Conflict in the Workplace: Strong Nursing Leadership Can Reduce Conflict

Conflict in the Workplace: Strong Nursing Leadership Can Reduce Conflict

This is part four of a four-part series on conflict in the workplace. Part one dealt with bullying, part two covered intergenerational conflicts among nurses, and part three focused on interdisciplinary conflict.

One of the recurring themes in the American Sentinel healthcare blog is that nurses can and should build leadership skills at every stage of their careers. Here’s something to consider: leadership and resolving conflict go hand-in-hand. According to various surveys and estimates, nursing managers spend between 25 and 40 percent of their time dealing with conflict. Doesn’t it make sense that your organization would actively seek out and promote those individuals that demonstrate the ability to address conflict in productive ways? Whether you’re a nurse manager or an advancement-minded staff nurse, one of the best career strategies you can employ is to become adept at managing and resolving conflict.

This series has looked at three types of workplace conflict: horizontal violence (bullying), intergenerational conflict, and interdisciplinary conflict. Nurse managers need to develop effective strategies for dealing with all three.


When bullying is taking place and managers fail to act or look the other way, they help to perpetuate the cycle rather than breaking it. Disruptive behaviors not only threaten the morale and emotional well-being of staff, but can undermine patient safety as well. For this reason, the Joint Commission now holds accredited hospitals responsible for addressing these behaviors. For nurse managers, this means confronting disruptive behavior when it occurs and enforcing a zero tolerance policy for bullying. It’s often best to start with a code of conduct that clearly defines unacceptable behaviors and states which actions will be taken when the code is violated. A code of conduct has to be enforced uniformly in all units to be effective, and staff must be aware of its existence.

M.S. Nursing, Management and Organizational LeadershipIntergenerational conflict

Nurse managers who supervise nurses from different generational groups often face distinct challenges. They need an awareness of the different working styles and approaches to communication that different staff members employ, and may have to adjust a management style accordingly. The millennial generation is often singled out in negative stereotypes (e.g., they need constant praise, can’t accept criticism, etc.), but this generation has strengths as well. You may find millennials are extremely tech-savvy, collaborative, or innovative. Wherever possible, it’s best to make allowances for different communication preferences (texting vs. email, for example), and to create solid mentoring opportunities between nurses of different ages and skill levels. Remember that every generation of nurses is looking for a rewarding career, with opportunities for professional development and the chance to help others. You can find shared goals and focus on common ground wherever possible.

Interdisciplinary conflict

Today’s emphasis on multi-disciplinary care teams means staff nurses often must work more closely with other healthcare professionals. Nurse managers are in a pivotal position to elevate nu

rsing practice by creating a hospital environment where nurse-physician collaboration is the expected norm. They must communicate this vision of collaboration both to staff nurses and physicians, and build self-confidence among nurses who may feel intimidated by the shift to more collaborative care. This can involve providing coaching and mentoring as needed, with regard to communication and conflict resolution skills.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is more likely to occur when staff nurses and nurse leaders have more educational equality with other healthcare professionals – physicians, pharmacists, social workers, physical therapists, etc. – that are educated at the graduate and post-graduate level. 

Effective leaders know this, and tend to be lifelong learners, furthering their education in any way possible – from pursuing a masters or doctorate level degree, to taking workshops, or gaining certificates in areas of interest. What’s more, they encourage higher education among their staff nurses, so they are prepared to work collaboratively.

American Sentinel University’s online MSN, Management and Organizational Leadership degree is designed for experienced nurse professionals who seek to develop both management and leadership skills.
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