10 Things: How To Be a Good Colleague

Several experiences over the past few weeks have made me think about collegiality and ways in which we can be good colleagues to one another. Add to that the arrival of this link and this paper (“horizontal hostility” is a fabulous term) in my inbox and the upcoming IAFN conference and, well–it just gets me thinking. So what follows is a new 10 Things list meant to make you think and also, maybe, make you laugh (unless my crass language offends, in which case, perhaps you’d like to skip today’s post?), but really it’s meant more as a conversation starter. Nursing has a reputation for eating its young, but forensic nurses (and by association, our collaborating colleagues), much less so. That being said, it does happen, and it’s both ugly and unfortunate. Be forewarned, there are some generalizations here, which I readily acknowledge. But if it’s on this list it’s because I have experienced it personally or been witness to it secondhand–more than once. More than 5 or 6 times really.  Let me know your thoughts.

  1. Whatever professional circles a person travels in, keep in mind  it’s a *tiny* world. People are connected in ways others cannot imagine. Be mindful of this when deciding to be less than kind (and look, we all have those moments). But professionalism dictates that when venting it’s done in a safe space–with people who are known and  certain to keep  confidences. Blowing steam (about colleagues) in front of students, workshop participants or new-to-you colleagues may not be a great idea. In fact, let’s just go ahead and commit–it’s a bad idea.
  2. For the love of all that is holy, use the “reply all” button mindfully and sparingly. Do you need to have everyone hear what you have to say? Do you want to have everyone hear what you have to say? Also, see #1.
  3. Remember that shaming has no place in helping/mentoring/leading. Do not make a person feel like a moron under the guise of trying to foster her professional growth. Not only does it usually end up having the opposite effect, it also usually makes the individual doling out that kind of nonsense look completely unprofessional. (And a whole separate post would be shaming the treating clinician when one is the defense expert–zero tolerance for that kind of crap and every time I see it in one of my own trials I just make note *never* to recommend that individual for expert work in the future.).
  4. There is nothing useful about score keeping. Don’t worry about how many years it took someone to complete her education or whether she ever experienced working under the tyranny of a system where nurses were handmaidens to physicians. Don’t worry about whether someone has paid her dues and stop judging your colleagues based on the degrees they’ve earned (or not earned). Respect someone because they work hard; because they are innovative, thoughtful, a great clinician, a great leader, etc. A person’s PhD doesn’t automatically garner respect; a person’s diploma doesn’t automatically mean she’s less worthy of respect. I am all for encouraging and supporting individuals’ educational goals. But that is a personal decision and there is a lot of calculus that goes into making that choice. I’m not going to judge if someone decides the cost-benefit math doesn’t make sense.
  5. One doesn’t come to forensic nursing via a single path. I am a public health and primary care clinician from my first days in nursing. If you need an emergency pap smear, I am your woman. If you need an IV started, it would be best if you pulled up a chair and had a seat, because we’re going to be here a while. I love the sheer diversity of people’s professional experiences, and in interviewing clinicians as part of trials I hear about a lot of them. Let’s honor the myriad ways people get to the profession and what they bring to the table. Trying to force folks into a single mold is boring and ultimately unsustainable. Trying to tell people what they have to do to be successful in this work is a tricky thing.
  6. Nursing is not static–it’s constantly evolving. Accept that and don’t hold it against younger, newer colleagues because their education/experience/philosophy/_________  is different. That’s the nature of the beast and it’s a good thing.
  7. Along those same lines, acknowledge that next generation of nurses coming up behind us and figure out how to be a great mentor and/or a great leader. The next generation is coming, like it or not. We can do everything we can to make their road easier, better, with fewer potholes, or we can just be a road block–in which case they will simply work around us and leave us behind. Shorter #6 and 7: embrace the inevitable change.
  8. Cultivate  leadership qualities in your colleagues wherever and whenever possible. Identify ways to provide experiences to those seeking experiences; ways to give voice to those who have something they wish to say. Writing something for publication? Seek out a co-author. Submitting an abstract? Find a co-presenter. Running a program? Look around and see what untapped talent exists among your team.
  9. Your professionalism will determine the extent of the opportunities available to you, so consider this in your interactions in every professional setting. I tend to work with the same people over and over again because they are pros. How do I define pro? Simple: a.) They show up; b.) they follow through; c.) they constantly look for ways to enhance their own knowledge; d.) they know their limits; e.) they freely share ________ [knowledge, credit, time, resources]; f.) they embrace ethical communication strategies. If I could condense this list down to one single point it would be this one. Being a good colleague means striving to achieve all of these things.
  10. I had a great conversation last week with someone I really respect as a professional, a colleague and a leader. He asked me to distill my professional philosophy down to a single bumper sticker. No problem. Don’t be a dick.


5 replies on “10 Things: How To Be a Good Colleague”

I love this. I wish I had had the wisdom to apply ALL 10 of these things in my early years as a nurse. Live and learn…which I hope I have…because it is never too late to learn and make changes.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.” Henry Ford

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