Conflict Resolution in Nursing: Types and Strategies

Updated November 28, 2022

Conflict can occur in many workplaces, especially in a fast-paced healthcare organization. As a healthcare professional, you spend a large part of your day working and communicating with others in challenging situations that can sometimes cause tension. Learning more about strong conflict-resolution skills can help you solve issues as they arise and be more effective in your role. In this article, we explain what conflict resolution in nursing is, discuss why it's important, and tell you how you can resolve conflicts as a nurse.

What is conflict resolution in nursing?

Conflict resolution in nursing is when nurses resolve issues they may have with each other. They use their conflict resolution skills to resolve the issue quickly, minimizing the impact the problem has on the work environment and the care patients are receiving. Here are the three types of conflict nurses may be responsible for resolving:

Task-based conflict

Task-based conflict occurs when two healthcare professionals disagree on a technical procedure. For example, a new nurse inserts an IV using a different technique than the one the hospital uses. Task-based conflicts can be the easiest to address because there may be one correct answer. Though nurses may learn various techniques during their training, your organization and nurse manager likely have set practices they expect each nurse to follow.

You can consult with your nurse manager to see which techniques they prefer, then you or your coworker can adjust your practice as needed. If there are multiple acceptable techniques, you and your coworker can discuss the varying outcomes of both. Sometimes, by collaborating and combining strategies, you may be able to further help patients.

Related: How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace (With Strategies)

Value-based conflict

Value-based conflict occurs when two nurses have different personal values. For example, you overhear another nurse talking about their personal beliefs, which contradict your own. Although different beliefs and values can create tension, the goal of conflict resolution is to reach a mutual, positive change. When communicating with a colleague who has values you disagree with, try to be empathetic, keeping your common interests in mind. You can focus on the aspects you have in common, such as your patients and care practices, to keep the conversations productive.

Related: A Guide to Conflict Resolution Training (Benefits and Types)

Interpersonal-based conflict

Interpersonal-based conflict occurs when two people's personalities or communication styles strongly differ. Good interpersonal skills, such as patience, flexibility, and teamwork, may help resolve some of these conflicts. Interpersonal conflicts can sometimes involve bullying. In these cases, it's usually helpful for a mediator, such as a nurse manager or human resources representative, to help resolve the conflict.

Related: 8 Steps for Conflict Resolution at Work

Why is conflict resolution in nursing important?

Conflict resolution in nursing is necessary to create a productive and safe workplace by:

Keeping patients safe

Nursing requires teamwork for effective patient treatment. Nurses communicate daily with doctors, patients, and other healthcare professionals. Interpersonal conflict can occur at any level and challenge collaboration among teams. With strong resolution skills, a healthcare team can communicate and work together better. Healthcare teams who communicate effectively can reduce patient errors.

Related: What Conflict Resolution Skills are Important for Workplace Success?

Increasing efficiency

Many healthcare employees, including nurses and nurse managers, spend part of their workdays resolving interpersonal conflicts. Strong conflict-resolution strategies can help redirect time and energy back to patients and their families. When teams collaborate better, healthcare organizations often see increased productivity.

Related: 10 Time Management Techniques to Increase Efficiency

Improving morale

Conflict-resolution skills can reduce stress and improve the workplace culture for employees and patients. With proper conflict management, many nurses may feel happier and more excited to work with their teammates. This can help them create a more collaborative work environment to offer better patient care.

Related: What Is Team Morale? (Definition and Tips on Boosting It)

How to resolve conflicts in nursing

You can resolve many conflicts in nursing by following these steps:

1. Assess the situation

Start by assessing the conflict before talking to the other party. This helps you determine what the problem is and how it's affecting the work environment so you can develop a thorough plan to resolve it. Determine what you hope to achieve by resolving the issue. For example, if you and a nurse disagree about the type of care a patient needs, your goal may be to find the best way to treat the patient according to the healthcare facility's standards and policies.

Related: 5 Conflict Management Styles (And How to Use Them)

2. Understand the conflict

Think about the conflict more thoroughly in this step by assessing your major concerns, so you can determine the best way to address them. Try thinking about the conflict from the other person's perspective to help you determine what goals you have in common, such as improved collaboration or efficient patient care. This can help you relate to them more so you can find a resolution that suits you both.

3. Address the conflict promptly

Once you understand the problem and have an idea of what you hope to achieve, address the conflict with the other party. Discussing the conflict as soon as possible ensures it's still relevant, so you can easily discuss the details. Addressing the conflict quickly also ensures there's little time for tension to build between you and your colleague, improving your chance of resolving the conflict easily.

4. Talk to the other party

Schedule a time to meet with your colleague one-on-one to discuss the conflict. Try picking a neutral, quiet place away from other coworkers and patients so you can discuss the conflict openly, such as a conference room. As you're both busy, finding a time that works for everyone may be challenging, so you can consider talking after your shift.

5. State your concerns clearly and calmly

All nurses have the same goal, which is to offer the best care possible to their patients. When you're both ready to talk, ensure you approach the conversation with your shared goal in mind to ensure it's as productive as possible. State your concerns clearly and calmly and allow your colleague to do the same. When you're talking, ensure your body language is open to contribute positively to the conversation. You can do this by making eye contact, nodding when appropriate, and keeping your arms uncrossed.

6. Focus on the issue rather than the person involved

When discussing your concerns, ensure you're focusing on the issue rather than on the person involved. For example, instead of saying, "You never complete the patient chart," you can say, "I noticed the patient chart was blank at the start of my shift yesterday." This allows you to focus on the actions and issue so you can keep the conversation focused on resolution rather than blame, so your colleague won't feel defensive.

7. Listen with an open mind

When your colleague is speaking, ensure you give them your full attention by actively listening to what they're saying. This can help you understand their perspective better so you can both develop a solution that works for everyone. You can ask questions when appropriate to show your colleague you're actively listening and to gather more information.

8. Collaborate through dialogue

Once you both state your initial thoughts and concerns, shift the conversation to discussing your desired outcomes. If you have the same goal, you can easily brainstorm steps to achieve that goal together. If your goals differ slightly, you can both compromise to reach a solution that ensures your patients receive the necessary care.

9. Follow up with others if needed

If you and your colleague aren't able to reach a compromise, you can ask someone with an outside perspective for help. Find someone who's neutral in the situation so they can provide an unbiased opinion. This may be a manager or human resources specialist, as they can help you develop a fair solution.

10. Prevent future conflicts

Once you develop a solution, work with your colleague to minimize the chance of a similar conflict happening in the future. Try improving or developing interpersonal or communication skills to strengthen your professional relationships and minimize conflicts. You can also develop attributes like patience and empathy to understand your colleagues better.

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