Nurses Calming the Chaos of Conflict- Part 2

Conflict Resolution Tips

How do you handle conflict in the workplace? Here are some tips for making progress on your conflict resolution skills.

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Conflict Resolution Tips

The air almost crackled with the intensity of the emotions generated by the conflict between two co-workers. They “had words” about a political difference, and as they left the area to go care for their patients, they left in their wake two of us as witnesses who felt truly upset by their intensity and the verbal tongue lashing that had just happened. No doubt, conflict has repercussions. It affects those involved, but it also affects those around them—co-workers, patients, and others.

The natural response to such a scenario is to tell the two to take their conflict elsewhere. In this case, that was probably appropriate and necessary. Sometimes conflict cannot be so easily dismissed or dealt with. Maybe we all need to examine our ability to handle conflict in a healthy way so that when it happens to us, we will be prepared.

The nursing profession can be fertile ground for conflict as there are many ways to approach the same situation. Nurses differ in training and in their approach to the problems of patient care; hospital systems and supervisory expectations are numerous—COVID-19, politics, vaccinations, social and religious differences, all converge to make for volatile conditions. It sometimes feels like we are increasingly polarized and at odds. Conflict in the workplace is universal. How we handle conflict is not.

Many of us want to avoid conflict altogether. Is that you? If so, it is good to know yourself and recognize an aversion to conflict as part of your personal DNA. Some persons enjoy verbal sparring while others view conflict as a problem in want of a solution. Wherever you stand on the conflict spectrum, identifying your own approach to—or avoidance of—conflict is a starting point for handling conflict well.

Some ideas to consider when looking to resolve conflict include:

Cool down

When our emotions are high, that is not the time to address conflict. It may be best to sleep on it, talk it over, write it down, meditate on it, or pray about it. After taking a “chill pill” you are more likely to accomplish your purpose of being truly heard. High-intensity emotions (note case above) leave lots of fallout. “Ultimately, what makes conflict difficult is that it gives us information about ourselves that is tough to take in.”

Ask questions

One of the keys to handling conflict well is to become authentically curious about what is behind and before the conflict. There is always more to the story than what is visible. If we are party to the conflict or simply witnesses, one of our best strategies may be to help by asking appropriate questions and listening—even if the other person’s view is widely divergent from ours. As Madeleine L’Engle said: “True is eternal. Our knowledge of it is changeable. It is disastrous when you confuse the two.”

Problem solve

After an initial cooling down time, it could be time to engage in problem-solving. Sometimes people need help working toward a solution. Most people don’t appreciate being told they “should.” Instead, asking questions and using conditional words such as “perhaps” can be more acceptable. When conflict is high, it can help to be on neutral ground with a third party there to help the interface.

Be willing to apologize

If you are the offending party, be willing to say you are sorry. It is hard to do, but so very worth it in the scheme of life. In the case above, one of the nurses engaged in the exchange came back and apologized. We forgave him. It was hard for him to do—that much we could tell from his demeanor. Acknowledging that we all make mistakes and that is part of being a human, can help us all to forgive and move on.

Let it go

Some fights are simply not worth having. And some are. Knowing which is which and acting accordingly can be the difference between a life of peace and one of turmoil. While it is not easy to distinguish the battles we must engage in vs. the ones we need to let slide into oblivion, this is a sign of a mature spirit and a nursing professional who will be able to serve well over a long career. People mess up. People say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Our friends will let us down. Our co-workers will sometimes disappoint. Happens. We have to pursue the wisdom of knowing when to engage in conflict resolution and when to release that conflict. If you have ever been involved in raising a small child, you will be able to identify with the experience behind the statement, “Pick your battles.”

Which one of these tips speaks to you? Can you think of times when you have seen good conflict resolution skills put into action?

Joy works as a Faith Community Nurse. She has worked in a variety of settings in nursing over the course of her career.

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Daisy4RN

1 Article; 2,188 Posts

Specializes in Travel, Home Health, Med-Surg. Has 20 years experience.

Your article provides good tips. I have never understood the need for some people to create more drama in the workplace and especially in nursing when one is already busy and stressed. My tip is to use an ounce of prevention and avoid drama in the first place. In all my many years of working I can’t remember being involved in any hot conversations like you describe. The workplace is not the time or place for ridiculous arguments with co workers. But I do understand that some people just love the drama, I just didn’t engage. 

JBMmom, MSN, NP

4 Articles; 2,353 Posts

Specializes in New Critical care NP, Critical care, Med-surg, LTC. Has 11 years experience.
On 2/23/2022 at 7:23 AM, jeastridge said:

“Pick your battles.”

I think this has been one of my main philosophies for many years now. I've often been talking with coworkers about something they're upset about and if I feel like they're trying to draw me into a fight that I have no stake in, I've said "That's not a hill I'm dying on, but if you feel that strongly you should follow up." 

As you mentioned, I learned the lesson the hard way with my kids when I told my then four-year-old that we weren't leaving the table until he finished dinner. Took me four long hours of sitting there, but as a parent I had promised myself that I would follow through when I made a threat. And after that I learned to word my threats very carefully in case I had to do it. 

I'm not a drama person, but I have made some errors in judgment that got me into sticky situations. For the most part if I have an issue with something I'm pretty straight forward with everyone involved. It's unfortunate that conflict resolution skills aren't taught in schools along with English and math. People will deal with so many challenging situations throughout their lives, strong communication skills can make all the difference. 

jeastridge, BSN, RN

131 Articles; 558 Posts

Specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

Thanks JBMmom for your insightful comment. I agree that learning these skills is helpful for us all. Joy

Tweety, BSN, RN

32,612 Posts

Specializes in Med-Surg, Trauma, Ortho, Neuro, Cardiac. Has 31 years experience.

"Pick your battles".  There's also an Instagram Reel/TikTok "drink water and mind my business" that is my theme song.

Enough said.  When a Physical Therapist walked down the hall and said "Let's Go Brandon" wearing his MAGA hat going home.  I wanted to tell him that he knows that's slang for a profane word and not appropriate for the work place, but chose to drink water and mind my business instead.

Anyway, as far as work place drama I'm lucky to work in a unit with very little of that.   I work with unvaccinated nurses, people that are on both sides of the political fence, old and young and we all get along because we seem to be united in our common stress that is floor nursing.  Also right now we're the most diverse group I've seen.  We have a Vietnamese immigrant, African Americans, Hispanics, young and old and a lesbian and a gay man thrown in for variety.  There are no cliques.  My work bestie is my age but I hate her politics, so we just don't go there much and certainly know when to back off and accept one another.  

 

2BS Nurse, BSN

677 Posts

Has 10 years experience.

Events of the past two years have led to extremely contentious workplaces and views are expressed within earshot of patients. Very unprofessional. In my opinion, it's up to management to set expectations (and follow through) about political discussions. I am inclined to ignore the drama, however, I get to a breaking point. If it's not addressed by management, I will take my skills elsewhere. 

Said employees should get together after work and discuss politics over a cup of coffee, glass of wine or pint of beer. 

John2018

102 Posts

Specializes in Occupational Health Nursing. Has 5 years experience.

This are realistic tips that could definitely help lessen the conflicts and dramas in workplace. Personally, I always do the "cool down" part and then jump to "letting go", but I guess some situations would require asking questions and solving the problem.

T-Bird78

1,007 Posts

Has 6 years experience.

I am really struggling with this right now. I’m the senior clinical staff member on top of being the most experienced in general, especially in our specialty. I have a new coworker, been with us 3 weeks, and she knows everything.  She’s only worked primary care, never a surgical specialist, yet she actually waved me off when I told her I wanted her to follow me to preop a patient. She said “yeah, they just sign the form, I know that” and waved me off. She interrupts all of us when we’re telling her how certain docs like their rooms set up and talks over any of us when we’re giving her tips. I’ve learned to shut up around her and just let her ask me questions, even though she accused me of setting her up for sabotage. I’ll let her ask me how to do things, even though she doesn’t like my answer and tells me it’s wrong, but when the docs start telling her it’s not right maybe she’ll listen to me. LOL. 

jeastridge, BSN, RN

131 Articles; 558 Posts

Specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

Sounds like you are doing the best you can under some very challenging conditions. I hope your new co-worker changes her attitude soon! Joy