Conflict Resolution in Nursing: How Strong Leadership Can Help

Conflict Resolution in Nursing: How Strong Leadership Can Help

There are many skills that nurse leaders need to be successful, but one that might not be spoken of as often is the ability to manage and resolve conflict.

Like it or not, 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. 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 addressing conflict in productive ways.

What Types of Conflict Are Common in Nursing?

There are various types of conflicts and disagreements that can arise in the workplace when you are a nurse manager. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common.

Nurse Bullying

Bullying is an unfortunate reality in many industries, including nursing. Nurse.org shares that bullying “threatens patient safety, nurse safety and sanity, and the reputation of the nursing profession as a whole.” When bullying happens and managers fail to act or look the other way, they help to perpetuate the cycle rather than break it.

Disruptive behaviors not only threaten the morale and emotional well-being of staff, but can undermine patient safety. The Joint Commission now holds accredited hospitals responsible for addressing these behaviors. For nurse managers, this means they must learn to confront disruptive behavior when it occurs and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for bullying.

As a manager or leader, step one when dealing with a bully in the workplace is to share the 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.

Intergenerational Conflict

Challenges can arise with nurse managers who supervise nurses from different generational groups, simply because of differences in working styles and communication approaches. It takes adjustments to one’s typical communication style and preference, and flexibility and patience on the part of the manager to effectively manage different personalities with different backgrounds and mindsets.

Wherever possible, managers should create mentoring opportunities between nurses of different ages and skill levels. This can forge new friendships and bring people together who might be less likely to do so otherwise. Managers can help all nurses, no matter their stage in career, find shared goals with their peers and focus on common ground when working together.

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 nursing practice by creating a hospital environment where nurse-physician collaboration is the expected norm.

Sometimes, however, nurses and physicians (and other healthcare professionals) might not agree about, for example, the correct way to treat a patient. There might be confusion or misunderstandings about a variety of issues, including roles and responsibilities.

A good way to resolve interdisciplinary conflict between nurse managers and other healthcare professionals such as physicians is for managers to communicate effectively—both about their vision of collaboration and the goals that all parties involved share. This effort to communicate openly will build self-confidence among nurses who may feel intimidated by the shift to more collaborative care.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is easier for nurses who have more educational equality with other healthcare professionals – physicians, pharmacists, social workers, physical therapists, etc. That makes the case for further education (more on this below).

How Can Nurse Leaders Reduce Conflict?

Keeping the peace: Conflict management strategies for nurse managers,” an article that appeared in Nursing Management, offers several valuable suggestions for conflict resolution that we summarize below:

  • Engage in dialogue – It sounds simple and it is. Nursing leaders and the nurses who work for them must learn to talk about the conflict that arises in the workplace in order to create a healthy work environment. This is important in the acute care setting because conflicts can arise often in chaotic and stressful environments. Role playing and case scenarios can be effective in facilitating learning and fostering open communication.
  • Engage in coaching. Sometimes what nurses need most is help figuring out how to resolve conflicts themselves. Managers should do their best to help nurses determine how to resolve disputes and disagreements on their own and arrive at different potential solutions.
  • Identify potential conflicts. Conflicts are normal in the workplace, and that means they are also more likely to happen in different types of situations. Managers and leaders should identify areas that are ripe for conflict and find ways to transform these situations into learning opportunities. The Joint Commission recommends organizations establish policies and guidelines to facilitate collaborative practice and encourage interprofessional communication across disciplines as a proactive measure to address conflict issues.
  • Educate and train. Nurses need education on conflict management, both interpersonal and other types. Training should include all types of conflict commonly encountered in the healthcare setting.

The Role of Nursing Education in Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution comes naturally to some, but many nurses need education on how to improve this and other related skills that are essential for managers. Whether you aspire to be a nurse manager or nurse leader (or are deciding which career path is ideal for you), acquiring the skills to manage teams of nurses large and small is essential.

American Sentinel’s online MSN, Nursing Management and Organizational Leadership program is ideal for nurses who want to develop their management and leadership skills and knowledge about human resource challenges facing organizations (including conflict resolution), the dynamic nature of the strategic planning and management processes, long-range planning, budgeting, analysis, reporting and more. Contact our admissions team to learn more about this program or one of our other MSN specializations.

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