Clinical Corner: Handling Conflict in the Workplace

Clinical Corner

Two knight on a chessboard. Confrontation.
Face Off: Learn to keep your cool and handle conflict in the workplace!
By Kora Behrens, Clinical Nurse Manager, Medical Solutions

Shellie clocks in for her shift. She gathers her things and heads out to the nurse’s station to find the nurse that she needs to get report from. Shellie gets report from the nurse and is then approached by the charge nurse about an admit that will be coming to the unit shortly. The charge nurse orders Shellie to take the new admit even though she already has a full patient load. The other nurses don’t have nearly as many patients to care for and Shellie feels like the patient assignment is unfair. She asks the charge nurse why she is getting this admit when everyone else clearly has a lighter patient load. The charge nurse proceeds to engage in an argument with Shellie and, rather than argue, she just accepts the assignment and carries on. Shellie can’t help but feel uneasy throughout the entire morning with the tension that is present between her and the charge nurse.

Has this ever happened to you? My guess is that you’re shaking your head yes! Scenarios that play out like this are very common in the workplace. Healthcare staff come in all shapes and sizes, and they each bring different attitudes, personalities, perspectives, beliefs, etc. to the workplace — which makes it difficult to avoid disagreements and struggles throughout the workday. Understanding why conflict occurs and how to resolve it will help you to maintain quality in the care that’s provided within your unit and facility. Furthermore, this will help to improve the morale of the staff and the overall work environment.

Here are some important steps you can take to handle conflict effectively in the work environment:MAKE UP

Talk with the person who is directly involved in the conflict.

The first step in eliminating any tension and conflict is to engage in open and honest communication. Arrange a time and place that is convenient and appropriate, preferably a quiet area that’s away from distractions, patients, and other staff. The conversation that you engage in doesn’t need to last long; it is purely an opportunity for each party to present their perspective and thoughts on the situation.

Focus on the specific behavior or event that was most bothersome and be clear about the details.

Present the problem to the other party to make sure they are aware of the focus of conversation. Be specific about what actions or words bothered you and why they bothered you. Allow the other party to present their point of view and actively listen to what their feelings and thoughts are.

Identify what you agree on and the issues that may be conflicting.

After each party has had a chance to present their perspective it is important to summarize the points of agreement and disagreement. Assess the situation to determine if the other person understands your point of view and then try to understand where they are coming from. Empathy is a huge factor within this step of dissolving conflict. If each party can see the perspective of the other, then common ground is easier to obtain.

Develop an action plan to work on reducing and avoiding any future conflicts.

The focus here should be obtaining harmony and minimizing any discord in the future. Striving for a better understanding of everyone in the unit will help to determine the course of action with any future conflicts. For Travelers specifically, this may be difficult because they do not have a lot of time to establish who they are to their peers and they have limited time to understand everyone around them. This is a challenge that can sometimes be difficult to achieve. To seek successful communication, Travelers should be open, honest, approachable, friendly, sociable, communicative, and warm to the others around them. In addition to these qualities, one should set the standard up front that they are open to discussing conflicts and clearing up any misunderstandings.

Follow through, model effective conflict management, and strive to build on successes.

Effective conflict management depends on continually striving to address conflicts quickly and appropriately. It becomes increasingly important for all nurses to engage in the correct conflict resolution techniques so that others can learn and model these behaviors. Establishing that standard right away will help to minimize future conflicts, thus future successes will be easier to achieve and celebrate.

Often in healthcare, there are many things that are out of our control. As nurses, we all care about our patients and their outcomes. If we let conflict progress it will affect our patients and the overall quality of care will suffer. As a result, the nursing field should maintain focus on controlling the issue of conflict when, most often, it is unnecessary and can be easily resolved.

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