Five Tips for Dealing With Difficult Coworkers

In healthcare, as in every other industry in the United States, we are working with a more diverse group of coworkers than ever before.  No matter the size of your workplace, from the largest mega-hospital to a small private practice, you are all working alongside at least one person that challenges your patience on a daily basis.

Just because there is someone difficult in your workplace, that doesn’t mean you have to run out and find a new job.  Mainly, because there will be a new difficult person to take the original difficult person’s place wherever you work.  Instead, find ways to overcome the challenges and learn to work effectively with every personality.  Here are a few tips for dealing with difficult coworkers.

How to Deal with Difficult Nurse Coworkers

  • Focus on Yourself: Let’s face it, there is only so much you can control when dealing with a challenging colleague. One thing you can always control is your reaction to the negative influences in your workplace. You have a choice when others are overly negative, or always in a bad mood. You can fall in line with them and allow yourself to be negative, or you can choose to find the positives in a situation. Don’t engage in the gossip or the negative talk, instead, go for a quick walk around the floor or find a quiet space to practice deep breathing or refocus your thoughts on something positive.
  • Be Professional: As a nurse, you are a member of the most historically trusted profession in the country. Your patients see you as a professional, and it is incumbent upon you to maintain that professionalism at all times in the workplace. The same goes for dealing with a difficult colleague. If a fellow nurse is allowing their negativity or unprofessional behavior to creep out in view of the patients, it is important for you to take action. In that moment, you can attempt to remove “Negative Nelly” from the area by asking for a quick word in the hall or by asking them if you can help them finish whatever it is they are working on. The key is to protect the patient from having to experience negative behaviors.
  • Confront with Positivity: Having a difficult co-worker sometimes means you are going to have a conversation about their behaviors.  If you are not in a position where you can avoid the person without impacting the important work that has to be done, then you should try and intervene in a positive, constructive manner. The best way to begin a difficult conversation is with a positive observation about something that your coworker is good at. Then when addressing the negative behavior, make a point of saying that this is the way you personally are interpreting the event.  Express your concern that if it was noticeable to you, then it might be something that makes the patient uncomfortable.
  • Seek to Understand: The old adage, “walk a mile in my shoes” often applies to difficult coworkers. If you have a fellow nurse who is constantly exhibiting negative behaviors, it can often be helpful to seek out why they are acting in this manner. Maybe they are dealing with stressors in their home and family life that is carrying over to the job. If you approach them with the intention of offering a helping hand or as someone who can listen, you might just be the catalyst for helping them turn the corner. Whenever you try this approach, make sure you are aware of your own limitations. This person may be dealing with issues that are beyond your ability to help, at which point, refer them to your organization’s Employee Assistance Program or advise them to seek help from a manager or human resources.
  • Make the Best of the Situation: If none of the above tips work and the negative coworker is still doing their thing in the workplace, deal with it. Not in the sarcastic sense, but you may just have to resign yourself to the fact that you tried but nothing is going to change. It is important to understand that you don’t have to like everyone you work with, you just have to WORK with them. Ultimately, your patient is the primary concern, and everything else is secondary. When you are on the clock, focus on your attitude and be a professional nurse. Be cordial with the difficult coworker but work on not allowing them to influence your moods or behaviors. By doing this, you are not allowing them to have any power or influence over you.

Having a difficult coworker is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be a career killer.  You can learn a lot about yourself by how you end up handling a very challenging situation for millions of workers, in every industry across the country.  You aren’t alone, and you won’t be the last person to deal with it, so do your best for yourself and for those you are caring for.

Please help us share your tips and experiences for dealing with difficult co-workers.  Send us your thoughts using the comment section below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.