Conflict is an unavoidable and persistent phenomenon in the nursing practice. Nurse leaders undergo extensive training on conflict management and resolution. However, different problems arise in the workplace and some may lead to conflicts. Therefore, nurse managers should be prepared to handle any arising conflicts to ensure that such cases do not affect the quality of care given to patients.
The escalation and repercussions of any form of conflict depend on how it is handled in the first place. Unaddressed issues may intensify to damaging conflicts, and thus nurses may not be in a position to execute their duties effectively. This paper explores the issue of conflict resolution in the workplace. It starts with an incident that I experienced in a hospital set-up. The different stages of conflict are explored. Additionally, conflict resolution strategies are highlighted.
My nursing practice had been without incidences until sometimes back when I worked as a float nurse in a given hospital. I was new to the hospital, and thus I was not fully acquainted with the different operations in such a set-up. One morning I was supposed to work as a float nurse on a given floor because they were short of nurses. However, the charge nurse was assigning more patients to me yet I was new to the floor.
Additionally, I already had a pile of workload, and I could see other nurses with fewer patients, but they were not being assigned new ones. Therefore, I raised my concerns to the charge nurse. I asked why I was getting over six patients yet I could see some nurses with as few as four patients. I added that I was new to the floor, and in the interest of fairness, I should be given time to understand how the floor worked. However, in response, the charge nurse simply said, “That’s how we operate here”. Naturally, I felt that she was unfair to me. I somehow managed to get through the day.
Later on, I learnt that the nurse leader normally treated new people unfairly, and I was not the first person to experience the same. The following day I was supposed to work in the same capacity. The previous day’s experience reoccurred, but this time I confronted the charge nurse. I told her that she was treating me unfairly, but she gave the same response – “that’s how things work here”. In the evening, I decided I would never go back to that floor. The nature of this conflict is unreasonable demands and expectations from nurse leaders.
Stages of Conflict
Conflict progresses in four stages. They include the latent phase, the perceived stage, and the felt phase before moving to the final level – the manifested phase (Finkelman, 2012). At the latent stage, those involved in a conflict do not know of it. For instance, when I was assigned the first four patients in quick succession and everyone else was having an average of two, I did not know that there was a conflict between the charge nurse and me.
I assumed that the next round of patients would be distributed evenly for everyone to have equal workload. However, when the next round of patients arrived, I was assigned an extra patient, and at that point, I realized the charge nurse had a problem with me. This stage is the perceived phase where those involved in a conflict recognize its presence. In the third phase, the felt stage, feelings associated with anxiety or depression start emerging (Finkelman, 2012).
Right before I could raise my problem with the charge nurse, I was depressed because I felt that she was picking on me, which underscores the third stage of the conflict. In the final phase, conflict manifests to everyone to see. This stage occurred the following day when the charge nurse repeated her tendency of assigning me huge workloads disproportionately. Out of frustration, I stood my ground and stated clearly that she was being unfair to me. All people close enough to hear my indignation stopped what they were doing to listen what I was saying. At this point, the conflict had escalated to the manifestation point. The delegation was a major problem here. The management had delegated important tasks to an individual without proper leadership skills.
Strategies to Resolve the Conflict
As mentioned earlier, conflicts should be resolved immediately they occur to avoid poor quality performance. The second day at the said floor my performance was affected because my conflict with the charge nurse had not been resolved. Jerng et al. (2017) posit that the chosen conflict resolution strategy depends on the issue being addressed. Conflict can be resolved through accommodation whereby the conflicting individuals can acknowledge their differences, tolerate them, and work together towards the achievement of the set objectives.
The downside of this approach is that unresolved issues may surface one day and lead to a full-blown crisis. Additionally, people involved in a conflict can decide to overlook the issue and avoid addressing it. However, this approach has the same disadvantage as the accommodation strategy. On the other hand, parties involved in a conflict can settle on a compromise with each side taking concessions for the common good (Kim, Nicotera, & McNulty, 2015).
Additionally, conflicting individuals can decide to compete as a way of solving their problems. However, this approach is counterproductive, and it may have far-reaching consequences. One of the best ways of dealing with a conflict is through collaboration (Sorensen & Brahe, 2014). This strategy would be appropriate for resolving my conflict with the charge nurse. It requires the conflicting sides to come together and create ways to address their problems through mutual agreement.
In most cases, this approach yields a win-win solution and each side benefits from the settlement reached. I would collaborate with the charge nurse in coming up with a solution to our conflict. The first step would involve putting myself in her shoes and looking at the issue from her perspective. I would then avoid confrontation by raising my concerns professionally and respectfully. If the issue cannot be resolved, I would escalate it to the management for an amicable solution.
Conflict management is one of the invaluable skills that nurses should learn at every opportunity they get. This assertion holds because conflicts are bound to happen in the workplace, and without the proper skills to resolve them, service delivery may be hampered. At one time, I was working as a float nurse and the charge nurse treated me unfairly by allocating excessive workload disproportionately. I left the floor without resolving the conflict.
However, if the same problem happens in future, I will ensure that it is resolved. I will approach the nurse leader and raise my issue respectfully. I will avoid shouting and unnecessary confrontations with the nurse leader, because from experience, I know that such tactics are counterproductive.
Finkelman, A. (2012). Leadership and management for nurses: Core competencies for quality care (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.
Jerng, S., Huang, F., Liang, W., Chen, L., Lin, C., Huang, F., … Sun, J. (2017). Workplace interpersonal conflicts among the healthcare workers: Retrospective exploration from the institutional incident reporting system of a university-affiliated medical center. PLoS ONE, 12(2), 1-13.
Kim, W., Nicotera, A., & McNulty, J. (2015). Nurses’ perceptions of conflict as constructive or destructive. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 71(9), 2073-2083.
Sorensen, E., & Brahe, L. (2014). Interruptions in clinical nursing practice. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 23(10), 1274-1282.