How Do I Toughen Up At Work? Part 2
Part One of this article discussed how to affirm your own self worth and build your confidence so that you don't collapse like a house of cards when someone upsets your applecart. Next, we'll take a look at how to handle criticism (just or unjust), dissent, and rude behavior.
People who don't have a strong sense of themselves tend to let others march all over them. They're afraid they aren't as good as their peers and having to stand up for themselves will reveal just how inadequate they really are. In reality, a good set-to in the break room could be just what the doctor ordered.
Conflict has gotten a bad name because it tends to ruffle feathers and make messes. But a good debate can clear the air and bring about better solutions than either faction proposed on its own. Certainly, you need to learn how to conduct yourself properly, but that's more easily done if you keep a few realities in mind.
In a dispute, the other person's words are just that--words. How much or how little you take them to heart should rest on actual decision making rather than just emotional shock and awe. Is this a person you trust? Someone known for their thoughtfulness and wisdom? A fair-minded soul who is aware of all the facts or who is at least seeking out the missing pieces? No? Then you'd better hold those words at arm's length and examine them before you embrace what might turn out to be a hand grenade.
Even if there's truth in what is being said--you really did give a wrong med or you substituted Patient A's labs for Patient B in report--you don't deserve scorn or degradation. You can own the mistake without indicting yourself as an awful person or agreeing with a nasty co-worker that you have no business being a nurse.
So many times when nurses make an error or feel uncertain or say something foolish on the job, they talk about feeling horrible. They say they can't sleep at night. They even talk about quitting. If you did something wrong, especially if someone was harmed, you do need to care about the significance of your actions, but that doesn't mean you have to fall on your sword to prove it. Overreacting can be as bad as underreacting.
If you can't separate who you are from what you did, you'll walk around like you're wearing a scarlet letter, announcing to anyone who crosses your path that you're an unworthy human being who doesn't deserve respect or empathy. Looking down on yourself means you won't have your eye on the ball, leaving you even more vulnerable to making more mistakes. Keep your worth as a human being out of the equation. Accept responsibility for whatever you did or didn't do and determine to do better. Take care of any necessary remedial action. Then move on.
Don't come to work looking for validation and affirmation. It's nice if you can find these things, but if you really need some "feel-good," get it somewhere else before you punch in. Why? Because you're there to take care of your patients. Everything else is incidental. If you seek confirmation that you're okay as a person and a nurse, you might do the right things but you'll be doing them for the wrong reasons. The job is not about making you feel better about yourself. It's about putting patients first.
Does that sound harsh? It's not meant to be. But the reality is that many of the nurses who are devastated by making a mistake or getting snapped at by a co-worker or having a patient who doesn't appreciate their excellent care and diligence are people with a fragile sense of who they are. Lacking confidence and healthy self worth, they become like an inflatable snowman who has to be continuously filled with hot air or he collapses.
If you show up for work in that needy condition, it's like walking around asking others, "Am I all right? Am I a decent person?" You might as well wear a sign that says, "I don't like me all that much and you shouldn't either." People who telegraph their insecurity are the ones who get picked on. We can discipline the meanies, but they're only half of the problem.
It's your responsibility to do what it takes to feel like a worthwhile human being. Pray. Get counseling. Keep an affirmation journal. Root out false beliefs about your rottenness. Read about becoming strong on the inside. Volunteer in a project that will take you out of your sorry self and build bridges to others who need what you have to offer.
Determine every day to cling to what's true. Weigh critical words. Tease out the important bits like nutmeats from their shells, and chuck the rest.
Learn some time-buying phrases. Excuse me? I beg your pardon! What did you just say? Did you mean to sound rude? Are you kidding me? Phrases like these give you a moment to gather your wits. They also put the other person on notice that you're not going to just roll over, and they might want to reconsider their approach.
Don't go looking for fights, but don't cave in at the thought of a confrontation, either. Speak up. Make eye contact. Pretend confidence, if you must, but believe you have as much right to take up space and breathe the air in the room as anyone else. That's about 90% of the battle right there. The rest is persistence.
Be teachable but don't agree to be squashed. Adopt an attitude of humility (admit when you're wrong) not humiliation (don't agree that you're a terrible nurse and person).
Act like you matter. If someone is giving you a hard time, ask yourself if you would let them treat your friend or your mother or your child that way. If the answer is no, then politely, but firmly, tell them your brain can't absorb mean talk, but you'll gladly listen to any civil discussion. Whatever they do, thank them for their concern. Then walk away.
If you start doing these things, you can then be proud of yourself for protecting someone special.Last edit by Joe V on Apr 18, '16
Dec 3, '11Thanks for posting such a great article. I can pretty much relate to it and many aspects of my life.Dec 3, '11Two thumbs up! Fantastic article! This should be included incurriculum! Excellent strategies, rn writer. This is worth printing and adding into my journal, for frequent reminders. Newbies & seasoned RNs alike can benefit. Super job!Dec 4, '11Thanks for the terrific article. Good stuff. One aspect of the work - criticism equation that gives me the most trouble is adding in /"and what does this person's criticism mean in terms of my job /" ? Its much easier to let things roll off my back if their biggest possible impact is just that I spend a while feeling disappointed or sad. Its harder when negativity comes from sources that can threaten your job. It all reminds me of an experiment we were told about in psych class: A monkey was randomly picked out of their group, painted green, and replaced back in the group. The result? The other monkeys tore the green monkey apart. (As a result, I surely hope that they probably don't do that particular experiment any more, so to avoid animal cruelty.) A lot of time at work I feel like the green monkey: recognized by some of my fellow nurses as different enough to make a difference, and not in a way they are happy about. Most nurses are compassionate people who accept and value diversity. A very few do not see the value of diversity, or feel somehow threatened by it. I'm not at work to get my minimum daily requirement of positive strokes, but nursing is very much a team endeavour, and not having at least some basic level of acceptance from a few of the CNAs means that I have to use extra energy getting them on board for the day's tasks, and dealing with some passive aggressive behaviors stemming from a few CNAs general resentment. One example: In front of a patient going for surgery that morning, one of the CNAs questioned the pre-surgical protocol I was asking her to help with. It was not first time that CNA had done something like that in front of a patient. I'd let the other times roll off my back, but this time I could see that her sniping me had made my patient lose confidence in the correctness of her care. When a patient is going in for major surgery, undermining her confidence in the abilities of her medical team is cruel and increased pre-op anxiety could lead to a worse outcome. I had spent about 45 minutes in this patient's room earlier that night, answering her questions, and calming her fears. Back then, I could see the fear melt away and her body relax as she gained in understanding and confidence in her team. All that patient's body tension came back, and her eyes went wide with fear, because the CNA choose that moment to (yet again) take a (verbal) swipe in my direction. Not that it matters, but I printed up our facilities policy after that, and it proved I had been 100% correct about the pre-op protocol I'd told the CNA that we were to use. Now I'll need to use my time and energy figuring out the best way to approach this CNA to discuss what happened so it doesn't happen again. Realistically, the end result of any attempt to show her how her choice hurt the patient will only lead to her telling her CNA buddies what a witch I am. If history is any predictor. Frankly, I'm thinking of moving north, south or east a state, to see if I can find a place I fit better, but their are bullies everywhere, and I'd rather do what I can to heal the sick parts of an otherwise stellar unit. Again, thank you for the excellent article, its just what I needed.Dec 4, '11This is a wonderful article! Thank you! I have realized that having confidence tends to follow with a little experience. Once you are more secure in your job you can let other things bounce off of you. I was so overstimulated with learning my job role that any negative comments/criticism sent me over the edge. I can certainly attest that things get better if you just hang in there!Dec 4, '11im in my low moments now, and coincidentally, i just by stroke of chance stumbled upon your article. thank you so much. you are a great writer, what you wrote has touched souls , and would continue to touch more. God bless you. keep the flag flyingDec 4, '11Quote from Nurse kThank you very much for the information in this article. I am struggling myself as a young nurse for self-awareness and confidence as a nurse/person. I am aware it takes time and this article made me discover the ways to improve my attitude and confidence. THANKSThanks for posting such a great article. I can pretty much relate to it and many aspects of my life.Dec 6, '11"Looking down on yourself means you won't have your eye on the ball, leaving you even more vulnerable to making more mistakes."
Thanks. Frequently, I read similar things about why we should not take criticism as certain truth. Or I see vague steps that are supposed to help "keep a journal", "exercise", "be more assertive." But I seldom see anyone offer a how that directly addresses the negative mental chatter. If one already has a low self-image, it can feel like simply lying to repeat a mantra of "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, etc."
This gives me the perfect tool to replace that chatter: Focus on the patient. If I'm allowing myself to be upset, I'm not seeing their needs. I'm sure I'm not the only nurse who grew up being taught to put other people first to the point that they never learned to properly take care of their own self. While this doesn't solve the second problem, it utilizes a predisposition in a way to diffuse an emotionally charged situation.
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