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Politics in the Nursing Work Place: When Conflicts Arise

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Politics is all around us and often follows us into the work place. How do we continue to pursue excellence as nurses when conflicts arise?

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Politics in the Nursing Work Place: When Conflicts Arise

- A colleague makes a disparaging remark about a political candidate that you like.

- A patient makes a racial slur against a national leader while you are caring for them.

- An offensive political television show is on while you are making a home visit.

- Two co-workers frequently bicker about their disparate views in the break room, making it an unpleasant place to eat lunch.

- You overhear someone on your unit making incorrect statements about a group of immigrants.

While you may not have experienced all of these scenarios, chances are that you can identify with some of them or even just with the tension of differences of political persuasion that is all around us. With our country being divided into political parties, we often find ourselves feeling pushed into a corner, forced to mentally take a stand and then feeling frustrated for not being able to express ourselves freely.

It is a given that our workplaces should be free of partisanship and places where we can work cooperatively to care for our patients with the utmost professionalism and with the encouragement that we need to keep improving and doing our best. What do we do when we feel that freedom hampered by vocal expressions of partisanship, bigotry or even hatred?

Recognize that these struggles are nothing new.

While the stress of these political times may be distressing to us all, this is not the first time that we have encountered a climate of contention in our workplaces. Nurses have always been at the forefront-crossing bridges that divide people and nations. With nuns as nurses and Florence Nightingale as a shining example of light, we continue to push forward to be the best we can be: providing excellent care in the midst of strife; not joining in where racism rears its ugly head; doing our best to provide perspective and correct information while staying out of arguments. As professionals, we have been through wars, segregation, oppression and we are one of the forces for good that rises above the fray, using our hands to bring a spirit of good and kindness and gentleness.

See beyond the words.

Nationalistic fervor, bigotry and racism can be thinly disguised manifestations of fear. While the voices are loud, what lies behind is often feelings of insecurity, sadness and loneliness. In his book, Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist (Saslow, Eli: Doubleday, 2018), Saslow, a Pulitzer Prize winner author, tells the story of Derek Black, a product of a white supremacist family who denounces the views he had been steeped in after coming in contact with people in college who lovingly introduce him, through long-term relationship building, to truths that he had never considered. The kindness of a group of Jewish students who invite him to their weekly Shabbat meals, broke through years of indoctrination in false science and facts. Friendship, kindness, love and genuine relationship ultimately prevailed and led to profound life-changes for Black and his future. He wrote, "People who disagreed with me were critical in this process. Especially those who were my friends regardless, but who let me know when we talked about it that they thought my beliefs were wrong and took the time to provide evidence and civil arguments." ((p.225) As nurses, we too have the opportunity to persevere in doing good, to provide accurate facts with a dose of loving-kindness and to be patient as those around us consider new views. While the workplace is definitely not the place for political discussions, it can be a place for continuing to develop meaningful friendships that lead to long-term change.

Be the best you can be.

At one time in my career, I had a boss that was somewhat erratic and demanding. I would vent my frustration to a trusted co-worker from time to time and her response was: "Keep being excellent. No one can argue with excellence." The same advice applies to nursing in our current times. While we may desire to flee from settings that are full of argument and division, sometimes it is simply not possible to leave our current situation. Being excellent professionals, even in the midst of trying time, can help us grow as persons and as professionals, committed to excellence in all things.

Listen, listen. And ask questions.

When I was dating my husband, I remember using a curse word/slang word that wasn't part of his family's lexicon. My father-in-law didn't say anything or correct me, but his silence spoke volumes and was louder than any sermon. Sometimes when our co-workers or patients say things that are bigoted or offense or simply inflammatory, we respond best with our silence or with a well-positioned question such as: "What makes you say that?" Sometimes, just hearing ourselves say inappropriate things out loud can be clarifying and help us see the error of our own ways without the added burden of someone condemning or shaming us.

This too shall pass.

Ultimately, we must take the long view in our professional life as well as our personal struggles. While the current climate of political strife is distressing, with strength and determination we will see it through; with perseverance and professionalism, we can influence the current times for good, becoming agents of change and positivity.

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Joy has worked in a variety of nursing settings, most recently as a hospice nurse and a faith community nurse (FCN). In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, talking long walks and playing with her grandchildren.

14 Likes, 4 Followers, 81 Articles, 144,544 Visitors, and 358 Posts.

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Thanks for this article. As a person who voted for President Trump and who lives in a very liberal state, my work place can be very unpleasant at times (e.g., a coworker thought it was appropriate to state that she would s**t in her pants and throw it at the president during our morning huddle one time). I hear a lot of very inaccurate assumptions about Trump voters as a whole, very often. It's fairly insulting to me to hear the gross generalizations my coworkers make, but I have always made a point to keep my silence about politics in the workplace and work very hard to do the best job possible. No reason to get embroiled in nasty political fights, and if some day my co-workers uncover my political leanings, I have no doubt they'll feel a little ashamed for the things they've said in front of me.

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Thanks for this article. As a person who voted for President Trump and who lives in a very liberal state, my work place can be very unpleasant at times (e.g., a coworker thought it was appropriate to state that she would s**t in her pants and throw it at the president during our morning huddle one time). I hear a lot of very inaccurate assumptions about Trump voters as a whole, very often. It's fairly insulting to me to hear the gross generalizations my coworkers make, but I have always made a point to keep my silence about politics in the workplace and work very hard to do the best job possible. No reason to get embroiled in nasty political fights, and if some day my co-workers uncover my political leanings, I have no doubt they'll feel a little ashamed for the things they've said in front of me.

Bravo to you for being able to keep your composure. I work in a rather liberal environment (60/40) and I am always open to having conversations about why people feel and think the way they do. I don't think political convos should be kept out of the workplace totally. Open dialogue between people with opposing views is important. Thats how we learn and maintain tolerance.

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All my places of employment have had a policy of discouraging political discussions at work. And I agree.

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Great article and agree politics and work don't mix in my workplace either. Neither will I discuss the lottery - lol

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I don't discuss politics at all with my coworkers. Some make comments here and there, but it's not a topic of conversation. I prefer it that way.

When patients make comments, I very rarely comment as well. On either side of the coin. It's not my place to agree or disagree with them. I'm there to take care of their health.

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I like most of the people I work with.

I would like them less if I talked politics with them.

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I generally stay out of politics. Once @ the time this POTUS was elected I walked into break room with only my Filipino colleagues there, they immediately stopped talking but I heard enough.

I let them know I felt the same way about current POTUS (and yes, calling him POTUS is as polite as I will ever be in titles, I have no shortage of adjectives for this POTUS but I would run afoul of admin if I used them.)

Back to topic, my colleagues are naturalized citizens and still thought they could be deported. My husband is also a naturalized citizen, I reassured my colleagues that, as naturalized citizens, they cannot be deported.

Such is the climate of fear POTUS rested entire campaign on...as cited I do not delve into politics very much at work but I do not wish to have anyone mistakenly think I would vote for current POTUS and his ilk just because I am white.

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Why would they feel ashamed? I would surmise you have same belief system as current POTUS or why would you vote for him?

I am fairly certain people attribute certain characteristics about my being an Obama supporter and they would be correct. I hold zero tolerance for racists, I do not have any tolerance for misogyny, fighting against raising minimum raise, declaring a fertilized egg more important than the woman carrying it etc...

Who someone votes for says quite a bit about a person. I have not known a single non-white individual who voted for current POTUS; I am sure they exist but I have not to encounter any.

II work with a small group and everyone pretty much knows everyones' business. Out of 48 staff there are 2 POTUS nurses, both straight white people. I would prefer my political leanings are known now that being white gets me 'guilt by association.'

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Why would they feel ashamed? I would surmise you have same belief system as current POTUS or why would you vote for him?

I'm assuming they'd feel ashamed for saying all Trump voters are redneck, stupid, uneducated, racist, bigoted, fill in the blanks..... when I am none of those things.

Honestly, your rather histrionic reaction to the mere mention of our President is a major reason why I keep my silence at work. Don't need these types of reactions being hurled at me in the workplace!

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I was wondering if this topic would devolve into a debate centered on political differences, rather than a discussion about how to handle political differences.

Extremely topical given the news over the past two days.

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I come from a generation that was taught not to discuss politics, religion, or money in polite company. I consider the workplace to be "polite company" and wish everyone else did too. It makes life (and work) so much simpler. This country is more polarized than I've ever seen it in my lifetime; I'd just as soon not make any enemies by shooting off my mouth, even though I am VERY opinionated and have a passion for American politics. I used to post often on the "blue" side of AN but haven't done so in years now...it's just not worth it.

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