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Incivility in Nursing: Recognizing the Dangers


There has been a lot of chatter over the past several years about the presence of incivility in the workplace.  But why does it exist in nursing?  After all, isn’t nursing supposed to be a “caring” profession?  Incivility, by definition, refers to rude or unsocial speech or behavior.  The fact is, many do not recognize personal behaviors that are perceived as uncivil actions.  Being impolite or rude, lacking respect for others, and rolling of the eyes are only a few examples of actions that are perceived as forms of incivility.  More extreme manifestations of incivility include bullying, harassment, making condescending remarks, extreme criticism, and ultimately violence.  Many times, individuals who participate in such behavior are attempting to make themselves superior by putting down others. 

Unfortunately, even the “mildest” forms of incivility can be harmful.  Constant criticism and bullying can be damaging to one’s self esteem, can create reluctance to perform or cause poor performance, and may even lead to suicide.  Other forms of incivility can prevent positive solutions from being developed in the work place or may actually create a negative or hostile work environment.  In nursing, the impact is widespread.  Nurses who find themselves victims of incivility are subject to undue stress in an environment that is already fast paced and stressful.  Nurses must be mindful that patients also suffer when disruptions in the work place are evident. 

Although the following scenario is not a real situation, most can relate to similar situations that have been observed or even experienced personally.  Contemplate the impact that one person’s actions and words have on others in this situation. 

Nancy Nurse is sitting in a department meeting when she abruptly interrupts the department chair and states in a loud voice “This is most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard of!  Why should I have to do this?  She then gets up out of her chair, storms out of the room and slams the door behind her.  

Does this sound familiar?  Not only are the actions of “Nancy” rude and inappropriate, the statements tend to undermine the value or importance of the work to be accomplished.  The superior is made to feel devalued, and others in the meeting are subject to the harsh reactions of a co-worker.  Incivility, such as described in the situation, can create divisions among workers when sides are taken on issues.  

As nurses, we should aspire to create a work environment that is supportive, productive, positive, and rewarding.  In turn, the patients will benefit from nurses who work together for the good of all.  The next time you are tempted to be uncivil in word or deed, keep the old saying in mind:  Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. 

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