Conflict Resolution for Nursing - Part 1

Tools to Help with Conflict Resolution

Conflict is always around--now, it seems to be everywhere all the time. This article will give you some tools to help you cope with and address conflict in healthier ways.

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Tools to Help with Conflict Resolution

“That’s it! I quit!” We all felt ourselves stiffen with tension as the voices traveled from the conference room and wrapped themselves in a layer of anxiety around all of us. The tension in our facility was high. We were all working overtime and lots of co-workers were out sick. Despite our best efforts, it often felt like conflict with management was on a low simmer—ready to boil over at the smallest provocation. 

Anger. Frustration. Fatigue. We all feel it. The pandemic has made conflict a daily event. We have conflict about the pandemic itself; about masks; about vaccines; about quarantines; about…well, everything related to the pandemic, and even things that are not related. People are struggling to cope to care for patients, to keep their jobs, and to take care of kids at home instead of in school or in daycare, and the list goes on.

Tools to Help with Conflict Resolution

When conflict becomes common, what tools can we employ to help us deal with it? Fortunately, there ARE some things we can do that are simple but have the potential to be helpful. Mind you, I didn’t say that this is a 100% guarantee that you won’t have conflict! These are simply some modest tools that could potentially help you cope when you are in the midst of conflict. So here goes…

Don’t triangulate

It is so tempting to talk to Suzy about the trouble with Paul instead of going straight to Paul. We all know this, but sometimes we just forget. Let’s remind ourselves to skip the intermediary persons and go to the person we are having a conflict with. When we go to Paul, let’s practice kindness by thinking about how we say what we need to say. Consider practicing what you are going to say ahead of time, or try writing it down first, so you can clear out some of the emotion before addressing the issue.

No email or text when there is a conflict

This one goes with the one above. It is tempting—and often the easy way out—to send a “hot” text or a zapping email to give someone a piece of their mind. Slow down. Not so fast. Once words go out via any medium they are there for all eternity. Venting via text is never a good idea. Never. Take a deep breath. Drink some ice water. Go for a walk. Count to 100. Whatever you need to do to simmer down. Then try the in-person approach or at the very least, pick up the phone.

Give them the benefit of the doubt

It may seem like you are being kind to THEM when you do this, but in reality, you are removing the potential for bitterness from your own heart. If you find yourself irate, steaming mad, ask yourself some questions about what might be going on with them. Are they in grief? Do they have a baby at home that has been awake every two hours since they took their first breath? Are they suffering from pain? Divorce? Money troubles? Who knows what the other person is going through, right? We cannot know what another person is going through, even if they are our spouse or our mother, much less if they are a co-worker! When we approach conflict with the lens of thinking about what they might be going through—stuff we know nothing at all about—it gives us a fresh dose of compassion to work with and pours some water on the fires of anger and frustration.

Use questions instead of statements or accusations

Maybe ask “Did you know that word is a racial slur? It upsets me when you say that.” It is possible that using a question may help diffuse conflict. So instead of the more reactionary and aggressive, “You should never use that word! You make me so mad,” let’s slow down and think about how we can say it as a question. The second statement contains two red flags: the “should” word and also the “you make me…” phrase which are tempting but probably best avoided. The truth is no one can truly make us feel anything, and “shoulding” rarely produces the results we think it should!

Listen well and listen for understanding

Listening is hard. We often listen with one ear and plan what we are going to say while the person is talking. We miss non-verbal cues, and people can simply tell when we are not listening. Not listening well escalates conflict. However, it is fair to say, “Can we schedule this conversation for another time? How about tomorrow after  lunch?” When we say something specific, the person knows we plan to listen, but this is not a good time. In general, we don’t have to stop everything and address a conflict “right this minute,” but we do have to be willing to acknowledge that the conflict is there and needs to be addressed. Sometimes, we cannot provide resolution. Well, OK, often—if we are honest. But we can be a listening ear, a calming presence, and a person who can help ask questions to get to what is behind the conflict.

We tend to want to do away with conflict. Conflict can be upsetting. However, when handled well, conflict can produce good fruit and positive changes that benefit us all. Learning how to resolve conflict is a great nursing skill to work on!

Who are some of your role models for good conflict resolution skills?

Can you think of a time when conflict produced a good change?

Joy is a Faith Community Nurse. She has worked in a large number of nursing settings over the years.

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iNurs5, CNA

471 Posts

Specializes in Customer service. Has 2 years experience.

Many people boil dramas by instigating  others. If they didn't like conflict, they'd avoid being sneaky. Look up crazy makers. 

John2018

102 Posts

Specializes in Occupational Health Nursing. Has 5 years experience.

Nice pointers, all of these could avoid dramas and having issues blow out of proportion.