5 Tips for Managing Conflict in Nursing: Essential Checklist

Last Updated on August 31, 2023

A visibly-frustrated nurse wearing a blue scrubs and stethoscope, thinking about managing conflict in nursing in front of a white bookcase

Nursing is a rewarding profession, but it can also be a challenging one. One of the most common challenges is managing conflict in nursing. Conflict itself isn’t bad. In fact, solving your patient’s problems, soothing their concerns, and supporting their health are all forms of conflict management.

As a nurse, you’ll face both healthy and unhealthy conflicts during your assignments, even with your colleagues. But with the right strategies, you can resolve conflict peacefully and professionally. To help you do just that, we’ve created a checklist of 5 effective ways to manage conflict in nursing!

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Types of Conflict in Nursing

Every problem can’t be solved the same way. It’s important to understand the type of conflict you’re dealing with to find the best solution possible. 

You’ll likely encounter three main types of issues when managing conflict in nursing: Task, relationship, and value. Here are a few examples of the different types of conflict management in nursing:

Task Conflict

Whether a difficult patient or coworker, task conflict occurs when people disagree on the best way to complete a task or accomplish a particular goal. 

  • Example: You and a coworker might disagree on how to record a patient’s health history, vitals, and symptoms. 

This type of conflict can be healthy if it leads to constructive debate and improved processes. However, task conflict can become unhealthy if it gets personal or leads to disrespect. 

  • Resolution: Most task-based conflict benefits from third-party intervention. In this example, you might ask your superiors how they want you to record the information. There may be a right answer — or there might not be. Sometimes, there’s more than one right way to complete a task. If that’s the case, respect each other’s unique methods or work together and brainstorm a new solution.

The goal of managing conflict in nursing isn’t to determine who’s right; it’s to determine what’s right for your patients and outcomes. 

Relationship Conflict

Relationship conflict occurs when a problem is about “me vs. you.” It’s friction between conflicting personalities, communication styles, and past experiences. This type of conflict can be particularly harmful to patient care, leading to decreased collaboration and communication among the team.

  • Example: You don’t like how a coworker is always interrupting or talking over you during meetings.

There is a difference between having tension and being bullied or harassed by a colleague. If this is happening, do not hesitate to put space between you and your colleague and follow the proper reporting procedures. 

  • Resolution: Seek to understand them. Eat lunch with them, get to know them, and find common interests. If it feels right, address the conflict, and invite them to speak first. Get their perspective before sharing or defending yours. Remember: You’re on the same team. Show empathy, and they’ll likely give you the same in return.

If you’re dealing with tension with a colleague, seek to understand them first. However, if the conflict doesn’t change or worsens, consider involving a manager as a helpful third party. 

Value Conflict

Value conflict occurs when you have fundamental differences in beliefs, values, or ethics. In nursing, value conflict may arise due to differences in religious, cultural, or political beliefs. Additionally, it could be based upon implicit bias.

  • Example: Your coworker is often making remarks about their views on politics. They’re constantly bringing up divisive topics, and you’re always left feeling frustrated.

Managing this conflict can be especially challenging, as we often feel passionate about our core values.

Because of this, you’re not likely to change someone’s mind on a matter — and you don’t have to. 

  • Resolution: Allow yourself to disagree. Try to understand their perspective. Respect their beliefs the way you want them to respect yours. Set boundaries with what you will discuss at work. Focus on your common ground: Your patients, careers, and team. 

If you are being harassed for your values, don’t hesitate to get management involved.

Checklist of Effective Strategies for Managing Conflict in Nursing

Managing conflict in nursing isn’t the most fun part of the job. But taking the time to understand the strategies and resources available to you can help bring more fulfillment and satisfaction to your career. 

As a nurse, you’re familiar with 5 steps of the nursing process: Assess, Diagnose, Plan, Implement, and Evaluate. But it’s also a great tool for managing conflict in nursing! 

Use this checklist of effective strategies to help treat conflict in a healthy way:

1. Assess the Situation.

When managing conflict in nursing, you’ll want to begin by getting all the information you can about the situation. Don’t assume — assess. Identify the who, what, where, when, and why:

  • Who is involved/affected by the conflict?
  • What is the conflict about? 
  • Where is the conflict taking place?
  • When did the conflict first arise?
  • Why does the conflict need to be addressed (or not)?

Try to view the conflict from every side before taking action.

2. Diagnose the Issue.

Now that you have all the details, it’s time to make a judgment call:

  • Is it a task, relationship, or value-based conflict?
  • You’ve asked the who, what, where, when, and why. Now, ask the ‘how’: How is the conflict affecting you, your team, your patients, or your organization?
  • Who is responsible for treating the issue? 
  • Do you need to get a third party involved, or should you handle it directly?

Use your organization’s resources to help guide your diagnosis of the situation. Identify what protocol should be followed.

3. Plan Your Action.

When addressing a problem, it’s always best to come prepared with a possible solution. 

  • Make a plan for how you’ll address the issue: Will you address it yourself first before going to a manager? Or, will you involve a third party from the beginning?
  • Write down any questions you want to ask those involved.
  • Choose an appropriate time and place to address the issue.

4. Implement Your Plan.

You’re ready to take action:

  • Start implementing your plan! If working with a third party, follow their instructions carefully.
  • If reaching out first, remember: Listen before sharing.
  • Stay calm and respectful. If the conversation escalates, don’t be afraid to step back and get a third party involved. 
  • Work together to find a solution. Find your shared goal in the situation, and collaborate to reach it.

5. Evaluate Your Outcomes.

Learn from the situation so you can adapt, grow, and move forward.

  • Be proactive: How can you prevent similar conflicts from happening in the first place?
  • Stay professional: If you’ve made amends, forgive them. Avoid gossiping or speaking negatively about coworkers.
  • Practice self-care: Managing conflict in nursing can be stressful, so taking care of yourself is essential. Ensure you get enough sleep, drink water, and take breaks when needed.
  • Seek additional resources: If the conflict is particularly challenging to manage, seek help from a supervisor, human resources, or a conflict resolution specialist. For instance, CareerStaff’s Clinical Services Team is there to step in when needed or to be a listening ear during assignments. 

Overcoming Conflict & Reaching Your Nursing Career Goals

Through the ups and downs, CareerStaff is here to support you in your career. From career advancement and patient care tips to nursing job opportunities nationwide, we’re here to help you grow!

Work with a CareerStaff recruiter to access helpful resources during your assignment, such as our 24/7 Clinical Services Team. Complete a quick application to connect with a recruiter today.

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