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Perspective Matters

Posted by Peter Post  June 17, 2010 07:00 AM

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Q. I am a registered nurse in a long term care facility. On three recent occasions the director of nursing, who is not my immediate superior, and I have had conversations regarding client care issues on which we have differences of opinions. She has then spoken to at least three of my colleagues about my “lack of judgment” and “rude attitude”. I confronted her and told her that I felt, as professionals, our conversations should be kept confidential. She admitted to discussing my behavior with my peers and seems to think that this is acceptable. What can I do to keep this behavior from recurring? I feel that I am working in an untrustworthy environment. The executive director of the facility is non-supportive. I have adjusted my work schedule so that I am having less contact with the director of nursing.

A. Perspective is often at the root of relationship issues. It certainly seems to be here. From your perspective the three conversations with her focused on your “differences of opinion” regarding clinical care. Yet, when she talked to the three colleagues about your “rude attitude,” her perspective on those conversations differed from yours. You focused on the content of those conversations while she focused on how you interacted with her.

You perceived her talking about your behavior as unjustifiable, that she broke a confidence, and in the process lost your trust. While I don’t know why she talked to your peers, I suspect she would excuse her action by saying she was trying to get their take on the situation. Talking about issues concerning one employee with others is a mistake many managers make. Even when couched in the best of intentions, it still causes a loss of trust in the manager. Trust is what makes relationships work, and when it has been lost the relationship is in serious trouble, as it is here.

Finally, after learning that she talked to your peers, you confronted her. Perspective again rears its head. You see yourself making a point with her while she focuses on your confrontational attitude. Unfortunately, in any confrontational situation there’s little chance for constructive resolution.

There’s no easy solution here, especially because you believe the executive director “is non-supportive” which means she backs the director of nursing regarding the patient care issues. Ultimately, the director of nursing and the executive director are responsible for policies and procedures which they expect employees to follow. You can try to clear the air by asking to talk with the director calmly and non-confrontationally. “Jane, I really care about my work here, and I want to have a good relationship with you. I’m concerned about what’s happened between us recently. Could we get together and talk about it?” Focus first on how you might have been perceived in those conversations. Be willing to acknowledge that you didn’t mean to be rude or confrontational. Afterward ask to meet to discuss your ideas on patient care. If they don’t change the policies, you’ll have to decide if you can follow them, or if you need to look elsewhere for employment.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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