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How to best manage conflict

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I recently read an article focusing on how nurses manage conflict in the workplace. An informative and interesting read, yes. At the same token, I was quite surprised by the results that were detailed in the article. The article had a link to a Conflict Resolution Profile that you could complete about yourself which basically indicates how well you deal with conflict. I completed my own Conflict Resolution Profile and was pleasantly surprised with a score of 92/100 in Resolution (measuring the positive ways you deal with conflict).

The evaluation contains interesting questions, some probably more pertinent than others. The most thought-provoking questions asked how you as an individual deal with being wrong and how entering a conflict makes you feel. These and more are all questions that all people in the working force should answer as it makes you evaluate if you handle conflict effectively or if you avoid it to take the easy way out.

As it applies to the nursing world , I believe strongly that we are immersed in a profession that pushes us to constantly deal with conflict just by nature of our work. Looking at demographics alone, typically in a hospital setting the majority of the nursing staff are females (or at least on my floor) and merely the nature of a group of females together can cause conflict in itself. Being that the profession is in the service industry, we are constantly working with people and caring for people, and oftentimes in a most stressful situation.

I believe that conflict and stress go hand in hand, so nurses have to be masters at handling conflict whether it be between fellow nurses after a long shift when everyone is exhausted, between family members and patients when they have different beliefs on what kind of care they want, or acting as the middleman between doctors and families when bad news about a diagnosis is hard to take, etc. A major “non-clinical” portion of nursing school focuses on therapeutic communication and how to effectively deal with others in tough situations.

We are oftentimes the ones that are looked at to resolve conflicts, the calming force, if you will. So after reading the article and seeing some of the breakdown of the results of the CR profile, I was surprised that nurses in general did not score higher. But perhaps it would be interesting to compare the results of the nursing profession to other professions to see how the scores compared.

As far as the tips for how to resolve a conflict, the last set of tips were spot on and can be extremely helpful and important for those finding themselves in an uncomfortable situation.

  • Determine the nature of the conflict with the facts rather than emotions. Leaving emotions out of it is probably the most important detail because emotions cause heightened stress levels. A hospital setting is already a place teeming with emotions, so leaving them out of any conflict will result in more effective diffusing of anger and hard feelings.
  • Initiate the communication quickly. Tackle that conflict as soon as it arises so there is no time for brewing bad thoughts or rumors to spread.
  • Make your point of view clearly and calmly. Be to the point and tactful. Beating around the bush will only add more to argue about and will prolong the process of ending the conflict.
  • Focus on the conflict that needs to be resolved. Leave out the history of so-and-so doctor treating this nurse a certain way five years ago. Focus on the here and now. Confronting the problem and not the person is a good way to avoid making it personal. People get much more defensive when they feel like they are being personally attacked.
  • Listen attentively to others—have an open mind and tolerance. Isn’t nursing all about tolerance, empathy, and having an open mind? I think so…
  • Seek a solution acceptable to all parties by negotiating in good faith. Honesty is the best policy.
  • Assume responsibility for implementing the solution agreed to by all parties. Be flexible, offer a variety of solutions that could benefit everyone, even if you have to give a little.

Conflicts are bound to happen between coworkers, families, and others that find themselves in stressful situations in the hospital. A conflict resolution profile allows you to evaluate what your strengths are in managing conflict and what your weaknesses are in hopes of creating an environment that fizzles conflicts before they build up to more.

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Nicole Lehr

Nicole Lehr is a pediatric nurse. She can be described in three adjectives: content, thankful and fortunate. All credit for the aforementioned description can be given to the love she has for her profession as an RN. She graduated from University of Florida with her Bachelor’s in Nursing and moved to Atlanta to work at the Cardiac Stepdown Unit at Children’s — her dream job.
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2 Responses to How to best manage conflict

  1. Helene

    Excellent article and conflict resolution strategies to live by!

  2. Mike Fastaff

    Nicole – This is a great post on how to resolve nurse conflict. There is actually a great blog that is up on Fastaff’s website that talks specifically about the travel nurse dynamic of conflict resolution – How travel nurses can better co-exist with permanent staff: http://bit.ly/ConRes

    I would love to hear different perspectives from both sides :)

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