Dr. Renee Thompson – How to Stop Nurse to Nurse “Zinging”

This post is part of a series of posts on nurse bullying and conflict in the workplace written by Dr. Renee Thompson, DNP, RN, CMSRN. Dr. Thompson is one of the top professional development and anti-bullying thought leaders in nursing.

Your coworker, Donna, leaves you a mess at the end of her shift. So in turn, you leave Donna a mess. You’ve just “zinged” her. Zinging behavior occurs frequently in healthcare. A nurse forgets to include a peer on an important email about a mandatory competency that’s due, so the excluded nurse conveniently “forgets” to share important details regarding schedule requests. One nasty gram sparks a retaliatory nasty gram. And I’m sure you can think of dozens more.

Zinging is a form of retaliation. You perceive someone is inconsiderate or deliberately cruel and you find a way to get him or her back.

What’s wrong with this?

When nurses spend their time and energy figuring out ways to zing their coworkers, they have less energy to care for patients. We sometimes forget about the patients and make decisions based on how our coworkers would respond. But can you see the ripple effect of these zings? In the end, patients are the ones negatively impacted by our desire to retaliate against each other instead of supporting each other.

Here’s the situation. Your coworker (who wouldn’t give you the courtesy of spitting on you if you were on fire) is on lunch break. The unit secretary tells you that the radiology department called for your coworker’s patient to come down for his CT Scan of his brain. This patient needs to be monitored when transported and the secretary suggests you transport your coworker’s patient because they asked for him urgently.

What do you do?

OPTION 1: Tell the secretary that radiology will have to wait until your coworker is finished with her lunch. After all, you know she wouldn’t take your patient to radiology if the situation was reversed.

OPTION 2: Take the patient down.

How do you decide? Always ask yourself this question: What is best for the patient? If we all made decisions based on the goals of our unit/department and not on the behavior’s of our coworkers (zinging) patients would have better and more efficient care and we may start flipping the switch from a tit for tat environment to one where we go out of our way to support each other.

Don’t believe me?

This example was mine when I was a newer nurse. I can remember struggling to decide. The nurse on break was someone who never offered to help anyone. She was mean and she was not a team player. I can remember my initial reaction. Heck no! I thought. She would never do the same for me. But I guess my conscience took over and I thought about that patient. What if that patient were my dad? How would I decide? And then I thought – this patient is someone’s dad and so I chose option two and took the patient down for my coworker. Why? Because it was the right thing to do. It didn’t matter that the patient wasn’t “mine” or that she wouldn’t do the same for me. I did it for the patient. When I returned 30 minutes later with her patient, she never acknowledged that I helped her. However, several months later, the situation was reversed. I was at lunch and when I returned, I found out that she actually took my patient to radiology.

See? Someone has to start making decisions based on the goals of the unit/department – not based on the behaviors of coworkers. And just like my situation, doing the right thing all of the time can start a trend – a trend of supporting each other instead of “zinging.”

I’m an optimist and truly believe we can create nurturing and supportive work environments today! However, I’m a realist too. So, I don’t expect our environments to change (puppies and flowers) overnight. But I am looking for progress. Creating a supportive, professional, and nurturing environment starts with us, me, and you.

Thanks so much for reading! Take care, be kind, and stay connected. 

-Renee