As if the actual nursing job is not hard enough, add difficult patients or co-workers to the mix and you may have a recipe for disaster. Dealing with difficult behavior can often times take its toll on us emotionally, leaving us feeling beat up and spent. Does that sound familiar?

Research has shown that 1 in 3 nurses have likely experienced some sort of physical or emotional abuse this month. Have you? With all the training on policies and procedures, where is the training to help us deal with people, who intentionally or not, maltreat and drain the life and the hope right out of us?

Next time someone is trying to tie your "catheter in a knot," consider these tips for handling difficult patients and co-workers:

  1. Don't try to change them. Chances are good that this is their habitual behavior. That will not change unless they decide to take accountability for it. Some people are in love with their misery, sad but true.
  2. Don't take it personally! Their actions are a reflection of where they are at in life. They may be sick (your patients) or tired (your co-workers). They may have issues at home or have many other things that are affecting their behavior.
  3. Set firm boundaries. "I will not tolerate being spoken to that way. I treat you respectfully, and I expect the same in return." Statements such as these teach others how to treat you and set precedence for future behavior.
  4. Everyone wants to be heard. Restate what the patient or coworker is saying and what you are hearing between the lines.
  5. Acknowledge their feelings. That doesn't mean you have to agree. Just acknowledge their feelings.
  6. Try empathy. I often feel sorry for people who are stuck in a state of negativity or anger. It must be awful to be angry all the time. Sometimes compassion lessens the blow.
  7. Hold your ground. If you give in, you may be opening up the door for even more challenges. Difficult people are often in love with their misery and will keep after you the more you give in.
  8. Use fewer words. Don't blather on and on, they are not listening anyway. Short, concise messages are more likely to drive your point home.
  9. Look at them 'in between' their eyes. This will allow you to remain focused on what you need to do at your nursing job and not get distracted by what is probably their penetrating stare. Research for solutions. Ask others, read behavioral books, search the Internet. There is always one more thing to try, so don't give up! 

While nothing will work every time, some things will work sometimes. Continue to collect an arsenal of tools that may also include: humor, taking the higher ground, ambivalence, and/or a positive attitude. If you have a selection to draw upon, you will be well prepared to deal with the difficult people in your life when the incident arrives.

Difficult people may not go away, but make a decision that says you will not be taken down along with them and you will not be converted over to the "dark side."