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Seven Conflict Management Tips for Nurses


Conflict management consumes up to 40 percent of a nurse’s day, according to a report published in The Sentinel Watch. People are emotional beings and sometimes erupt with discordant feelings. In nursing, workplace unrest can decrease the service levels provided to patients. People have several natural responses when disagreements occur, which are typically counterproductive. Instead, nursing advocates suggest collaboration as the solution to workplace disputes.

The Nature of the Beast

A Nursing Management journal entry suggests one conflict definition as “a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests, or concerns.” [1] The entry goes on to state that this common description lends too much validity to disputes. Disagreements often culminate as a result of slowly constructed, deep-seated feelings. Duly, they take place due to how individuals perceive these numerous, complex physical and mental circumstances, and it is perception that drives how those in conflict respond to a situation.
Dispute embroiled caregivers can bring a dispute to a positive conclusion by managing the circumstances in question. When attempting to quell inharmoniousness, it helps to understand what disagreements most frequently stir up in the caregiving setting and how nursing staff members respond in these situations.

When Unrest Increases, Service Quality Decreases

An RN Journal report states that nursing staff members normally avoid conflict and that nurses’ proclivity for harmony results in withheld emotions that eventually manifest as disputes. [2] The post implores nurses to endeavor to build effectual team building competency, as a unified team can better serve clients. Team cohesiveness improves productivity and service quality and reduces caregiving expenses. As medical resources shrink, nurses must learn to function in unity in a high stress environment, and view workplace confrontations as opportunities for professional growth.

When Perceptions Collide

People typically react to workplace friction in one of five ways. Those reactions are:
• Accommodating
• Compromising
• Collaborating
• Avoiding
• Competing

Researchers cite that staff nurses most frequently practice avoidance, while nurse managers commonly use compromise in the work setting. [1] Reports state that the avoidance tactic is counterproductive. The nurses practicing avoidance suffer from increased stress and reduced communication aptitudes. While nurse managers generally try to compromise, the nurses still feel threatened and attempt to sidestep any repercussions caused by not following the manager’s agenda.

In an RN Journal report, Antonie Hiemer suggests a collaborative approach to conflict management. With this approach, team members can manage disputes confidently. It taps into individual creativity to find solutions and produce a win-win environment. Although this tactic is the most productive, it is also the most time-consuming, presenting a challenge to its initial implementation.

Overall, effective communication is the key to managing discordances. Although it is often counterintuitive in a fast paced environment, the first step to communicating effectively is active listening. When dealing with an angered peer or patient, allowing them to fully vent is the first and best action. During this stage, it is critical not to form any preconceived notions and not to interrupt the other individual while they are talking. Once a nursing staff member fully understands the issue, they can deal with it more effectively.

When a conflict does occur, it is important to preserve even, appropriate eye contact and body language. Once it is time to respond, use open-ended questions to gain clarification. When appropriate, repeat and rephrase the answers to validate dialogue comprehension. In the workplace, it is a good practice to identify individuals well-versed in these techniques. Nursing managers should train staff members in these skills and develop those already possessing these abilities.

Seven Collaboration Tips

In an American Nurse Today entry, nurse educator and author Rose Sherman suggests that nurses practice carefronting. Pastor David Augsburger PhD. coined the term for the conflict management technique in his 1981 book “Caring Enough to Confront.” [4] His seven core conflict management components are:
1. Actively listening and understanding the other person’s opinion and truthfully expressing your views.
2. Constructively recognizing that you’re angry
3. Inviting change
4. Giving trust to the other party
5. Forgiving and not assigning blame
6. Taking responsibility for your contribution to the dispute
7. Acting as a peacemaker no matter how intense the conflict

Sherman relates that nursing team collaboration directly affects patient outcomes, and an open team dialog can positively impact unifying efforts. Finally, she recognizes that not all conflicts end in resolution, however, the rewards produced by collaboration are worth the effort.

Conflict management substantially consumes caregiving time. In various nursing settings, human nature and scarce resources can combine to create disharmony, which can negatively affect nursing staff members and patients. People innately respond to disputes with aggression or passivity. Nevertheless, these natural reactions normally yield poor results. Ultimately, increasing challenges in the nursing field make collaboration a critical tool as the caregiving environment continues to evolve.

Learn More

Adventist University started building its solid foundation for nursing education in 1908 when it began training nurses so healthcare could be provided for more people. Today they offer cutting edge education and experienced faculty dedicated to helping individuals interested in pursuing a bachelor of science in nursing degree.


1. Hiemer A MR. Conflict Resolution. RN Journal [Web Page]. Available at: Accessed 2016.

2. Keeping the peace: Conflict management strategies for nurse managers. Nurse Manager [Web Page]. 2012. Available at:

3. Rose A ER. Carefronting: An innovative approach to managing conflict. American Nurse Today [Web P.age]. 2012. Available at: Accessed 2016.

4. Living Free. Care-Fronting. Living Free [Web Page]. 2015. Available at: Accessed 2016.