The Downward Spiral: Incivility in Nursing

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


March 24, 2011

In This Article

Civility and Incivility in Nursing

Good manners. Consideration. Graciousness. Respect. Courtesy. These synonyms of "civility" sound sadly as though they come from a bygone era. If they describe your work environment, or if you are a student, your learning environment, consider yourself lucky -- very lucky.

Yet, civility is more than polite words. A person can easily say "please and thank you," and still stab you in the back. Clark defines civility as "an authentic respect for others that requires time, presence, willingness to engage in genuine discourse, and intention to seek common ground" that governs both speech and behavior toward others.[1]

Cynthia Clark, RN, PhD, and
Sara Ahten, RN, MSN.

What has happened to the civilized world? That is perhaps too big a question to tackle here, but we can narrow it down to our own profession. Why does so much incivility exist in the nursing profession (and make no mistake, it does exist), and what can be done to reverse this trend?

Two leaders in the area of research into incivility in nursing are Cynthia Clark, RN, PhD, and Sara Ahten, RN, MSN, from Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. I was happy to be able to speak with them about incivility and civility and to ask them how nurses (especially new graduates and students -- the most common targets of incivility) should respond to uncivil behavior in the workplace or classroom.


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