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Conflict Resolution Strategies for Nurse Leaders

3 min readSeptember, 18 2023

Conflicts are inevitable when you work in a stressful environment like health care. Tension and stress can result from miscommunication and differing opinions and priorities. You can't ignore a volatile situation between staff members as a nurse leader. Conflicts within your nursing team can create an uncomfortable work environment for everyone. It's often not the conflict that's your biggest challenge — it's how you work to resolve it.

Conflict Management in Nursing

Discord can stem from opposing personalities, biases, or perceptions, and internal or external stressors. To be an effective nurse leader, you may need to provide guidance and coaching to help your team resolve conflicts.

Examples of Nursing Conflicts

Consider these nursing conflict scenarios:

  • Staff conflicts regarding workload distribution, staffing ratios, and shift preferences
  • Interdisciplinary disagreements about treatment plans, responsibilities, or decision-making processes
  • Ethical disputes on topics such as end-of-life care, patient autonomy, and resource allocation
  • Communication breakdowns resulting in misunderstandings or lack of information
  • Discrepancies in management styles, decision-making authority, or organizational policies
  • Role conflicts resulting from overlapping roles or ambiguity in responsibilities
  • Resource conflicts due to limited supplies, equipment, or budget allocations

Potential Responses to Conflicts in Nursing

The health care environment requires teamwork to provide safe, quality care. It's in everyone's best interest to work collaboratively to resolve the conflict. How you and your staff respond to a conflict will vary based on the situation and individual personalities. Try these five approaches to resolve interpersonal conflicts among your team:

  1. Accommodation. Use this strategy to maintain peace and harmony by smoothing over differences. This method of conflict management in nursing may be appropriate when escalating the issue could create a severe disruption.
  2. Collaboration. This approach, committed to solving the problem by objectively evaluating differing views, can lead to creativity and new ideas.
  3. Compromise. This bargaining strategy recognizes the importance of resolving the relationship and can provide a temporary solution.
  4. Avoidance. In situations fueled by intense anger, avoiding conflict also provides a short-term resolution.
  5. Competition. Another short-term solution involves assertively resolving a conflict when one person has more decision-making power.

Additional Conflict Resolution Strategies in Nursing

Nursing conflict resolution requires patience, active listening skills, and a commitment to finding a beneficial solution. The goal is to address conflicts among your nursing staff and promote a safe and harmonious work environment that provides quality patient care.

Ignoring the problem may result in your staff developing resentment toward the person who made the work environment uncomfortable. Rushing to fix the conflict without determining the source of the issue could lead to other problems. Treat the situation like a conflicting diagnosis and identify the source of discord before proceeding.

Tips for Conflict Resolution in Nursing

Conflict resolution in nursing requires communication, collaboration, and listening. Here are practical tips for navigating conflicts:

  • Foster open communication.
    • Create a supportive environment that encourages active listening and honest conversation.
    • Make sure you fully understand the situation.
  • Mediate and negotiate.
    • Approach the problem objectively and, if necessary, seek additional perspectives from your human resources department or another nurse leader.
    • Facilitate constructive dialogue to work toward a mutually agreeable solution.
  • Identify underlying issues.
    • Seek the conflict's root cause.
    • Find solutions that aren't quick fixes but address the core problem.
  • Encourage empathy.
    • Ask questions to prompt different perspectives and creative solutions.
    • Identify and discuss underlying interests to soften rigid views.
  • Seek a compromise.
    • Find common ground and work toward a mutual agreement.
    • Emphasize the importance of collaboration.
  • Provide guidance and coaching.
    • Develop effective communication and conflict-resolution skills.
    • Support suggestions for productive and innovative solutions.
  • Encourage professional behavior.
    • Rule out and quickly address bullying and incivility.
    • Admit and apologize if you've played a role in the conflict.
  • Follow established policies and procedures.
    • Be consistent with standards and potential consequences.
    • Handle conflicts fairly and transparently.
  • Document the issue and provide follow-up.
    • Document the situation, steps taken, and the resolution.
    • Monitor to ensure the problem gets resolved and doesn't reoccur.

Two female medical professionals having a conversation

Conflicts in health care vary in nature and complexity. Other strategies, such as arbitration or involving an ethics committee, may be appropriate depending on the circumstances. Be alert for signs of a conflict before a situation becomes volatile or uncomfortable. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, disciplinary action may become necessary.

Dealing with conflict fairly and effectively can help you gain the respect of your nursing staff and grow as a leader. Conflict resolution in nursing leadership identifies underlying issues and creates better solutions. By listening and collaborating, you can resolve conflicts constructively to maintain a positive work environment.


Images sourced from Getty Images

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