Nurse’s Interpersonal Conflict with Colleagues

Conflict Introduction

Work in a hospital setting often exposes nurses and other employees to stress which may be further exacerbated by conflicts (Moreland & Apker, 2016). Thus, it is vital for nurses to identify such conflicts and find possible strategies for their resolution, as outcomes of this issue may impact not only employees but also patients, their health, and the quality of care. While conflicts may arise because of various reasons, one should remember that personal differences should not interfere with the working process and that each moment and decision can affect all members of the hospital team. This paper aims to examine an interpersonal conflict between nurses in a hospital setting and provide possible solutions that can resolve the issue.

Details of the Conflict

The conflict described in this paper is interpersonal because it concerns a number of individuals who represent two opposing sides. The first one is a nurse whose behavior towards her colleagues has changed drastically in the last month. At first, this nurse started to voice her dissatisfaction with the performance of other nurses, although her commentary lacked objective criticism and contained a more subjective outlook. Then, the woman gradually became more aggressive, verbally harassing her peers and starting arguments in restrooms and other areas of the hospital. For example, she told other nurses that they did not know “how to treat patients” and that they were “being too soft on them.” In turn, employees who encountered this nurse’s behavior tried not to get involved but often engaged with her in heated conversations with an intention to protect their level of competence and their approach to patient care.

As a result, both sides of the conflict became active participants in the issue, although most nurses tried to keep the conflict a secret from patients and authorities hoping that it would be settled soon. Currently, the dispute remains unresolved, and the sides of the conflict have a strained relationship with each other. Although other nurses notified the nurse who became the main aggressor that her behavior would be reported if she did not stop, she remained hostile towards other employees. Moreover, she started to distance herself from other workers and avoid interactions with nurses and administrators even if they were necessary for her job. Therefore, this conflict currently affects not only employees but patients as well. The atmosphere in the hospital unit and the lack of collaboration between employees lowers the level of patient satisfaction and negatively impacts their relationship with medical workers (Moreland & Apker, 2016).

Stages of Conflict

One can outline four main stages that may be present in conflict. The first one is latent conflict, during which its sides do not acknowledge that the problem exists (Kuo, Lin, Lin, & Chen, 2014). While the reasons for the conflict to arise may be present during this phase, the problem stays hidden from people’s sight. Therefore, it can be difficult for individuals to resolve a conflict at this stage or prevent it from moving into the following stages. In the provided case, this step could correspond with the time when the nurse started to become more aggressive towards her colleagues. It is possible that the first few incidents of her being rude were disregarded by other employees as situational and accidental, placing the blame on her bad mood or their misinterpretation of her words. Also, the delegation was not an issue in this conflict as it involved nurses’ personal conversations and critique of one’s performance. Nurses did not attempt to change their set of responsibilities or unfairly delegate their activities to other workers.

The second stage of conflict is perceived conflict, during which the involved parties may start recognizing the problem’s existence (Kuo et al., 2014). While this stage does not imply that individuals connect the conflict’s details with their personal feelings and experiences, they begin seeing the conflict becoming more apparent and damaging. In this example, a perceived stage started when workers began noticing the attitude of the nurse and her rude remarks about their performance. The workers did not have any feelings about this conflict during this step, merely acknowledging the behavior of their peers as unusual and harmful. The colleagues’ discussion of these incidents made them aware of the reoccurring interactions between them and the nurse, which made the conflict apparent and showed that they were not misunderstanding her words.

Felt conflict is the next level into which a dispute can develop (Kuo et al., 2014). At this stage, persons involved in the conflict start experiencing anxiety and stress because of the conflict’s progression. An emotional charge of the issue makes the conflict more challenging as both sides begin feeling the pressure of the situation. For instance, some peers who were exposed to rude behavior became withdrawn from work and could not operate in the same way that they used to which affected their performance and impacted patient care as a result. Other employees became aggressive, trying to respond to the nurse’s complaints with similar negative comments. Furthermore, the conflict initiator also became more frustrated with the situation, which affected her behavior and work. Although the sides did not make any attempts to resolve the conflict, they began personalizing it and connecting each other’s words to their experiences and characteristics. Nurses started actively voicing their feelings to each other and discussing the anger and frustration that followed each adverse incident.

Finally, the last stage that precedes the outcome of a conflict is its manifestation (Kuo et al., 2014). During this phase, involved parties become more active in their acknowledgment of the conflict as they engage with each other hoping to evoke a response. In this case, affected employees started to answer the nurse’s comments and provoke her with negative remarks and aggressive behavior, contributing to the conflict’s escalation. Furthermore, the nurse-initiator was notified that her attitude should change to resolve this conflict. On the other hand, the initiator became more apathetic in her position, ignoring necessary interactions with other personnel and voicing her opinions in a withdrawn but hostile manner. While the rate of open confrontations decreased with time, the relationship between workers became even less stable than before as it interfered with their daily duties.

Conflict Resolution Strategies

The process of finding a way to resolve this conflict may involve a number of approaches. Firstly, one should use the strategy of conversation to mitigate the problem (Halperin, 2014). The importance of discussing the conflict with both parties lies in giving the involved persons an opportunity to resolve the conflict without any third-party involvement. This way, nurses may understand each other better and collaborate to find the reasons behind the conflict. Here, one’s emotional intelligence should be used to assess each other’s emotional state and readiness to participate (Chan, Sit, & Lau, 2014). If both sides of the conflict are empathetic and focused on positive outcomes, the outcome of this conflict may bring a better understanding among employees and their continuing collaboration.

However, the described situation suggests the need for further involvement of third parties such as a nurse leader in order to resolve the conflict. Affected nurses already informed the initiator that her behavior was inappropriate, which only yielded adverse results. Thus, some help from the nurse leader may improve the process of mitigation, as he or she will be able to assume more responsibility for the conflict resolution process. If the two opposing sides fail to find a solution to the problem independently, a nurse leader should be engaged. A conversation or a negotiation with a nurse leader can lead to multiple outcomes. Nurses can come to a compromise that will satisfy both sides of the conflict. Moreover, the nurse leader may choose the domination approach and determine the right of the affected nurses to impose their judgment on the situation. Conversation-based strategies should remain at the basis of conflict resolution to promote team collaboration and open discussion.


The situation described in this paper shows that conflicts based on one person’s behavior can influence various aspects of people’s lives. However, it is vital for all involved individuals to focus on emotional regulation and confront the problem with a positive outlook and an empathetic approach, encouraging collaboration. While imposing judgment through leadership may provide temporary results, a conversation with or without a nurse leader may promote further interaction between nurses. A nurse leader should also focus on finding a reason behind the disagreement and choose a respectful way of approaching the conflict.


Chan, J. C., Sit, E. N., & Lau, W. M. (2014). Conflict management styles, emotional intelligence and implicit theories of personality of nursing students: A cross-sectional study. Nurse Education Today, 34(6), 934-939.

Halperin, E. (2014). Emotion, emotion regulation, and conflict resolution. Emotion Review, 6(1), 68-76.

Kuo, M. C., Lin, F. Y., Lin, C. Y., & Chen, F. S. (2014). A study on relationships among conflict management and school effectiveness. In 2014 International conference on e-education, e-business and information management (pp. 269-272). Shanghai, China: Atlantis Press.

Moreland, J. J., & Apker, J. (2016). Conflict and stress in hospital nursing: Improving communicative responses to enduring professional challenges. Health Communication, 31(7), 815-823.