Rudeness in the Workplace

by Ruby Vee

8,370 Views | 25 Comments

No one likes it when they think they've been disrespected or someone has been rude to them. Rudeness in the workplace disrupts patient care and relationships between colleagues. Sometimes, though, what is perceived as rudeness is a misunderstanding or miscommunication. If we all assumed the best of one another instead of immediately jumping to the worst possible conclusion, perhaps "rudeness" would have a far smaller impact on our interpersonal relationships.

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    “There’s no excuse for rudeness in the workplace. Those who try to justify it are probably rude bullies who eat their young.”

    “I’m always pleasant and professional and I always treat everyone the way I’d like to be treated.”

    How many times have I read those statements on Allnurses? And while I sort of understand the sentiment being expressed, I find it very difficult to swallow the notion that anyone truly believes there is never any excuse for rudeness or that they themselves are always perfectly pleasant and professional and never have a bad day, a short temper or snap at someone whom they thought deserved it at the time. I don’t know any perfect people. And some of those same folks who say there’s never any excuse whatsoever for rudeness in the workplace are perfectly willing to excuse it in patients because “they don’t feel well” or int patients’ families because “they’re under a lot of stress.”

    A colleague of mine had just come back to work after her full 13 weeks of FMLA which she used caring for her dying mother when her husband DFO’d (Done Fell Out for those of you who don’t speak Redneck) at a basketball game. It seems he had a massive stroke, and after three weeks, he’s still sitting in the neuro ICU down the hall from our ICU. They don’t know if he’ll ever recover his hemiparesis or if he’ll recover his speech or vision. They do know that if he does, it will be a long, slow recovery. Meanwhile, Bertha was forced to come back to work -- her FMLA is all used up, her compassionate leave was stretched to the limit and if she doesn’t come back to work she’ll lose her job and the health insurance that is paying for her husband’s care. Surely we can all agree that Bertha is under a lot of stress. So she can be excused for snapping at her husband’s nurse now and again because she’s under stress, but when she walks down the hall into our unit, there is no excuse for rudeness if she happened to snap at the unit secretary who failed to pass on the message that her husband’s neurologist was on the phone and wanted to talk to her? Really?

    I was sitting in the break room finishing my lunch the other day when one of our newer nurses joined me. We chatted for a few moments, and then she confided that she didn’t understand why all of the nurses in our unit hated her and were mean to her. “They all get up and leave when I come in to eat my lunch,” she confided. “You’re the only one who sits to talk to me.” I know why the other nurses leave when she sits down. She farts and she belches, she chews with her mouth open, talks with her mouth full and sprays food across the table when she laughs. Eating with her is enough to destroy my appetite, and if she sprays food on YOUR food, how can you then eat it? So how do you tell a 27 year old that no one wants to eat lunch with her because her table manners are so atrocious without being accused of “eating your young.” I’ll confess that I couldn’t manage it. The next day I had to explain to the manager why I was so mean to the newbie. So who’s rude in this situation -- the co-workers who won’t eat lunch with the newbie? The newbie whose table manners turn your stomach? Or me for trying to gently and tactfully (as well as I do gently and tactfully, which probably isn’t as well as some folks can manage) tell her what the problem was? Do you think she's going to be friendly to me from now on, or is she going to complain to all and sundry that I've "eaten" her? Do you think I'll be as willing to try to help her out in the future?

    I happened to be in a room where we were putting central lines into a very sick patient. The Physician’s assistant was from the deep South and had a pronounced southern drawl. The physician was from India and had a definite accent and the nurse caring for the patient originated in Kenya and also had “a foreign accent.” I was called in to translate Southern drawl to the Indian and Kenyan and to translate a British/Kenyan accent to the both the PA and the MD. All three were trying to be polite and professional. Each of them had an accent that the other two was having difficulty understanding and they were all getting stressed and frustrated. A lot of miscommunication occurred that day, and each of the three was convinced that one or both of the other two was disrespecting him or her. Someone who thinks they’re being disrespected is apt to be disrespectful. At the end of the day, each of the three had complained to me about the other two being rude to them.

    And while I’m sitting here typing this (at work but off the clock), a colleague came into the room and asked me for some help. I had given report, changed my shoes, and was waiting for DH to finish up so we could go home. I thought she was thanking me for the help I’d been giving her (gladly) all day. So I smiled, said “Any time,” and made no effort to get up out of the chair. “Fine,” she said angrily. “I’ll find someone else.” And she stomped off. I’m sure she thought I was being terribly rude to her when I thought I was being perfectly nice. It was a misunderstanding. It happens.

    Rudeness in the workplace isn’t a goal to strive for. It impairs communication and causes hard feelings which cannot help but impact on patient care. Rudeness should be avoided as much as it can be -- we should all treat everyone pleasantly and with respect. But sometimes, even with both both parties trying their utmost to be professional and polite, misunderstandings happen and someone thinks that someone else has been rude or disrespectful to them. Maybe if we all tried to cut each other a bit of slack, rudeness in the workplace wouldn’t be quite as detrimental to patient safety or relationships between colleagues.
    I♥Dexter, TinyRNgrl, walarin, and 27 others like this.
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  4. About Ruby Vee

    Ruby Vee joined Jun '02 - from 'the Midwest'. Ruby Vee has '38' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'ICU/CCU'. Posts: 8,136 Likes: 27,912; Learn more about Ruby Vee by visiting their allnursesPage


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    25 Comments so far...

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    The always insightful and observant Ruby Vee. You are a AN treasure.

    And yes, misunderstandings are rampant - and likely the seed of truth in many "rude" situations.

    And yes, RV, basic manners (and table manners) are all but dead - I worked with one like that too - she thought it was "funny".

    Listen up ladies (and guys) you can learn a lot from the amazing Ruby Vee. Read her past posts and ...... L E A R N.

    TinyRNgrl, missdiorcherie, tvccrn, and 6 others like this.
  6. 2
    Yes, ma'am. So very well said.

    Misunderstandings do happen frequently, and cutting each other some slack is great advice : )
    wooh and No Stars In My Eyes like this.
  7. 1
    Just have to say this loud + clear: AMEN!
    Last edit by No Stars In My Eyes on Jun 29, '11
    wooh likes this.
  8. 3
    Your post is so true. I had an MD be short with me. He came up to the unit where I worked and he was nasty. It was all due to work stress. I was stressed and he was stressed. My nurse mgr wanted to write him up. I was not comfortable with that idea and asked her not to.
    Everyone has bad days. I was not upset with this MD. He just happened to be the last straw that caused me to break down.

    I would never write someone up for something like this. No one is infallible to stress. Especially in the ever stressful hospital. Just my humble opinion.
  9. 4
    "Maybe if we all tried to cut each other a bit of slack, rudeness in the workplace wouldn’t be quite as detrimental to patient safety or relationships between colleagues"

    I believe that this is what it all boils down to. Many of these things are people misunderstanding one another and where they are coming from, not deliberate insults or slights.
    LockportRN, tiredstudentmom, wooh, and 1 other like this.
  10. 6
    What are table manners anyway?

    I've never been rude to a table.

    <_<
    >_>
  11. 7
    Everyone is so quick to get offended these days. People just need to get over themselves and put more effort into getting along than into being offended.
  12. 0
    Well said!
  13. 0
    Quote from sistasoul
    Your post is so true. I had an MD be short with me. He came up to the unit where I worked and he was nasty. It was all due to work stress. I was stressed and he was stressed. My nurse mgr wanted to write him up. I was not comfortable with that idea and asked her not to.
    Everyone has bad days. I was not upset with this MD. He just happened to be the last straw that caused me to break down.

    I would never write someone up for something like this. No one is infallible to stress. Especially in the ever stressful hospital. Just my humble opinion.
    This post made me think of a time, during a difficult shoulder dystocia delivery, when the doc yelled "Put her in McRoberts' !!!"

    Afterwards he apologized to me and I told him he didn't have to do that as this was a very stressful situation and we worked together to get that baby out safely and yelling was ok with me!


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