R.N. Q&A #9: My DON says I'm "rude", but I'm just asking questions

Life Coaching for nurses Robb Hillman

Dear Robb,

I've been informed that I don't take orders well, that I'm "defiant" and "rude". This is coming from my DON and other staff, NOT by my patients. I really feel like all I do is ask questions, I'm a free thinker and I don't blindly follow orders, instead I politely question. When I am questioned on why I do things a certain way I explain my logic. I really need some advice. "To kill the part of myself that allows me to feel alive so that can survive, is really worth living?" -unknown


Dear Sam,

As a coach, often my first job is to help people figure out what exactly is the problem that you most want to solve. It sounds like you want two things here - one is that you want to be a "free thinker" who questions things. The other is that you want to get along with others, at least well enough to do your job effectively and not be in danger of getting disciplined or censured.

My guess is that both things are possible, if you can find the balance between the two.

You might want to spend some time thinking about how you build relationships with others. The importance of this can't be understated, because nursing is a team-based environment and every day we rely on our peers for success. There is nothing, of course, morally wrong with asking a lot of questions. But there is a difference between asking for new information and asking a question that forces someone else to defend themselves, their actions or their practice. And if you haven't yet build good relationships with the people you are asking to constantly defend themselves to you, your questions may come across as arrogant and rude and tiring, even if you do not intend them to.

One easy thing to try - start handing out compliments like candy. If you are going to question things you have a problem with, make sure you are also commenting and validating the things you see that you do like. "I really liked the way you handled that patient." "Thanks so much for helping me to understand this." "I really appreciate how efficiently you completed that task." I don't mean to give out insincere compliments, because that won't feel right to you or to them. But instead of just noticing and commenting on the problems, start paying attention to the good things people do too. I think you might be surprised just how well this can help build up your relationships so that people can then tolerate your questions without feeling attacked. We all want to feel respected and appreciated.

There is that Maya Angelou quote about how people don't remember what you do, but they will always remember how you made them feel. Give them the opportunity to love having you around, and I bet you will start seeing a big difference in how people perceive you. 

Good luck!


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