Nursing Strategies: Countering Workplace Conflict with Positive Communication Strategies

Part 4 of a 4-part series

Earlier in this series when we discussed the sources of conflict, we focused mainly on the role of competing priorities or limited resources. Yet there’s another component that can play a huge role both in creating conflict and countering it – interpersonal skills. The way in which you interact with others – your communication style – can mean the difference between escalating a conflict and resolving it quickly.

You should strive to recognize your role in shaping the situations you find yourself in and react accordingly, advises Pam Broyles, MSN, RN, a training manager who teaches conflict resolution (Pam is also a DNP student at American Sentinel!) “It is critical to understand how behaviors and emotions impact conflict resolution,” she says. “By learning to recognize the behaviors and emotions that reflect conflict escalation, you will be able to respond accordingly.”

Pam recommends keeping the following tips in mind, in all your daily interactions:

  • Never under-estimate the importance of listening with empathy and the goal to understand. By empathizing, you can help to defuse negative emotions. Strive to understand rather than to make your own viewpoint understood.
  • Body language matters – and this includes not only your posture, but facial expressions and the tone and volume of your voice. Rolling your eyes or standing with arms crossed communicates an unwillingness to consider the other side.
  • Acknowledge and recognize emotions. Keep in mind that you or someone else may need a “time out” period to cool off before trying to resolve the conflict.
  • Avoiding making judgments, becoming defensive, using sarcasm, or countering every statement with an instant rebuttal.
  • Confront the situation, not the person!
  • Find shared goals and focus on common ground wherever possible.

Pam also offers the following real-life situations as examples of how to put these tips to work:

The situation: You are a nurse on a medical unit. You have witnessed Nurse J. failing to maintain sterile techniques, so you approach her to discuss your concerns.  Nurse J. becomes very defensive. How could you respond to defuse her emotions?

The response: “I can understand you being upset that I am bring this to your attention.   I would be upset too. I know that you strive to provide your patients with the best of care.   I wanted to ensure that you are aware that the procedure you were conducting requires sterile technique. You know, I usually need someone to help me with that procedure so they can assist me with the supplies.”

The situation: You are running late to work. You fell behind when your child accidentally spilled a cup of milk, and then you had a flat tire on the way to work. You arrive 15 minutes late and as you walk in another nurse says, “Were have you been? You’re late!”   You snap back, “You better back off.  I would have been on time but life gets in the way!” What could you have done to defuse your emotions before responding?

The response: Pause, take a deep breath, and think about your response first. Then:  “I am sorry.  I shouldn’t have responded that way. My son spilled his milk right before we were to leave and then I had a flat tire on the way.  I understand how my running late has affected our team. Please accept my apology.”

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This is Part Four of a multi-part series on conflict in the health care setting. Part One explored the causes and hidden costs of conflict. Part Two detailed the five styles of managing conflict. And Part Three described a five step process recommended for resolving difficult situations.