28 August 2015

Civility, an ethical imperative

Everyone should choose to practice civility. For nurses and the nursing profession, however, it is imperative, an ethical requirement. According to the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (2015), all nurses regardless of setting or position have an ethical responsibility to create and sustain healthy work places and to foster an atmosphere of dignity and regard for all. The code is clear: “The nurse creates an ethical environment and culture of civility and kindness, treating colleagues, co-workers, employees, students, and others with dignity and respect. … Disregard for the effects of one’s actions on others, bullying, harassment, intimidation, manipulation, threats, or violence are always morally unacceptable behaviors” (p. 4).

Moreover, Provision 7.2 of the code states: “Academic educators must also seek to ensure that all their graduates possess the knowledge, skills, and moral dispositions that are essential to nursing” (p. 28). Therefore, it is incumbent upon nurse educators in all levels of nursing programs to model ethical conduct, professionalism, inclusion, and civility. They must take the lead in preventing and addressing acts of incivility, set the tone by incorporating civility as a shared value within their programs, and prepare students to effectively address incivility and foster safe, healthy work environments. The stakes are high. Safe patient care hinges on our ability to self-reflect and accurately assess our own behaviors, effectively manage our emotions, and communicate respectfully.

For several years, I have intentionally integrated professionalism and civility content into my courses. Students and faculty members must engage in deliberate conversation about these topics, identifying and practicing specific strategies to foster civility. One exercise I like to use is having students complete the Clark Workplace Civility Index. During this carefully arranged activity, each student assesses his or her own perceived level of civility as well as the perceived civility level of another student with whom he or she is familiar and has built an adequate level of trust. They then candidly—and privately—share their insights with one another.

The evidence-based, 20-item questionnaire is designed to assess civility, increase self-awareness, generate discussion, and identify ways to enhance individual and collective civility acumen. The index includes assessing behaviors such as treating others with respect, keeping confidences, avoiding gossip and spreading rumors, using respectful communication, taking personal responsibility, and being accountable for one’s actions.

In addition to completing the index and discussing the issues it raises, each individual makes a firm commitment—in writing—to behave in a civil, respectful, and ethical manner. After completing the index, I recently asked a group of approximately 100 nursing students the following question: “What specific individual action can you take to foster a civil, healthy work environment?” The responses were impressive and, in some cases, inspirational.

Here are the top 10 responses:
  • Always focus on the patient; this will keep us centered and respectful.
  • Listen well and welcome other points of view.
  • Offer to help and be supportive of others.
  • Assume good will and exercise patience.
  • Model professionalism, kindness, and respect.
  • Speak up, set the bar high, and be a crusader for civility.
  • Strive to be the very best person possible.
  • Value differences and avoid judgment.
  • Take good care of myself, de-stress, and live well.
  • Practice the Golden Rule; treat others the way we wish to be treated.

Engaging in reflective exercises and candid conversation about ways to foster civility are helpful strategies to prepare students—and others—to address incivility, establish and sustain healthy workplaces, foster positive interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships, and enhance ethical practices that contribute to the ongoing success of top-performing work teams and highly effective organizations. Addressing incivility can be challenging, but remaining silent not only impairs nurse performance, it ultimately jeopardizes patient care.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. Comments are moderated. Those that promote products or services will not be posted.