The Negativity You Should be Focusing OnNegativity in Nursing

Last month I published an article about negativity in nursing. I articulated how there is a lot of social media posts that shed negative light on the nursing profession. And how I was fed up with it!

Well, I must admit there is something good that comes from the negative.

Confused yet?

It is actually a coping skill that we have used all of our lives.

Fight or Flight

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to nursing school. We all learned about the saber tooth tiger and our fight or flight response to danger.

Without digressing too far into the science of it all, it is only natural that we tend to focus on the negative. In fact, our brain was pre-programmed to do so.

A situation arises- it’s new- and what do we do? Look to avoid danger. Be aware of the negative to ensure our own safety.

Nursing Groups Do This Too

Last year I had the privilege of sitting in on some nursing focus groups. A study team was looking at what might improve the nursing work environment. They needed a silent observer- and that was me!

I watched as the researcher posed questions to the group. She attempted to ask about what working conditions would look like when nurses were enjoying their jobs. I’m not kidding when I tell you that she was met with blank stares and silence.

She turned it around. “What does it look like when you don’t have what you need to do your job?” The flood gates opened! Everyone in the room had something to say.

So what happened here?

These nursing groups did exactly what their brains trained them to do. Focus on the negative.

Use the Negative to Your AdvantageThe Negativity You Should be Focusing On

When I give my signature keynote to a group of nurses, I talk about these things. First, I teach the audience about the power of presence and how we need to be aware of our thoughts. We go through several exercises that highlight the value of conscious thinking.

Then as we move further into the talk, I share an honest truth.

Sometimes when we come present to our thoughts- we realize… you know what, they’re not all ‘good’. Some, if not many, of our thoughts are negative. And then I put everyone at ease.

It is OK. You are perfectly normal.

You are doing what you have been programmed to do to protect yourself.

However, instead of stopping here… we can use these negative thoughts to our advantage. We can tap into this great asset and move ourselves forward towards our goals.

Flip It Around!

You can focus on a negative thought or feeling. Just not for too long.

During my talk, I teach the audience about the ‘rant window of time’. This is something I encourage nursing groups to do when they get together for a meeting, outing, or any group event.

We all know that nurses get together and can start to complain about what is not working. They may talk about what they don’t like about the workplace. OK- no need to ignore it. That will only make it worse. AND- no need to dwell on it.

So, next time you get together with your group of nurses, bring out your mobile device. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes (at the most). Let all of the ‘negative’ come out and then BING! When the timer goes off- commit to ending this part of the conversation. Use the rest of the meeting, social outing, or discussion to flip the negatives into positives.

The Science of Appreciation

This isn’t just Pollyanna thinking of positivity nonsense. There is real science behind this stuff.

David Cooperrider, PhD and colleagues developed a model called Appreciative Inquiry (AI) that uses a strengths-based approach to getting things done. Instead of looking at what’s wrong- AI challenges us to focus on what’s right.

Back to nursing. When you gather with your group (or even, when you become aware of your own internal thoughts and feelings) use AI to flip things around. Once that timer goes off and your ‘rant window’ is up… it’s time to focus on solutions.

Same thing with you, the individual nurse, having a thought or feeling about work.

The reason that we can use the negative thought is because it can help us figure out what we do want in our nursing careers. Remember the focus group- and when asked about the positive work environment?

They didn’t have a clue! What they could have done was taken all of the things that came out when they started talking about the negativity in the workplace and used these items to flip things around.

Even though I teach, write, and speak to the power of positive in nursing- we can use the negative things that we focus on to move us forward. When you find yourself focusing on something negative about work- stop yourself and ask:

What is the exact opposite of this? How can I flip this thought/feeling/statement around?

What else? What comes to mind when you think about the profession of nursing and using the negative to our good? How can we use something we perceive as ‘negative’ to our advantage? Share an example below and thanks for reading!

Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RNAbout the Author: Keynote speaker and virtual conference host, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the bestselling author of ‘Nursing from Within’, Elizabeth guides nurses and nursing students to a change in perspective, helping them make the inner shift needed to better maneuver the sometimes challenging realities of being a caregiver. Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull.


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Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN

“I’m a Nurse, but I’m Not Sure I LOVE Nursing Anymore! Can You Help Me?”


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