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How to manage conflict in nursing

Updated July 20, 2017

Conflict arises in any workplace, and health care is no exception. Nurses encounter many different kinds of internal and external conflict daily. Sometimes the nurse's personal beliefs, values and goals are in conflict with established health care guidelines, leading to internal struggle. External struggle can arise when one party perceives another blocks his or her interests. Areas of conflict appear as defiant behaviour in patients, end-of-life ethical issues, co-worker competition, lack of managerial support and increasing standards of performance. Conflict is inevitable, but the key is effective conflict management.

Manage emotions quickly. Conflicts often arise because people ignore emotions, which greatly influence how they deal with conflict and how disputes are defined. Thus, emotions become both the cause and escalator of conflict. Positive emotions are the key component found in a resolution. The key to successfully handling strong emotion is recognising it and understanding its genesis. It is advisable to deal with these emotions before addressing a dispute.

Brainstorm and allow people in conflict to find a middle ground. This allows for production of creative solutions. Briefly discuss possible courses of action. If these are not clear, consider alternative courses. For each chosen course, evaluate every pro and con. Ask three important questions to gain greater perspective: How important is fighting this conflict? Is tiredness, anger or hunger worsening the situation? What role does each participant play?

Speak directly to an adversary in a quiet place. Focus upon what needs to be communicated, and say it in a way the person understands. Do not make accusatory-sounding "you" statements focusing upon your adversary's motives; instead, describe your feelings and perceptions. Speak not to defend yourself, but with the purpose of resolution. Before making a statement, pause and reflect upon what really needs to be said. Actively listen and understand the other's point of view. Ask for a repeat of anything unclear. Attempt to rephrase those views back to your adversary. This exhibits listening and caring skills, but not agreement.

Act decisively. Identify specific issues. Keep in mind that both parties are responsible for solving the problem. Come to a decision jointly, then swiftly act. Do not leave any issues in limbo. Taking too long to act could damage the credibility of the decision. Delay may show weakness, an uncaring attitude, or both. Be aware that not everyone may be happy with the decision.

Set a date when you will reopen the issue, if improvements do not occur. Obtaining the mediation of a neutral third party is an option. Mediation is a non-binding negotiation. A facilitator helps all parties to move beyond stagnation to resolution.

Things You'll Need

  • Quiet meeting room
  • A list of possible courses of action
  • Mediator, if necessary
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About the Author

Patricia Voldberg has been writing health-related articles for eHow since 2009. She retains a current L.P.N. and counselor license, along with 20 years of experience in long-term-care nursing. Voldberg holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Regents University, with an English minor.