The three of us (Shannon, Gina, and Nick) had a meeting the other day. We recently contributed to Nurse.com, Pfizer, and Minority Nurse, posting similar articles to our Media page, and wanted to discuss future projects. “You know what I’m not going to do? I’m not writing any more posts about Rick & Morty or Bitcoin or some other pop culture topic and force it into a blog post about bullying and job satisfaction,” said Nick. He lied.
True Memoirs of an International Assassin is a Netflix movie about a lonely writer plunged into dangerous situations he only understands theoretically. Everyone assumes his knowledge of explosives, weapons, and espionage originated from years of hands-on experience instead of Google searches to make his novel better. Watching Kevin James bumble on stage–by this point screenwriters needn’t bother with a different name for the earnest, hapless, chubby characters he always plays–reminded me of the saying, “If you can’t do, teach.” More specifically, I remember my undergraduate professors struggling to make themselves useful on nursing units while the employees mumbled, “She’d be a lot more helpful if she tried not to help.” I usually compare the differences between the academic and the clinical or practical approach in terms of a pointy-haired boss making the rules and subordinates following them, but sometimes there is more conflict and frustration when work relationships aren’t clearly defined. However, don’t idolize complete harmony–creative tension at work allows us to raise uncomfortable points that are usually more beneficial than forced tranquility and unity.
I started my career resembling the bespectacled gif above, frustrated with co-workers who could only articulate their decision making process as, “I just had a hunch” or, “I’ve seen this before so I know how to react.” Why couldn’t they see that their own experience limited the range of options in any situation? To those tasked with creating rules and procedures, the quick decisions others make based on immediately available data must seem like chaos. I felt patronized rather than heard, which of course is a huge complaint for many unappreciated employees. Bullying existed on both sides–I’d make fun of those who wouldn’t recognize a beta 1 adrenergic receptor if it made their heart pump furiously, earning the dubious nickname of “Tricky Nicky.” In return, they made a point of showcasing to everyone when my extensive theoretical knowledge caused me to miss something obvious and mundane. Although some people fall in the middle, the main difference between the two groups is this: either the idea of a rule, or not having a set of rules to follow, is terrifying.
Now I am on the extreme edge of those, um, working it. If someone announces a new protocol, I automatically probe it for loopholes and speculate how long I’ll have to appear to follow it before doing my own thing. Usually this mellows into “individualized care” for the patient, just like those with rule-based roles or tendencies excuse their propensities with phrases like “research based” or “the literature shows.” Often in my job, the classic example is the pharmacists who’ve read the latest studies and the nurse anesthetists who used the drug on a patient ten minutes ago. Even if the rule makers aren’t directly in charge of the people who make the product or provide the service, tension and the potential for conflict always exists. The rules and bureaucracy are out of touch and irrelevant. The quick fixes and Macguyverish behavior of the realists is reckless or short sighted.
By the end of the film, Kevin James is lethal. His creative ability to conjure mayhem and outsmart dictators and revolutionaries accustomed to a life of violence is only matched by his cerebral calculations and decision making. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking to hope the same at your workplace. If some sort of clipboard toting, machinery wielding hybrid doesn’t quite fit your job description, consider another way–an easier start, to be honest. Empathy. Understanding the other side. Realizing that they too have a job filled with constraints and tough decisions about what can be compromised. Giving that seemingly chaotic or boring coworker some grace is an easy start to a more cooperative and productive relationship.
Not to channel a creepy version of Mr. Rogers, but what kind of person are you? Do you bend rules whenever possible as Nick does, go above and beyond policies like Shannon, or fit in the middle like Gina?