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Resolving Staff Conflict

Disagreement is inevitable; resentment is optional.

To view the Course Outline and take the test online, click here.

For a printer-friendly version of the test you can print out, complete and mail in to ADVANCE, click

Learning Scope #302
1 contact hour
Expires March 16, 2011

The goal of this continuing education offering is to describe strategies for resolving and reducing staff conflict. After reading this article, you will be able to:

1. Develop a greater awareness of your style under stress during conflicts.
2. Discuss the steps necessary to achieve successful resolution of conflicts.
3. Describe techniques to constructively communicate and reduce defensiveness.

You can earn 1 contact hour of continuing education credit in three ways: 1) Grade and certificate are available immediately after taking the online test at the end of the article. 2) Send the answer sheet (or a photocopy) along with the $8 fee (check or credit card) to ADVANCE for Nurses, Learning Scope, 2900 Horizon Dr., King of Prussia, PA 19406. 3) Fax the answer sheet to 610-278-1426. If faxing or mailing, allow 30 days to receive certificate or notice of failure. A certificate of credit will be awarded to participants who achieve a passing grade of 70 percent or better.

Merion Publications Inc. is an approved provider of continuing nursing education by the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association (No. 008-0-07), an accredited approver by the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation. Merion Publications Inc. is also approved as a provider by the California Board of Registered Nursing (No. 13230) and by the Florida Board of Nursing (No. 3298).

Many healthcare professionals hope to improve their conflict resolution abilities. The habits of avoiding and attacking conflict often result in stress and wasted time without positive results. Avoidance seems like the easy way out, but the benefits of directly facing a conflict with skill, honesty and nondefensiveness usually leads to better quality of care, more trust among colleagues and a healthier work environment.

Picture yourself in these scenarios:

  • You are waiting to go home and the oncoming staff person to relieve you is late again.
  • You overhear others talking about how you are responsible for a patient nearly having a respiratory arrest, but no one discusses it with you directly.
  • After receiving report from the nurse who just left your unit, you walk into your patient's room and it is a total mess - the IV is beeping because it is occluded and the patient's bed is wet.

What's your first reaction? Most of us would feel defensive and angry, and would tell ourselves a nasty story about why these conflicts are happening to us. Our understandable yet intense reaction leads to emotions that escalate the conflict. Solving conflicts when we become emotional seriously decreases the chances of resolution and jeopardizes the relationship.

Communicating honestly and reducing defensiveness in others are skills needed by every professional healthcare worker. Most professionals prefer to have a co-worker who is upset speak directly to them if the issue relates to them, not their manager. If the manager is the first to confront the problem with the individual, who may or may not have done something wrong, the person often feels betrayed by a colleague. This mistrust produces a cycle of suppression, silence and gossip.

Co-workers need to trust one another. Much is at stake when caring for patients who depend on nurses to do what is right for them. Co-workers must inform one another in how to improve care. Honesty and the courage to directly communicate can become lifesaving and critically important, not simply nice to have, since the care of patients is entrusted to staff.

How can staff respond and not react as they engage in a dialogue with the person with whom they need to communicate directly?

When both parties feel safe to fully communicate, focus on the problem and agree on necessary changes, quality of care and trust among colleagues improves. Conflicts, if skillfully managed, present an opportunity to accelerate learning and ensure patient and staff safety, as well as staff retention and cohesiveness.

Contrary to popular belief, most disagreements are caused not by conflict over what people need, but how they actually talk and act about those needs.

Resolving Staff Conflict

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