Breaking the Silence-Exploring Perceptions of Power as Freedom in the World of Nursologists

by Julianne Mazzawi, Jacqueline Fawcett and Rosanna DeMarco

In 2015, the American Nurses Association released a purpose and position statement indicating that it is an individual and shared responsibility among all nursologists and employers to promote and sustain a culture of respect that is free of incivility, bullying, and workplace violence. Such a culture reflects the ethical, moral, and legal responsibility of everyone to create a healthy and safe work environment for all members of the healthcare team, participants in healthcare (sometimes called patients), families, and communities. So why is it that nursologists and their support staff continue to show manifestations of “silencing-the-self” when instances of incivility, bullying, and even violence occur? (DeMarco, Fawcett, & Mazzawi., 2017, p. 4)?

Too often, nursologists experience sleep problems, anxiety, distress, oppression, burnout, absence from or leaving work, organizational frustration, and job dissatisfaction, and commit more errors due primarily to incivility, bullying, and violence in the workplace (Lim & Berstein, 2014; The Joint Commission, 2008; Vagharseyyedin, 2015) Obviously, it is imperative to resolve these negative outcomes for all current and future nursologists.

We conceptualized civility and incivility within the context of Neuman’s Systems Model. (See model below). Accordingly, the client system was represented by the nursologists who are the perpetrators or recipients of covert incivility (CI), defined as the “appearance of civility with negative intent” (DeMarco et al., 2018, p. 254). Stressors were represented by CI, and the reaction to stressors was represented by such manifestations as sleep problems, anxiety, oppression, burnout, and organizational frustration. The reactions were regarded as the impact of CI on nursologists who are faculty, students, and staff nurses, as well as witnesses to CI. The workplace (academic or clinical) and society also may experience reactions to CI. We identified several prevention as interventions for CI, with an emphasis on secondary and tertiary interventions; we explained that these interventions “need to be directed to existing levels of CI of all kinds that include measuring the level of ‘silencing-the-self'” (DeMarco et al., 2018, p. 256).

2018 © Jacqueline Fawcett

Of course, primary prevention as intervention also must be considered; we recommended educating all students and graduate nursologists about both overt incivility and signs of CI and creating contracts for nursologists focused on “creating a formal promise to not engage in overt of covert incivility and addressing the behavior direction at the individual, group, and systems levels” (DeMarco et al. 2018, p 257).

In this blog, we offer the specific recommendation that focus on resolution of CI through application of nursological theories of power. Resolution of CI, we are convinced, will occur when nursologists’ perceptions of power change from perceptions of others having power over them to perceptions of power as freedom to choose and peace as power.

The idea for this blog was Mazzawi’s and Fawcett’s attendance at the 2018 Society of Rogerian Scholars (https://nursology.net/2018/10/09/celebrating-30-years-the-society-of-rogerian-scholars/), at which the four nursological theories of power discussed here were presented. We began to imagine a world where nursologists perceive power as freedom to choose and peace as power rather than perceiving power as others having power over them to control them and that in this world, civility would reign, bullying and workplace violence would not happen, and only positive outcomes would occur!

Four nursological theories of power provide explanations of having power that leads to civil discourse and the conversion of negative outcomes to positive outcomes.

  • Barrett’s (2010). theory of power as knowing participation in change provides a contrast between power as freedom and power as control and encompasses awareness, choices, freedom to act intentionally, and involvement in creating change. Participating knowingly in the ongoing mutual process with ourselves, with other people, and with our immediate world creates the opportunity for not only fulfillment in one’s life but also the opportunity to create positive change. (See https://nursology.net/nurse-theorists-and-their-work/theory-of-power-as-knowing-participation-in-change/).
  • Chinn’s (2013; Chinn & Falk-Rafael, 2015) theory of peace and power provides a contrast between peace-power and power-over. The theory empathizes how “individuals and groups . . . shape their actions and interactions to promote cooperation, inclusion of all points of view in making decisions and in addressing conflicts. [Accordingly], … individuals and groups can make thoughtful choices about the ways they work together to promote healthy, growthful interactions and avoid harmful, damaging interactions.” (Retrieved from https://nursology.net/nurse-theorists-and-their-work/peace-power/)
  • Polifroni’s (2010) theory of clinical power provides a contrast between having power as the result of knowledge and hierarchical power or taking power from another person. The theory emphasizes “the belief that power is knowledge and all nurses possess that power. In this context power is a right and it is truth/knowledge. Intentionality, authenticity, ways of knowing, PEACE . . . and CARE . . . surround the awareness and relationship of the nurse who is exercising clinical power” (Retrieved from https://nursology.net/nurse-theorists-and-their-work/clinical-power/).
  • Sieloff’s (1995, 2018) theory of work team/group empowerment in organizations provides an understanding of how nursologists have power in clinical and educational organizations. The theory encompasses competency in communication and in explicating goals and outcomes, as well as the work team/group’s leader’s competency; control of environmental forces; utilization of resources; empowerment perspective; empowerment potential and actual capacity to achieve outcomes; role, that is, the “degree to which the work of an [organization] is accomplished through the efforts of [a work team/group]” (Sieloff, 1995, p. 58); and position, that is, “the centrality of [the] nursing [work team/group] within the communication network of an [organization]” (Sieloff, 1995, p. 57).

Application of the power theories as ways to enhance understanding and resolution of CI provides a nursology discipline-specific approach to practice. Readers are invited to share their experiences with application of the power theories as comments for this blog.

References

American Nurses’ Association. (2015). Incivility, bullying, and workplace violence. Retrieved from http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/WorkplaceSafetyHealthy-
Nurse/bullyingworkplaceviolence/Incivility-Bullying-and-Workplace-Violence.html.

Barrett, E. (2010). Power as knowing participation in change: What’s new and what’s next. Nursing Science Quarterly, 23, 47-54.

Chinn, P. L. (2013). Peace & power: New directions for building community (8th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning.

Chinn, P. L., & Falk-Rafael, A. R. (2015). Peace and power: A theory of emancipatory group process. Journal of Nursing Scholarship. 47, 62–69.

DeMarco, R., F., Fawcett, J., & Mazzawi, J. (2017). Covert incivility: Challenges as a challenge in the nursing academic workplace. Journal of Professional Nursing, 1-6.
doi:10.1016/j.profnurs.2017.10.001

Lim, F. A., & Berstein, I. (2014). Civility and workplace bullying: Resonance of
persona and current best practices. Nursing Forum, 49, 124-129.

Polifroni, E. C. (2010). Power right and truth: Foucault’s triangle as a model for clinical power. Nursing Science Quarterly, 238-412

Sieloff, C. L. (1995). Development of a theory of departmental power. In M. A. Frey & C. L. Sieloff (Eds.), Advancing King’s systems framework and theory of nursing (pp. 46-65). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sieloff, C. L. (2018, October 6). Thoughts about nursing and power: Theory of work team/group empowerment. Paper presented as part of a symposium on nursological theories of power at the Society of Rogerian Scholars 30th Anniversary Conference, New York University Rory Myers College of Nursing, New York, NY.

The Joint Commission (2008). Behaviors that undermine a culture of safety. Retrieved from https://www.jointcommission.org/assets/1/18/SEA_40.PDF.

Vagharseyyedin, S.A. (2015). Workplace incivility: A concept analysis. Contemporary Nurse, 50, 115-125.

About the authors

Julianne Mazzawi

Julianne Mazzawi, RN; MS
PhD candidate, Department of Nursing
University of Massachusetts Boston

Jacqueline Fawcett, RN; PhD; ScD (hon); FAAN; ANEF
Professor, Department of Nursing
University of Massachusetts Boston

Rosanna F. DeMarco, RN; PhD;  PHNA-BC; FAAN
Professor and Chair, Department of Nursing
University of Massachusetts Boston

Jacqueline Fawcett

Rosanna DeMarco