Improving Your Practice, New Nurse Resources

Why the G and W Words are the Real Naughty Ones, Part 2.

“The only thing whining does is convince everyone around you that you are not in control.”-My Dad

In my previous post, I discussed the dangers of gossip and the erosion of trust that happens within units. Today I’d like to move on to the second naughty word, whining. 

We all know the whiners.  They come in, and it doesn’t matter what assignment they get you know they are going to make an issue about it.  They whine about their work, the other shift, their life, about helping (or worse yet, they don’t help). We all know them, but have we been them? Have we fallen in to the habit of whining and complaining, just because it’s acceptable?

Why is whining such a naughty word?

Whining is a naughty word in nursing for so many reasons, but here’s two big ones (the ones that increase turnover and compromise patient safety). Obviously, it’s annoying, but is it really an infraction? I think it is, and here’s why.  When we whine, we are basically explaining how we aren’t accountable for the things that go wrong. We are relinquishing our power and control of a situation instead of taking charge and problem solving. Our capacity to problem solve, think creatively and utilize challenges as strengths are some of the attributes that make us special as nurses.  Whining negates all of those.  It wastes what is often precious time wallowing in a problem, when we have the opportunity to solve it.

Whining also causes distance between colleagues to form. It divides the shifts based upon what the other didn’t do, instead of focusing on what they did. It makes people resentful, and causes them to avoid the worst offenders, often worsening the problem across the board. This avoidance isolates everyone, which increases everyone’s workload and in my experience, decreases job satisfaction. People will only remain in a job they can’t stand for so long before they either leave or further poison the soil. The higher the turnover the less overall training your staff has, and the less finely tuned the teamwork becomes. The wheels fall off of what should be a well-oiled machine. I’ve seen this be especially disastrous in the critical care environment, where teamwork literally saves lives.

“Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining” Teddy Roosevelt.

How can we change it?

One of the best compliments I ever received from a manager was during a performance review. It was at the end of my first year in that unit, so I was hoping I had made a good impression. My boss looked at me and said ‘One of my favorite things about you being in the unit, is you shut down the whining and just do your job. It’s so refreshing, you never bring me any drama’.  I’m still proud of that. Here are some tips to help shut down the whining, so we can do our best job.

  1. First thing we must do to halt the cycle of whining is to be accountable for ourselves. We must first adjust our own behavior, so we can see the difference it makes in our days. Some days (usually the hard ones) I think we forget that we made a deliberate choice to care for people. While we may not have fully understood the emotional toll it may take, but we chose it nonetheless. We must remember that we made that choice every single shift. It will help us take accountability for our own thoughts and actions so we can move forward and practice with our best selves.
  2. The second action we can take to combat the whining epidemic, is to not indulge it. Resist the urge to commiserate or normalize it with your own contribution. Practice the reply of ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’, and move on. Much like gossip, whining will continue when it’s fed. If we pay the whiner no mind, they will stop bringing it to our table.
  3. The third thing we can do to shut down whining, is look at it as a cry for help.  This one I find is harder than taking accountability because frankly, it’s an emotional drain to be around a whiner. It’s easier to isolate yourself, do your work and ignore what’s being said around you. It’s a similar approach I take with my kids. When they are acting off track, they need something they don’t know how to ask for. By offering support and assistance, they know they aren’t in this alone. I’ve found in practice, that’s often all we need is to know. To know that when we feel lost, unsure or like we are drowning, we have support.

By being accountable for our own behavior, we can feel better about our contributions to our colleagues. Perhaps this in turn may serve as a mirror for inspiration to our fellow nurses. Only together can we eradicate the gossip and whining that erodes our trust and isolates us from each other, and ultimately endangers our patients. We are better than that. I hope you’ll take it upon yourself to join me in this endeavor. We can change the landscape of practice, simply by changing ourselves.



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