Confessions Of A Nurse With Poor Interpersonal Skills
I have watched as many technically-skilled nurses have gotten fired for their inability to get along with others and their poor interpersonal skills. To be blunt, these great nurses simply did not have the likeability factor. Hands-on procedural skills and the ability to assess are critical to keeping patients alive, but interpersonal skills are crucial to success in most occupations.
I've heard that the initial step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one in the first place. Well, my name is TheCommuter and I have a problem with interpersonal skills. Gulp.
For starters, interpersonal skills are the competencies that a person uses for interaction and effective communication with other people. We first learn these skills in our families of origin and continually reinforce them through interactions at school and with peers. Someone who has solid interpersonal skills knows how to listen actively, speak clearly, communicate with efficiency so others will understand, assert oneself without being too aggressive or passive, regulate one's emotions, build rapport, and resolve conflicts.
Interpersonal skills are important enough to make or break one's career because, even though a highly cheerful person can succeed in the workplace without a great deal of intelligence, a highly intelligent individual will face a series of uphill battles in his or her professional life without possessing good social skills. In fact, the Center for Public Resources did a national survey and found that 90% of the time people are fired for poor attitudes, inappropriate behavior and poor interpersonal skills rather than deficient job skills (McNamara, 2003). Social ineptitude, difficulty bonding with people on a personal level, struggling with empathy, and failure to express ideas will harm one's ability to build interpersonal relationships in all aspects of life.
You're probably wondering, "Why did you pick nursing as a career if you know you have a problem with interpersonal skills?" I started training for nursing in my early 20s. My sense of identity was not fully developed at that time and, although I had been in the workforce since the age of 16, I was blissfully unaware that my relational issues might have been due to a lack of basic interpersonal skills. Although my employment had never been terminated anywhere, I was getting on the nerves of supervisors, coworkers, and customers without having much insight on the reasons behind it all.
I am an introvert who does not necessarily take pleasure in meeting new people, even though I put on the acting game for the sake of my patients. Also, I'm not the nurse who seeks validation or yearns to 'be needed' by others. People say I'm quiet. I'm task-oriented and often create a 'to do' list when each shift begins. Small talk aggravates me, but I will chat and schmooze to put the patient or family member at ease. I am serious and lack a sense of humor to the point that I take some jokes literally. I have a restricted affect, intermittent eye contact, and I do not smile much because my smiles often seem fake. It took several years of working in nursing to realize that my interpersonal skills were problematic.
What have I done to conquer my issues? To be frank, I have had to play the game. If my supervisor babbles on endlessly about a recent vacation, I actively listen, ask questions, and otherwise pretend to be interested. If a patient or visitor has questions about a medication, physician, procedure, or some random topic, I smile while making direct eye contact and answer to the very best of my ability. If a coworker tells a corny joke, I laugh as if it was funny. I also initiate more conversations, ask more questions, and participate in discussions that others have started. It took me a long time to realize that people want to be reminded that they matter. Acknowledging them, connecting on a personal level, and seeking information reminds them that they matter.
I have seen many technically-skilled nurses get fired for their inability to be personable and their lack of interpersonal skills. The hands-on skills and ability to assess are critical to keeping patients alive, but the interpersonal skills are crucial to one's success in most occupations. When one uses good interpersonal skills to connect to coworkers and patients on a deeper level, they will usually take pleasure in your presence and regard you positively.Last edit by Joe V on Jun 16, '18
About TheCommuter, BSN, RN
TheCommuter is a moderator of allnurses.com and has varied experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for more than four years prior to becoming a registered nurse.
Joined: Feb '05; Posts: 38,032; Likes: 69,287
CRRN, now a case management RN; from US
Specialty: Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psychNov 5, '12Occupation: RN From: US ; Joined: Aug '12; Posts: 211; Likes: 382Thank you for your article! I love reading them.
Do you normally force "talk" with your loved ones as well? Or is it just strangers? I can really understand not being able to immediately bond with perfect strangers. Since I was a lot younger, my online personality was a lot more open than my real personality. And then with a lot of experience working with the public, I noticed I started coming out of my shell.
But do you notice it permeates your personal life too? Just curious.Nov 5, '12Joined: Aug '12; Posts: 408; Likes: 1,759I have a high-functioning form of Asperger's and I SO feel you. I can communicate pretty freely with children (hence my choosing pediatric nursing) but if I float to an adult unit, I have to smile and fake it til I make it. It's taken a lot of behavioral training, but I love hearing confessions of other nurses with social problems.Nov 5, '12Joined: Mar '11; Posts: 1,101; Likes: 2,018I understand what you're saying, and I could use some fine-tuning of my interpersonal skills as well. The frustrating thing for me is when personality &/or communication style seems to trump one's ability to provide competent, safe, & high-quality patient care when determining a person's value as a nurse to others in an organization.Nov 5, '12Occupation: CRRN, now a case management RN Specialty: Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych ; From: US ; Joined: Feb '05; Posts: 38,032; Likes: 69,287Quote from FlorenceNtheMachineYes, my issues affect my personal life, too. I live 1,400 miles away from my parents and, when I visit, it is never for more than four or five days because I become irritated with visits that are too long. Mom and Dad would like for me to stay longer, but I cannot.But do you notice it permeates your personal life too? Just curious.
When dating, it takes me a long time to warm up to men, and I cannot stand when a guy is being too clingy or calling or texting nonstop.
My idea of an interesting weekend night is dinner with a friend at a casual dining restaurant. I am not into the club or bar scene.Nov 5, '12Joined: Jan '10; Posts: 3,923; Likes: 11,212I just want to put a preemptive strike on where this post may lead. (May lead, I said.)
I truly believe that nursing is all of these: tasks, critical thinking, knowledge base, time management, and interpersonal skills, without one "trumping" the other. Everyone (including me) has at least one of those things that need working on because they don't come naturally and require effort to develop.
Can we really say that high-quality patient care is taking place when a nurse's interpersonal skills escalates situations rather than de-escalates them?
To me, there is a difference between the customer service mumbo-jumbo and the interpersonal skills that are required of nursing. I realy don't want those two to get confused here.
From the OP:
If my supervisor babbles on endlessly about a recent vacation, I actively listen, ask questions, and otherwise pretend to be interested. If a patient or visitor has questions about a medication, physician, procedure, or some random topic, I smile while making direct eye contact and answer to the very best of my ability. If a coworker tells a corny joke, I laugh as if it was funny. I also initiate more conversations, ask more questions, and participate in discussions that others have started.Nov 5, '12Specialty: 8 year(s) of experience ; From: US ; Joined: Dec '08; Posts: 432; Likes: 1,674I love reading your articles, because you remind me of myself. While I do have a sense of humor, it's a bit dark and sarcastic and not exactly appreciated by everyone, so at work I must keep it mostly to myself.
But otherwise, I grew up in a fractured, dysfunctional home, and learning social skills took a back burner to basic survival. I am introverted and painfully shy, cannot stand small-talk, and have occasionally been accused of misanthropy due to my outward attitude. I'm very private and dislike interacting with strangers. I can be tactless and blunt.
At first glance, nursing seems like the last profession I should have entered. But I LOVE it. I am a problem-solver to the bone, and "fixing" people's problems (not necessarily the people) makes me happy and it shows at work. I put on an act as far as the people-skills go, but my patients are always well cared for and most are satisfied with my work. My nursing skills have never been called into question, and I have had other nurses say they'd choose me to take care of their family members if the situation presented itself.
But the work is very taxing on my psyche. I leave work feeling emotionally drained. I learned that I was unable to work full time as a nurse in order to protect my mental health. Luckily I'm in a situation now where that's not required of me. I work part time with plenty of time to recharge my social batteries at home, so I am at my best for my patients.
It is entirely possible to be a great nurse without great interpersonal skills. If you're willing to work at it, and make sure you take care of your own needs as well, it can work out just fine.Nov 5, '12Occupation: CRRN, now a case management RN Specialty: Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych ; From: US ; Joined: Feb '05; Posts: 38,032; Likes: 69,287Quote from mariebaileyYes, this frustrates me, too. It is a part of nursing workplace politics.The frustrating thing for me is when personality &/or communication style seems to trump one's ability to provide competent, safe, & high-quality patient care when determining a person's value as a nurse to others in an organization.
The bubbly nurse with great interpersonal skills often remains with the same organization for years, even though his or her assessment and hands-on procedural skills might be downright hazardous. This type of nurse has the 'likeability factor' which is a main reason why his/her mistakes might be forgiven.
On the other hand, the nurse with the amazing hands-on procedural and assessment skills might get canned by management due to a dry personality and crappy social skills. In this era of patient satisfaction scores that determine reimbursement, I expect this to happen with more frequency.Nov 5, '12Occupation: CRRN, now a case management RN Specialty: Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych ; From: US ; Joined: Feb '05; Posts: 38,032; Likes: 69,287Quote from NurseDirtyBirdI also grew up in a dysfunctional household and can recall withdrawing into my own inner world during early childhood to block out the craziness (drug-abusing parent, domestic violence issues) that was occurring around me.But otherwise, I grew up in a fractured, dysfunctional home, and learning social skills took a back burner to basic survival. I am introverted and painfully shy, cannot stand small-talk, and have occasionally been accused of misanthropy due to my outward attitude. I'm very private and dislike interacting with strangers. I can be tactless and blunt.
I never lost my affinity for solitary pursuits such as writing short stories, reading, and deep introspection. Unfortunately, I live in a world and work in a profession where a high value is placed on sociability.Nov 5, '12Occupation: RN Specialty: 16 year(s) of experience in LTC Rehab Med/Surg ; From: US ; Joined: Dec '09; Posts: 2,903; Likes: 9,238Me too. I have considered that if I had been born in the 2000s instead of the 50s, I would have been diagnosed with Aspergers. I and my family have adjusted to my social limitations. It really hasn't affected my job history, as I am smart enought to recognize my shortcomings. I'm a good actor.
There has only been one nursing job that I felt like I was forced into quiting, R/T my inability to "fit in". I have been blessed to have now found my niche, as far as employment goes. My fellow nurses and I sometimes laugh when I simply don't get a joke. Or that I take everything literally.
The one thing I truly regret is that I'm not "fun". I like being around nurses who talk alot, laugh alot, and generally light up the room. That won't ever be me. I understand completely why that type of person has a leg up over people like me, regardless of our clinical skills. Maybe not fair, but it's pointless to rail against reality.
Oh well. I'm well into the second half of my life, and I try not to regret or resent the things I can't change.Last edit by imintrouble on Nov 5, '12Nov 5, '12Joined: Jul '12; Posts: 26; Likes: 34Hi. I appreciate your post. I am the same in many ways. People tend to call me "backwards", and it really makes me mad. I'm not backwards, I'm bashful, yes. I don't have any girlfriends, don't seem to have the need. I have my husband and my animals and am completely satisfied with just that. School starts in January 2013 for me and I'm most worried about the social aspect of it all (and of course dosage calculations ). It's good to hear that I'm not alone with these problems and hope to improve in the near future.Nov 5, '12Joined: Jun '05; Posts: 1,745; Likes: 2,511I sometimes feel like I have similar problems. I have read a lot of books including crucial conversations and crucial confrontations and how to get along with difficult people. These have all helped me alot.
Someone once told me that the key to interpersonal success is to just ask the other person a couple of questions to get them talking and then all you have to do is listen. They will think you are fantastic because you are such a good listener, and then you don't even have to hardly talk.
Most everyone just wants to feel respected and/or loved so if you treat each and every person with dignity and respect from the gitgo you will have a step up on most people.Nov 5, '12Occupation: RN and blogger extraordinaire Specialty: 20 year(s) of experience in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych ; From: OR, US ; Joined: Sep '02; Posts: 26,989; Likes: 44,839Once again, you've written a masterful and honest article. How refreshing it is to hear that not every nurse can conform to the "customer service" mode of nursing, and that I'm not the only one who absolutely loathes schmoozing! While I'm certainly friendly enough and have a wild sense of humor, there are aspects of getting along in the workplace that make me impatient and even resentful because I think they're a waste of my time. Sales visits are my number one annoyance---I'm busy, I don't have time to sit and listen to someone's spiel about how great their home-health agency or hospice is. And it's not like they call ahead of time, they just show up and you're expected to be gracious. I don't DO gracious when I'm being pulled in 15 different directions!
I also don't like to spend time on the phone, although it's necessary at times. Phone calls are distracting and they take up valuable time that could be used getting things done. If I could communicate entirely by e-mail or in person, I'd get along just fine, because I can control that. My attention span and short-term memory aren't the best, and getting distracted by phone calls tends to throw me off course badly.
But yeah, schmoozing is the worst......thankfully, I've got a boss who does it well and doesn't ask me to do it too often.