Male and female healthcare colleagues talking at work
Career Development June 25, 2020

By Kathy Marshall, Contributor

7 Tips for RNs Dealing with Negative Coworkers

In an ideal world, everyone performs their job duties to the best of their abilities and exhibits great attitudes along the way. 

In the real world, however, dealing with negative coworkers on a daily basis is an unfortunate necessity. 

After time, negative coworkers can have a damaging impact on the overall morale of a working environment.

Negative coworkers have the ability to make a difficult task seem impossible. 

Nursing is a challenging field, and for RN’s working in a negative environment, it can be the root cause of a high turnover rate. 

No place is exempt from negative coworkers, and learning to deal with them is a skill every RN needs to learn.


1. Stay Focused

One of the best ways for dealing with negative coworkers is to stay focused on your particular tasks and responsibilities. 

It is very easy to become so distracted by a negative coworker that you spend more time and energy worrying about their behavior than actually performing your duties. Just remember to focus on your job at hand.

2. Recognize What You Cannot Change

When surrounded by people with a negative outlook, many of us feel personally responsible for improving their attitude. 

Often, that is just not possible, and neither should it be your number one goal. 

While we should look for ways to encourage and uplift others, some people will just have a negative outlook in every situation.

3. Speak Up When Necessary

While it is not your duty to make negative people positive, if their negativity is affecting patient care, it is time to speak up. 

If addressing the coworker directly is ineffective or uncomfortable, turn to your supervisor for assistance.

Provide your supervisor with specific behavior/actions that are affecting the quality of care. 

Everyone has a different personality and may not enjoy being around one another, but everyone MUST be able to overcome those differences and work toward accomplishing the main goal.

4. Don’t Play the Gossip Game

When you have a difficult coworker, one of the easiest habits to fall into is gossip. What starts as a vent session with a like-minded coworker becomes a daily gossip fest against the negative coworker. While everyone needs to let off steam, there is an appropriate time and place for this.

This behavior can cause further division between coworkers and creates an “us vs them” mentality. Also, most facilities have policies regarding gossip in the workplace. Make sure you don’t cross the line into harassment or creating a hostile nurse work environment.

5. Don’t Take It Personally

This can be one of the hardest things to do, but remind yourself that a negative coworker probably displays their negativity in all aspects of their life. 

Chances are, problems are always blamed on someone else, food orders are always wrong, the weather is always bad, and so forth. 

Some people just have a negative outlook on life and it has nothing to do with you, so don’t take it personally. Doing so will most likely cause you a lot of unneeded stress.

6. Take a Break

If you find yourself on shift with negative coworkers, remove yourself from the situation when possible and take a positive time out. 

Go outside for a quick walk, find a quiet spot and have a snack, or send a quick note of encouragement to someone you love. Do something to take your mind off their negativity and remind yourself how positive your life is.

7. Make a Choice

We all choose our attitudes. Make the choice to be different and not display a negative attitude. This can be very difficult to do if you are surrounded by negative coworkers. Don’t fall into the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality.

We don’t usually get to choose our coworkers. If you do find yourself dealing with negative coworkers, look for ways to work positively together and show that you are there to achieve a common goal. 

Sometimes persistent and positive behavior towards a negative person can open the doors of communication.

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