How to avoid nurse’s station politics

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Every office has politics. Some workplaces are worse for this than others.

I’ve known nurses to say that the combination of a lot of women in one spot and the long hours that our jobs demand makes for the worst office politics ever. I challenge them to do one summer of repertory theater in a small college town.

So how do you survive? By doing three very simple things:

1. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut. This is also known as “don’t gossip,” but I like to refer to it as “information gathering.” Smiling and looking receptive to what people say, especially if you’re new to the place, is a great way to figure out who to trust and who to avoid.

2. Never respond to a bully. There’s one—or two—in every batch. The best thing to do if that nutjob in Cardiology goes off on you is to respond as professionally and calmly as if you were in a movie and all your lines were scripted. It might take some doing; Frog knows I’ve been guilty of delivering some retaliatory snark in my time, but it really is the best policy. Eventually you’ll become known as the person who never loses his temper. If ever you do lose your temper, your previous behavior will make it that much more likely that people will pay attention and take you seriously.

3. Cultivate good working relationships with everybody—from nurses to phlebotomists to the housekeeping staff to the guy who brings the trays at mealtime. Be polite and interested, say please and thank you, and sign the birthday and congratulations cards. A few months of consistently decent behavior, especially to people who are rarely noticed or thanked, will gain you tons of goodwill. More importantly, it’ll make you a nicer person in the process. If you ever have to call favors in, it’s better to be known as the person who remembers birthdays than the one who’s always rude or dismissive.

Remember: If things are really, really bad, there’s always another place to work. If you’re the target of organized bullying, the best place to start is with your boss, provided she’s not in on it. If she is, head up the ladder the way you were taught to do in orientation. If all else fails, go and work summer stock for a while. I guarantee you’ll feel so much better about your life that you won’t even notice that can of paint on top of the half-open door to the breakroom.

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