and they are not punitive with such situations.

Respond, Do Not React

This is a tough one. Oftentimes toxic people are looking for a reaction. They are hoping if they push enough buttons and get under people’s nerves, it will elicit an emotional reaction. For some strange reason, there are people who thrive on this type of behavior. Resist reacting. Instead, respond.

When you react, you are often emotional and regret it. You may say or do things you will regret. Instead, take a few deep breaths before doing or saying anything. Ground yourself, remember why you are there (to work), and then respond if necessary. That last bit, ‘if necessary’ is vital. Not everything warrants a response. Sometimes it is better to not even address the person at the moment.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone we worked with was easy to get along with, pleasant, and friendly? Unfortunately, that is not reality. There are difficult people and they are everywhere. They can make our jobs harder, but there are a few key strategies we can employ to handle these situations. Stay centered and grounded. Tap into your inner peace, limit interaction where possible, and focus on your task at hand. 


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