When it comes to the high-stress environment of hospitals, tension can arise, leading to workplace conflict. To arrive at a peaceful solution, involved individuals and hospital staff must carefully navigate the situation using conflict resolution and mediate a solution that works for all parties.
However, conflict is not inherently negative. Conflict resolution in nursing provides an opportunity to learn, communicate effectively, and receive helpful feedback.
As a nurse, you’re bound to encounter conflict as you navigate the hospital floor—whether it’s with your fellow caretakers or a patient. Understanding why it happens and how to resolve it can help you keep the peace so you can continue to provide the best care possible.
Types of Conflict in Nursing
The first step in managing conflict is recognizing it when it rears its head. There are three significant types of conflict nurses will encounter during their rounds. Understanding what they are and how to respond will help enhance your conflict resolution skills as a healthcare professional.
1. Interpersonal Conflict
An interpersonal conflict occurs when two people can’t see eye to eye. In a hospital environment, this could involve a fellow nurse, nursing student, a patient, or another colleague.
Conflicts between nursing staff members tend to happen for four reasons:
- A shortage of information
- An environmental stressor
- A difference in morals or opinions
- A lack of training in the relevant area
If you address these issues ahead of time by being transparent and practicing effective communication, you can avoid many conflicts before they even start.
2. Organizational Conflict
When an entire department clashes with management or another group, you have organizational conflict. Disagreements over hours, resource usage, or work styles may trigger these types of disputes.
If left unresolved, organizational conflicts can paralyze a workplace. When two or more involved parties start to lock horns, it may be time to find an unbiased third party to mediate and provide effective conflict resolution.
3. Intrapersonal Conflict
An intrapersonal conflict is internal—it’s a disagreement with yourself. These inner struggles may come from ethical concerns, a work-life imbalance, or uncertainty about your role. Managing stress as a nurse, for example, can take an emotional toll on someone.
Intrapersonal dilemmas can be the most challenging to solve, as it’s hard to negotiate with someone who knows you inside and out—yourself! It’s usually worth seeking out a second opinion from a therapist or counselor. The nursing profession can be demanding at times and it’s important to check in on your mental and emotional needs.
What are the 5 Conflict Resolution Strategies in Nursing Care?
Based on Thomas and Kilmann’s work in the 1970s, we can identify five styles of conflict resolution that apply to healthcare.1 Understanding how you and others use these strategies to deal with conflict can help you manage disputes. The five conflict resolution styles are:
- Accommodating – The accommodating style involves one party giving in to the other side’s request. This strategy is common in cases where resolving the conflict quickly is more important than being right. However, folding at the first sign of conflict can be seen as a sign of weakness, and your needs may be overlooked.
- Avoiding – Avoidance means withdrawing from the conflict entirely. Sometimes ignoring confrontation to cool down is wise, but you can’t solve a problem if you never address it.
- Collaborating – The collaboration style seeks a “win-win scenario.” Everyone’s needs are considered, and the conflict is resolved with finality. Collaboration is ideal, but it can be time-consuming. In a fast-paced industry like nursing, collaborating may not always be possible.
- Compromising – Finding a compromise is meeting in the middle—no one is upset, nor are they fully satisfied. Compromising can be a quick way to settle a stalemate, but because neither party leaves happy, tension from the conflict can remain.
- Forcing – Also called “competitive” or “competing,” this is the most assertive style of resolving conflicts. Forcing typically comes from those in management positions during high-stakes conflicts. While this style can help us make snap decisions, the lack of compromise or discussion may lead to more conflict later on.
As you can see, no conflict resolution style is perfect 100% of the time. The best nurse will know when to employ each strategy and how to recognize others’ preferred styles to react accordingly.
Why is Conflict Resolution Important in Nursing?
Miscommunications in a medical setting can lead to dangerous errors and dips in efficiency, which can affect patient safety. But there’s another, deeper reason to work through occupational conflicts.
As mentioned, conflict is health—it reveals pain points in workplace relationships. But unresolved conflict only leads to stress and strain later on. To benefit from workplace disputes—and conflict in general—you have to come to a resolution.
If you’ve ever taken a psychology course, you may remember the concept of “rupture and repair” in relationships. If not, here’s a quick summary: when a rupture occurs between two people, ignoring the issue only perpetuates a negative cycle. We need to address the problem to repair the relationship.
In short, when a conflict stays unresolved, nobody wins. Learning to navigate disagreements in an industry built on trust is essential—whether that conflict occurs with a patient or a coworker.
Practicing Conflict Resolution Strategies as a Travel Nurse
Honing proper conflict management skills can empower your professional development as a nurse and cultivate a high-functioning workplace that prioritizes patient needs. If you’re looking to develop your conflict management strategies and diversify your environment, consider becoming a travel nurse.
At Host Healthcare, we work to place you in facilities around the country, where you’ll continue to improve your skills in patient care and conflict resolution as a nurse. Learn about the different types of travel nurses and apply today!
- NCBI. Conflict resolution in healthcare management. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15259690/