In this article, we’re going to give you tips to help you navigate interactions with difficult coworkers.

That’s right.

By the end of this post you’re going to learn how to deal with difficult nurses at work. Because let’s be real, we need all the help we can get when it comes to difficult nurse co-workers.

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1. Stay Cool and Think of your Personal Brand

“…Since it’s not feasible to quit a job or transfer whenever you run into difficult co-workers (side note you will always have co-workers like this), you must learn how to deal with them…”

— Thomas N. Uzuegbunem, BSN, RN

In the heat of our interactions with difficult co-workers, your initial reaction might be to lose your cool.

Not a good idea because you will more likely than not look bad.

Instead, I encourage you to think about your personal brand.

Your personal brand is a reflection of what people think about when your name comes up.

Are people going to think of someone who stayed cool during work adversity or will they think about someone who lost their cool at work?

Long-term the narrative won’t be you yelled or cussed out a coworker who was being very difficult.

It will probably just be you screamed and cussed out a coworker.

Even if you might think it’s warranted very rarely is yelling or “cussing out” a fellow employee a good idea.

It’s not conducive to managing your personal brand.

Like a bully, some people like to get a reaction from others. Be above it!

2. See Who Else is Affected

Are you the only one targeted by this problematic co-worker?

Are other people affected?

If so how long has it been going on?

Knowing these questions will help identify an appropriate approach.

If it impacts multiple people, you might be able to band together and have an intervention or escalate it through the proper chain of command.

The more people voicing disapproval of this employee the more seriously administration will take it, and it would also elicit a quicker response.

3. Confront the Difficult Co-worker

When dealing with difficult co-workers sometimes you must confront them.

Once again, this doesn’t mean start yelling or trying to “cuss somebody out.”

Try to have a calm dialogue with the disgruntled coworker.

If the difficult coworker takes on a less than pleasant attitude you can end the exchange, but you must remain calm.

This difficult coworker might not have known their actions were causing problems for other people.

Everybody goes through hard life circumstances at times, and while it is not an excuse for poor actions/attitudes some people need a reminder because he or she might genuinely not know how his or her actions affect others.

Even if talking to them doesn’t change their actions it could change your perspective about the situation.

4. Kill Them with kindness

When trying to figure out how to deal with difficult co-workers “kill them with kindness” might seem counter-intuitive to what you probably really want to do.

Don’t be a pushover, but it might be best to avoid adding gasoline to the fire.

If you are pleasant and respectful to them, it might inspire some attitude change on their part.

Even if it doesn’t, you should still be cordial and courteous to them.

People will remember how unpleasant the problematic coworker was, but unfortunately, they will also not forget how nasty you were to them.

Amid the difficulty, you want to keep in mind your personal nurse brand you created.

5. Build Rapport

When dealing with difficult co-workers at times it’s because you haven’t built a rapport with them.

Some relationships take time and effort to build.

Engage the difficult co-worker and see if that doesn’t change something.

6. Minimize Interactions

Minimizing interactions won’t work for all difficult nurses especially if you have to be around this individual for your work duties.

If it’s someone you could decrease interactions with you should.

In a practical light, reduce the time you spend in common areas including med rooms and break rooms.

You can even learn their particular schedule and avoid common areas during their usual break time and so on.

If you are in a position where you can delegate tasks that involve that person to someone who can tolerate being around them, even better.

7. Ignore Them

Sometimes minimizing interactions with difficult nurses at work is difficult.

If reducing the interactions doesn’t work or is not possible you might need to ignore them.

It is entirely possible that you have a nurse that for whatever reason (possibly long tenure) is difficult and everyone learns to deal with it.

If the difficulty with the nurse is minor and you can tolerate it, then it might not be a battle worth fighting.

If so, ignore them and try to focus on the more positive aspects of your job.

8. Document the Inappropriate Interactions

If there is a pattern of abusive behavior, you need to keep notes.

Your notes need to include dates, times, locations, and direct quotes if at all possible.

When the time comes to report the person, you want to be detailed and accurate.

It doesn’t have to be long paragraphs but just quick couple sentences or bullet points.

9. Report the difficult nurse using chain-of-command

Ideally, you would hope the conflict with the problematic nurse would resolve itself with time.

That might not be the case.

If the problem with the difficult nurse at work escalates, the next course of action might be to report the nurse using your employer’s chain of command.

You want to make sure that you follow the chain of command as listed in your employee handbook.

10. Seek to transfer or find a new job

If nothing else seems to be working, it might be time to look for a new nursing job so you can quit your current nursing job.

Before doing so make sure that you put in your resignation letter.

Some coworkers complicate a work environment so much that they make it very toxic to be around.

It can get to the point that you start dreading coming to work.

Seeking a transfer or finding a new job is not the first option but its something to consider if you feel anxious every time you go to work.

We spend too much time at work for such an awful feeling, and you don’t want patient care to be affected.


3 nurses talking to each other

Hopefully, you found some tips you can use at work.


Don’t compromise your brand (your reputation) at work for this person.

How have you handled a difficult nurse at your job?

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  1. I read another article on bully nurses in a trade magazine but it did not offer any advice. Thank you for these tips! In the past(back in the old days)before you could enter nursing school you needed letters of recommendation that you were of good moral character.

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