How well do nurses manage conflict?

Darrin Klimek | Digital Vision | Thinkstock

Nurses are no strangers to conflict! They confront it every day—with patients and their families, with colleagues and other staff, and with their managers and administrators. More recently, nurses are in fierce battles with their state and national governments, which are trying to reduce their numbers, wages and benefits to control escalating healthcare costs.

With all this conflict, perhaps it is not surprising that the Conflict Resolution Profile is the most popular personality diagnostic test on We thought it would be interesting to analyze the data that we have collected so far to see how well nurses are coping with the conflict in their lives.

But first, a short review. A conflict is an unpleasant situation that arises when two or more people have different opinions on a given subject or issue. Conflict creates an imbalance and discomfort in personal relationships. This is the reason why most of the time people try to resolve the situation, or at least try to avoid or escape from it.

The Conflict Resolution Profile measures two scores: Resolution Score (measures positive approaches such as negotiation to resolving conflicts) and Conflict Score (measures the negative ways you tend to handle conflict). The Resolution Score should be higher than the Conflict Score. The maximum score on each is 100%. A “perfect” person in terms of conflict management would have a Resolution Score of “100” and a Conflict Score of “0.”

Our analysis shows that nurses appear to be coping fairly well in resolving the conflict in their lives. Of the nurses who self-identified in the Conflict Resolution Profile (N=182), the average Resolution Score was 79 and the average Conflict Score was 44. Figure 1 shows the distribution of both scores. Nearly half the nurses fell into the 81 to 100 category for Resolution and another 42% fell into the 61 to 80 category. On the Conflict scores, only about 15% were in these two higher categories.

We were curious to see whether there were any differences in the Resolution and Conflict scores based on demographic variables. Female nurses had higher Resolution scores than male nurses (average of 79 for females vs. 74 for males). There were no gender differences in the Conflict scores.

We also found differences in Resolution scores based on how long an individual had been working as a nurse. The average Resolution Score for those with 10 years or less of experience was 77, while it was 84 for those who have worked for more than 10 years. It may be that experience teaches you how to better resolve conflicts. There were no differences among nurses working in a hospital setting compared to other work locations such as clinics, offices and nursing homes.

Looking through the individual Conflict Resolution Profile questions, we found some interesting results.

  • Nearly 75% of the nurses said they “never or rarely” can find the most efficient solution to settle a conflict.
  • Almost half the nurses said they “never or rarely” tackle potential conflicts quickly and try to resolve them before things get worse. Nurses with 5 or less years of experience were most willing to quickly tackle potential conflicts.
  • More than half the nurse respondents said they “never or rarely” are able to apply the agreed solution to settle a conflict. More males said they “never” are able to apply the agreed solution than females. Those with 26 to 30 years of nursing experiences were most able to apply the agreed-upon solution.
  • Some 38% of the nurses said they “never or rarely” look for another solution if the one found seems ineffective. However, nurses who have worked for 11 to 15 years are most likely to look for another solution.
  • Some 58% of the nurses said they “never or rarely” are able to negotiate the most appropriate solution. The best negotiators appear to have 21 to 30 years of nursing experience.
  • About a third of the nurses said that they “sometimes” elaborate on all kinds of strategies to prove their point. Males were more likely to do so than females.
  • Some 35% of the nurses said they “never or rarely” are willing to admit they are wrong. Those with 5 or less years of work experience were least likely to admit they are wrong.
  • About 30% of the nurses said they “never or rarely” carefully listen to the other points of view in a conflict situation. Female nurses and nurses with 26 to 30 years of work experience were the best listeners.

These findings suggest that nurses still have some work to do to develop their skills and competencies to effectively manage conflict in their workplaces.

Here are some tips for nurses in their daily actions that will reduce the risk of conflict beginning and escalating:

  • Recognize and admit your mistakes.
  • Apologize when you are wrong.
  • Clarify situations with simple and honest suggestions.
  • Listen to the point of view of others.
  • Use humor, including laughing at yourself.
  • Share your opinions in a factual manner.
  • Do not get emotionally involved in every disagreement or conflict.

Once a conflict results, here are some additional tips for resolving the disagreement efficiently:

  • Determine the nature of the conflict with the facts rather than emotions.
  • Initiate the communication quickly.
  • Make your point of view clearly and calmly.
  • Focus on the conflict that needs to be resolved.
  • Confront the problem, not the people.
  • Listen attentively to others—have an open mind and tolerance.
  • Seek a solution acceptable to all parties by negotiating in good faith.
  • Assume responsibility for implementing the solution agreed to by all parties.

How well do YOU resolve conflict?

Take the Conflict Resolution Profile and compare your results to the ones published here.

Then, create a plan to work on the skills and attitudes you need to effectively resolve conflict. You’ll be glad you did as your nursing work will become a little less stressful and more enjoyable!

This article was written by Russ Sawchuk, Editor and Webmaster of

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