Mediating Staff Conflict: Tips for Nurse Managers

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Male patient talking to the female nurse at the reception desk at hospital

Conflict in the workplace is a routine occurrence across industries. It is inevitable when groups of individuals with varying viewpoints come together to work toward a common cause. Workplace conflicts especially are common in the health care sector, where professionals typically work in close collaboration for long hours and the stakes are high. Conflict is much more likely when health care professionals disagree on how best to treat a patient, for example, as the end decision likely will be of consequence.

Nurse managers typically must step in and mediate any conflicts among nursing staff that cannot be resolved privately. Conflict mediation can be a complex undertaking. Given the ubiquity of workplace conflict, managers across an array of industries may find these strategies useful.

A closer look at workplace conflict

As detailed in an article published by the Society for Human Resource Management, a number of factors can lead to conflict between co-workers, regardless of the industry. Some common examples of these issues are miscommunication, anger or resentment over another’s actions or attitude, jealousy, poor organization or management, differences in values and general personality clashes.

In an article for the Houston Chronicle, journalist Roe Johnson examined some of the aforementioned factors. When it comes to differences in world view, for example, conflict is usually a consequence of two parties perceiving a situation differently, contingents upon factors beyond their control, such as age or culture. Age can be an especially potent factor leading to a confrontation, as working professionals can clash due to outlooks shaped by their generation. Johnson also explained how poor communication, specifically relaying information or instructions, can lead to misunderstanding and conflict, as can communication that is perceived by one party to be rude, dismissive or offensive. Johnson noted that poor communication is often a primary cause of workplace conflict.

nurses working together at computer

Strategies for mediating conflict

Nurse managers should consider using the following strategies for resolving workplace conflicts:

1. Conflict resolution training

Renee Thompson, a former nurse and public speaker on issues in nursing, explained that an important strategy nurse managers should implement is to hold conflict resolution training sessions for nursing staff so that any minor conflicts can be resolved successfully by nurses themselves. This approach is important because, as Thompson noted, there will be times when nursing staff has to work without the supervision of a manager. Training sessions could involve acting out hypothetical conflicts and then work as a group toward a resolution.

2. Intervening at the right time

Glenn Llopis, writing for Forbes, suggested that while it is sometimes more effective for managers to allow employees to resolve small disputes independently, managers should be cognizant of the correct time to intervene and mediate the situation. Action should be taken when it becomes apparent that the behavior of one or both of the parties has had a tangible, negative impact on the working environment. Ideally, evidence of wrongdoing should be provided.

3. Meeting with both parties

According to journalist Susan M. Heathfield in The Balance, once intervention has been deemed necessary, managers should take action and meet with both parties involved, simultaneously. Meeting both parties separately is unwise, Heathfield explained, because nurse managers run the risk of becoming biased to one opinion. The most effective way to resolve conflict is for managers to discuss the incident with both parties in the same room, affording them both an equal amount of time to state their case. This approach promotes fairness and balance, more effectively paving the way for a peaceful resolution. Heathfield noted that it is also important for managers to assume a neutral position and stress their neutrality at all times throughout the conflict resolution process.

4. Developing goals

Heathfield went on to state that once both parties have articulated their grievances with the other, managers should encourage the individuals to explain how they wish to resolve the situation going forward. For example, party A may want to be treated by the other with more respect, while party B may want party A to be more efficient. However, this approach only can work if both parties pledge to make changes, no matter how small, in an attempt to resolve the issue. In other words, both individuals should cultivate shared goals that they can commit to in a bid to move on from the tension.

Consider Bradley University

An exciting and challenging career path, working as a nurse manager means taking charge of a team and helping resolve an array of workplace issues, including employee conflict. If you are a registered nurse, consider taking the first step toward a possible career as a nurse manager by applying to Bradley University’s online nursing programs.


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