Conflict Management in Healthcare Teams


The well-coordinated work of junior medical personnel in a care setting is the essential component of effective treatment and positive patient outcomes. Nevertheless, conflicts in the workplace arise in the healthcare environment, and their consequences can be negative both for participants themselves and colleagues. In order to resolve possible misunderstandings in the team successfully, nursing leaders should adhere to special techniques for controlling personnel and take into account scientific approaches to resolving disputes.

As an example of such activities, an unresolved conflict will be analyzed, which has become the reason for serious discussions within a particular healthcare institution. On the basis of this case, the details of the situation will be considered, as well as possible effective decisions. Timely and competent conflict resolution is a prerequisite for medical practice, especially if the patient outcomes may be affected negatively.

Conflict Description

The conflict in question occurred in one of Miami’s rehabilitation clinics. Two nurses of the physiotherapy department who were colleagues and got along well were confronted with a misunderstanding situation because of their working schedule. One of the employees asked the management to set a flexible schedule for her due to the need to take care of her child. However, her colleague was dissatisfied with this decision because she had to work during those shifts that were inconvenient for her. Both nurses were unable to reach a consensus, which led to conflict and caused serious disagreements.

Based on the peculiarities of this situation, an interpersonal misunderstanding arose between colleagues. According to Rathert, May, and Chung (2016), an ethical dilemma that underlies this conflict is not aimed at secondary people and provides for disagreements among a narrow circle of participants. However, even if a limited number of employees are involved, it may have a negative impact on patient outcomes since insufficiently effective performance is often observed with the complexities of interaction in the team. Therefore, such interpersonal conflict is a serious obstacle to the provision of comprehensive care.

Details of the Conflict

Based on the observed events, the conflict remained unresolved since neither of the participants was ready to come to a consensus. The employee who applied for a flexible schedule asked the senior nurse to confirm her right to this measure. However, the second participant in the conflict, the nurse from the same department, refused to listen to her senior colleague, arguing her decision that she was also entitled to participate in the distribution of the workload and choose desired shifts. The clinic’s management was aware of this disagreement, and both nurses were summoned for conversation and resolution of the case. The sides of the conflict refused to accept a reconciling position and insisted on their rights.

Despite the management’s arguments that it was impossible to satisfy the desire of absolutely all employees regarding the working schedule, the initiators of the conflict refused to resolve the issue peacefully. The clinic leaders instructed the senior nurse to distribute the workload in such a way that both employees could have an alternate opportunity to appoint shifts. Nevertheless, this decision did not give any improvement in the context of the relationship between the colleagues. They continued to inflame the situation in the team and refused to accept new working conditions, referring to the labor rights and obligations of healthcare workers. As a result, the microclimate in the collective was tense, and constant quarrels took place.

Conflict Stages

When approaching the consideration of this conflict scientifically, it is possible to single out some of its properties described in the academic literature. In particular, the stages of conflict given by Bendersky et al. (2014) are typical for most disagreements, and in this case, misunderstanding in a care setting can also be explained while using this systematization. Bendersky et al. (2014) offer four basic stages of conflict – latent, perceived, felt, and manifest. Each phase has features that can be applied to the conflict in question.

The latent stage is a hidden tension between the sides. The nurses were on good terms, but when the question arose about the redistribution of workload and shifts, they could not come to a common opinion, which was the initial stage of communication discomfort. At the second perceived phase, more active measures began to be undertaken by one of the participants, and the underlying misunderstanding became obvious. Conflict is felt when difficulties arise with the organization of work and the fulfillment of immediate obligations. The nurses could not come to a consensus, which affected their work and the lack of motivation.

Finally, the conflict manifested itself when both team leaders and senior management were aware of the problem, and an urgent solution was required. It can be noted that delegation was a significant problem in the described disagreement. One of the employees tried to put some of her workloads on the other one, which ultimately led to disputes. Therefore, this case corresponds to the description of the conflict, which is proposed in the academic literature.

Strategies for Conflict Resolution

In order to resolve the described situation, it is necessary to search for relevant strategies. As one of the potentially useful measures, it is possible to mention “staffing and resource adequacy” (Twigg & McCullough, 2014, p. 88). According to the authors, the appropriate number of employees should work in a healthcare setting to ensure that the staff does not have any difficulties with the workload and a sufficient number of specialists could provide comprehensive nursing assistance (Twigg & McCullough, 2014).

Also, the opinion of Almost et al. (2016) should be mentioned who consider strengthening the role of leaders as one of the primary conditions for effective work and conflict management. As the authors argue, active leadership is a significant contribution to the work of subordinates since it “emphasizes mistakes and shortcomings” as soon as they take place (Almost et al., 2016, p. 1498). These strategies can be effective if they concern the distribution of the workload and personal relationships among colleagues.

Interaction with the leader, in this case, the senior nurse, should take place in accordance with the strategy of attracting medical professionals and competent workload distribution. This measure is due to the peculiarities of the case under consideration, in particular, problems with the appointment of shifts. If the senior nurse appeals to the senior management with a proposal to supplement the staff, it can help to avoid serious disagreements and positively affect the quality of nursing care. According to Lee, Hong, and Avgar (2015), interpersonal stress affects patient outcomes adversely, which is unacceptable in a rehabilitation center. Therefore, this strategy can be optimal for resolving the situation that has arisen.


The timely intervention of team leaders may resolve the conflict among employees in a care setting and eliminate negative patient outcomes. The strategy of attracting new specialists can help to prevent situations that are similar to the described one in the future. Interpersonal misunderstanding should not be the reason for the insufficient quality of care, and the management of the healthcare institution should assess the current workload of the subordinates competently in order to avoid disagreements on the basis of the working schedule.


Almost, J., Wolff, A. C., Stewart-Pyne, A., McCormick, L. G., Strachan, D., & D’souza, C. (2016). Managing and mitigating conflict in healthcare teams: An integrative review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 72(7), 1490-1505. Web.

Bendersky, C., Bear, J., Behfar, K., Weingart, L. R., Todorova, G., & Jehn, K. A. (2014). Identifying gaps between the conceptualization of conflict and its measurement. In O. B. Ayoko, N. M. Ashkanasy, & K. A. Jehn (Eds.), Handbook of conflict management research (pp. 79-92). Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

Lee, E. K., Hong, W., & Avgar, A. C. (2015). Containing conflict: A relational approach to the study of high-involvement work practices in the health-care setting. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 26(1), 100-122. Web.

Rathert, C., May, D. R., & Chung, H. S. (2016). Nurse moral distress: A survey identifying predictors and potential interventions. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 53, 39-49. Web.

Twigg, D., & McCullough, K. (2014). Nurse retention: A review of strategies to create and enhance positive practice environments in clinical settings. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 51(1), 85-92. Web.