How Do You Referee as a Nursing Supervisor?

How Have You Dealt With Employee Conflicts?

There are some things that just don’t have an easy, or any, solution. But as the nursing supervisor, your staff seems to think you should always have one. When you became a nurse supervisor, you may not have realized that you might also have to referee when coworkers personalities just don’t mesh. It may sound like an impossible fix, and often it is.


How Have You Dealt With Employee Conflicts?

Where there are people, there’s conflict. Unfortunately, as much as we try, we can’t always leave our differences at the door before starting work. Varying opinions, miscommunication, misunderstandings, values, and priorities can lead to tension and stress. Employee conflicts can create an uncomfortable work environment. As a nursing supervisor, you can’t ignore a volatile situation between employees once you’re aware of it. Often it’s not the conflict that’s the problem, but how we deal with it.

That’s Not In The Job Description

When you started as a nursing supervisor, you may not have considered the challenges of dealing with the conflicting personalities of the employees you supervise. Most employees are hired based upon their knowledge and skill, which doesn’t mean they’ll get along with everyone they work with. It can become an even more unpleasant part of your job if you try to ignore the issue. You might end up spending a lot of your time, thought, and emotional energy dealing with the consequences of the conflict.

It’s best to intervene early to help ease the tension. If you ignore the problem, it may nurture feelings of ineffectiveness and frustration with your position. This may evolve into unresolved resentment for the employees that have made the work environment uncomfortable.

Step Into the Ring

You may be the supervisor, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t formed friendships with some employees and developed your own assumptions of others. This can make it more difficult when dealing with a situation. You’ll have to leave your biases and preconceived opinions behind to approach the situation objectively.

It may be your instinct to try to fix the conflict, but you should try to determine the source of the discord before acting. Just as if it were a patient presenting with a conflicting diagnosis, it’s best to seek the true cause of the symptoms before starting to treat them.

Put Away the Gloves

You might only know part, or one side, of the story. Take the time to listen and try to understand the situation before acting. Sometimes when employees feel as if they’re heard it might be enough to start mending fences. Ask questions to prompt them to think about the situation from a different perspective. If possible, encourage the employees to work it out themselves.

Discord could stem from a variety of reasons such as conflicting personalities, gossip, unequal pay, jealousy, feeling as if a coworker isn’t pulling their weight, perceptions, internal or external stressors, believing there’s favoritism—or they just don’t get along. A few ways to work to resolve the discord include to:

  • Allow each employee to privately verbalize their concerns
  • Seek to identify and how to best address the problem
  • Rule out bullying and incivility
  • Give clear, behavioral feedback regarding what could be done differently, with specific information on how to improve
  • Be consistent with standards and set consequences, so employees know what to expect
  • Follow-through to ensure that the problem is resolving
  • Document the situation, steps taken, and resolution for reference
  • Apologize if you’ve played a role in creating the discord
  • Seek another perspective, such as someone from human resources, or another manager, if necessary

Ring the Bell

It can be challenging to be around the same people every day, and even more so when you work in a stressful environment. The healthcare environment requires teamwork to provide safe, quality care. It’s in your best interest, and the interest of your patients, to work to resolve the situation. Draw on your communication skills to help employees develop a professional, or tolerable, relationship.

A nurse leader’s work often involves leading by example and providing guidance and coaching to help employees work through discord. It may be an unsavory part, but it’s a necessary one. Try to be alert for signs of animosity before a situation becomes volatile or uncomfortable. Although sometimes, despite your best efforts, there are situations that disciplinary action may become necessary. Be sure to be consistent with following the steps and guidelines from your facility.

There’s No Winner or Loser

A nurse leader has to be involved with their employees to know a problem exists. Dealing with employee conflicts may not be the most enjoyable part of the job as a nursing supervisor, but it can help you gain the respect of your employees, and grow as a leader. Although there’s no formula that will work for any, and all, employees, sometimes just taking the time to listen and seek a satisfactory solution can be beneficial for your employees.

How Have You Dealt With Employee Conflicts?

Article Sources

7 Strategies to Manage Conflict

9 Ways to Deal With Difficult Employees

Can’t Nurses Just Get Along? How to Deal With Lateral Violence in Nursing

Dealing With Difficult People

Maureen Bonatch MSN, BSN, RN draws from years of experience in nursing administration, leadership and psychiatric nursing to write healthcare content. Her work has appeared in numerous health system websites and healthcare journals. Her experience as a fiction author helps her craft engaging and creative content. Learn more about her freelance writing at and her fiction books at

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