How to Get Along With Coworkers in Difficult Situations

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Written by Kathleen Walder Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Morganne Skinner, BSN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Two nurses talking in a difficult situation.

Even in the best of times, a workplace is susceptible to having some degree of conflict. The reality is that Americans need to learn how to get along with coworkers. A study found that one in four employees left a job because of a coworker.

Compare that to nursing. Few professions deal with stressors like life-or-death situations on a daily basis. Just think about it — the key to success relies largely on teamwork in what could be considered one of the most high-stakes workplaces. Effective teamwork is essential to good patient care. When nurses work as a cohesive team:

  • Patients receive better care
  • Patient outcomes improve
  • Risks to patient safety decrease
  • Healthcare costs are lower

Let’s look at how nursing presents unique situations for teamwork or conflict, and get tips to help you learn how to get along with coworkers, especially in difficult situations.

What Impacts How Nurses Get Along?

Nurses work in a highly charged environment which can test teamwork. If you talk to nurses about stressors on the job, you’ll hear several commonalities:

  • Nurses often have to do more with less, especially when it comes to staffing levels. An already-stretched team can have one of its members pulled away at any time to help with an urgent situation.
  • Shiftwork requires outgoing and incoming nurses to be highly dependent on one another to provide continuity of care for patients. An employee who is frequently absent or tardy can put a wrench in the process.
  • Working in close quarters and sharing equipment can lead to personal space issues.
  • Certain activities like patient admissions that require a fast response can often be stressful because they depend on trust between workers.
  • Aggressive and abusive behavior from patients and their families puts an added strain on a nursing team.

The list goes on to include long shifts, erratic schedules, physical demands, exposure to illness and chemicals, and changing technology that impacts how to get along with coworkers in a nursing setting.

How to Deal With Difficult Coworkers in Nursing

How coworkers get along is a priority in nursing. To deal with more severe forms of conflict that involve bullying, verbal abuse, and physical violence, the American Nurses Association (ANA) created and oversees a program to protect nurses from workplace conflict, both internal and external.

The organization promotes healthy workplaces through advocacy, policy, and resources. They created seven principles to ensure nurses have a safe and respectful workplace. To address more fundamental issues of how to get along with coworkers, take a look at these best practices for initiating and maintaining good relationships in the workplace.

1. Build Good Relationships and Open Communication From the Start

If you’re a new nurse in a unit, get off on the right foot by following the best practices in this list. If you’re there when a new nurse starts, make them feel welcome. You’ve only got one shot at this first impression, so make it good!

2. Keep Your Interactions With Coworkers Positive

Follow through that good first impression with a positive temperament your coworkers can depend on. Being upbeat is especially important if you’re in a leadership role.

3. Be Kind, Approachable, and a Good Listener

Treat everyone with the same respect, regardless of their position. Focus on kindness, especially when things get stressful. Being stressed is not an excuse for disrespect. Be approachable so coworkers feel comfortable asking for help when they need it.

4. Take the Time to Learn About Other People but Don’t Overshare

Show an interest in your coworkers, but don’t be intrusive by asking a question that is too personal or might be a sensitive topic. Conversely, avoid oversharing. Mentioning you saw a great movie last night is good conversation. Giving a word-by-word reenactment of your argument with your sister is inappropriate for the workplace.

5. Have and Respect Boundaries

A key to knowing how to get along with coworkers is understanding boundaries. Take this figuratively and literally. Know when it’s appropriate to offer advice or help. If you feel a coworker might cross a line, politely help them back down. And literally, keep your hands to yourself. Some people have issues with touch. When working in close quarters, respect personal space and set boundaries before a problem arises. Ask about your teammates’ preferences. For example, “Do you mind if I hang a flush if you’re with another patient?”

6. Don’t Gossip or Participate in Workplace Drama

Especially when talking with a new team member, don’t share inappropriate information about someone. Let the new person form their own opinion. If drama works its way into your unit, take a detour and don’t choose sides.

7. Focus on Your Own Work

Seeing a coworker doing something that bothers you, like excessive phone use, can be challenging. Let it go unless you are their supervisor, it affects how you do your job, or negatively impacts a patient.

8. Be Dependable

Especially when you’re working in a shift environment, be on time. If you say you’ll do something, do it. If you need help, ask for it rather than ignore the task.

9. Practice Good Unit Etiquette

Don’t be the reason for a memo to remind everyone to wash their lunch dishes. Be mindful that you’re sharing a space with several people. Follow the protocol for addressing coworkers, depending on that facility’s norms. Leave drips with enough supply to get the oncoming shift through their rounds. Make an effort to close communication loops before leaving. Put your phone down.

10. Be a Team Player

Always be ready to help your coworkers. Know when to jump right in (when your patient needs immediate attention), and when to hang back and ask if your coworker needs assistance. Conversely, ask for help when needed, but don’t cry wolf. Doing your part to maintain a cohesive team is a challenge but essential if your workplace pulls from other departments when short-staffed, putting in nurses unfamiliar with your area.

Choose Your Workplace, Schedule, and Coworkers

Knowing how to get along with coworkers is crucial, so take control of where and when you work by using IntelyCare. You can find harmony when you start your application today.