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You hear those dreaded words that signal feedback:
Would you have time for a chat?
Do you have time to talk about how you went today?
Can I give you some feedback?
How do you respond?
Why? Because feedback is a gift!
Feedback is your friend. Whether given as gentle advice, constructive criticism or brutal honesty, feedback is your best tool to shape and improve your practice. As nurses, we must never stop learning, and objective feedback is a chance to improve and optimise your clinical skills.
We all make mistakes, and we learn more from our mistakes than we do anything else. When you receive feedback, you have been given an opportunity to grow. Listen whole-heartedly, with a growth mindset, and thank them for putting you on the right path.
However, sometimes feedback is not delivered in a constructive way. Perhaps it was delivered carelessly, or even with malicious intent. Perhaps you were advocating for your patient and things turned nasty because the other person did not like being questioned or a patient’s family were not happy with the update. These situations can be difficult to navigate. You cannot control what the other person will say or do, but you can control your emotions and what you say and do.
My three tips to defuse workplace conflicts include:
In these situations, it is understandable that you may feel upset, angry, indignant, defensive, or despondent (or all of the above!). Recognise your feelings and know that they are valid, however, getting upset will not assist in an amicable resolution. Take a deep breath, then deal with the situation calmly and with a level head.
It is awfully hard to continue to throw insults and yell at someone that is only being kind and understanding. Being kind is an underrated de-escalation technique.
You do not know what struggles and hardships people are going through. Sometimes these feelings are displaced as anger and directed to the closest person walking by (you). Understanding this, and learning that certain behaviours, while directed at you, may have nothing to do with you personally can help you to remain calm and defuse the situation.
But remember, in all of the above, be genuine. There is nothing worse than feigned kindness or empathy – people see right through it!
Employing these tips takes practice, (and a considerable amount of emotional capital) but if you choose to respond as if they ‘meant well’, this can defuse a lot of workplace conflicts, and have positive outcomes for your professional relationship with that person.
For instance, you are new to a ward and another nurse asks for your help with a bedside procedure. They tell you that they do not trust you but everyone else is busy, so you will have to do.
You can choose to be offended. And rightly so.
But they do not even know you or your skill level, how can their words hold any weight to be offensive to you?
So, what other motives are there for them to be so rude?
Perhaps the meaning behind their words is concern for patient safety: they have not worked with you before, nor do they know your skill level. Maybe they are stressed out, tired, or they have things in their personal life that are affecting them and making them lash out.
Their behaviour is not winning them any friends or influence. However, before we run to the manager’s office, we can choose diplomacy. Rather than responding by being offended, respond calmly, with kindness, and choose to see the positive intent to their words.
I applaud your concern for patient safety. I understand, we have not worked together before, and you do not know my skill level. I assure you I am familiar with this task, and I would be happy to help you. If it makes you feel more comfortable you can do the more complex part of the procedure, and I will do the easier part. Does that sound okay to you?
Now, your colleague has two choices.
They can double down and clarify that they meant to offend you. Or they can take the ‘out’ you just offered and save face. If they choose the former, do not lose heart. Bullies feed on your negative reaction. Take away the reaction, respond calmly, with kindness and empathy, you will take the wind out of their sails, and they may even have a moment of self-reflection.
It is important to recognise the difference between someone having a bad day, and a pattern of malicious behaviour and abuse. Harassment and bullying are not okay and should be reported to your manager. Your organisation will have a reporting system and supports available to you, such as an Employee Assistance Program, to help you. Stand up for yourself and your needs. Everyone deserves the right to work in an environment where they feel safe and supported.
For new nurses, it can be hard to discern between what feedback is warranted and what is not. Here, practising self-reflection can help you.
- Did I provide my patients with the best possible care?
- What went wrong? What went well?
- What actions could I have taken which may have led to a better outcome?
- What can I learn from this experience?
Ask these questions to reflect on your own actions, be proud of your achievements, self-identify areas of improvement in your own practice, and optimise your clinical skills and care. Asking yourself these questions, particularly after a nasty comment or being blamed for something you had no control over, can alleviate stress and guilt. Can you learn from this piece of feedback? If not, figuratively throw it in the bin. It is of no use to you and dwelling on rude comments will only be to your detriment.
Remember, Feedback is a gift, use it wisely.
Alison Gerrits MACN
Alison is a Clinical Nurse Specialist on a busy cardiothoracic unit in Melbourne. It is important to Alison that every patient is treated with dignity, respect and receives the best possible care. Alison is passionate about developing herself and others. She is an ACN Emerging Nurse Leader alumna and in her spare time, Alison enjoys running and painting.