Career advice

Workplace time-out: when some things are best left unsaid

Not everything has to be up for discussion, even if colleagues’ opinions clash with yours

Not everything has to be up for discussion, even if colleagues’ opinions clash with yours


Picture: iStock

I recently got into a bit of a quarrel on Facebook. Yes, I should know better, but on this occasion I felt so passionate that I had to respond.

Fortunately the debate took place in a private group and we quickly moved it offline. On reflection later, I realised how easy it is to express your impassioned opinion.

While I support freedom of speech, I sometimes wish the enter button on my keyboard had the facility to ask, ‘are you sure?’.

Think before you speak online and offline

It is not just online where tempers flare. The phrase ‘think before you speak’ is fine in theory, but in the heat of the moment it is hard to stick to.

You may get away with speaking out of turn when socialising with friends, but the work environment is less likely to be so forgiving.

A harsh word spoken, even in jest, can have a lasting impact.

At work the mix of constant demands, lack of resources and human frailty make disagreements within the nursing team inevitable. Open communication is the foundation to a smooth-running ward or unit, so any type of conflict is best dealt with quickly, especially if it concerns patient care.

Discussing emotive topics can lead to heated debates

What do you do when differing opinions are of a more personal nature? Speaking your truth may be an integral aspect of your personal values, but is it always appropriate in a work situation?

One topic being debated widely by nurses is whether flu jabs should be mandatory for healthcare staff. A recent Nursing Standard survey found that almost half (46%) of the 2,243 nurses who responded backed mandatory flu jabs, while more than a third (36%) opposed the idea. 

The emotive issue is polarising the profession, and you are likely to work alongside colleagues who have opposing views to you.

It is easy to imagine how a casual conversation could escalate into a heated debate.

Avoid judgement of colleagues’ lifestyles

The same can apply to lifestyle issues, such as diet, exercise, alcohol consumption or smoking.

As a nurse, you know that individuals’ health needs vary, including your own and your colleagues. You may think that the health-related decisions someone is facing, such as losing weight, quitting smoking or getting vaccinated, are obvious.

In reality, it is not that simple. So is it right to judge your colleagues, or vice versa?

Opposing views at work: what the Code recommends

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) code has a wider remit than your professional accountability or clinical skillset. In the context of health-related decisions and opposing views, two aspects of the Code stand out. 

In summary these include:

  • Maintain effective communication with colleagues: Working cooperatively with colleagues is essential, not only for patient safety and dignified care, but also for maintaining morale within the wider team. Disagreements may arise on a daily basis - it’s how these are dealt with that makes or breaks a unit.
  • Maintain the level of health you need to carry out your professional role: Although this forms part of the standard relating to upholding the reputation of the nursing profession, it also has a personal slant, as your views on what constitutes maintaining your health may differ to those of your colleagues. If you run ten miles on your day off to keep fit, but are shattered on shift the next day, your colleagues may find your decision hard to understand. Equally, you may disagree with their decision to rest on their day off.

We need to look out for each other, but to do this in a truly empathic way means withholding judgment.

Not only is this the professional and compassionate approach to take, it can prevent seemingly well-meaning advice being ill received.


Mandy Day-Calder is a life/health coach with a nursing background and runs a healthcare training company

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