Conflict Management in the Healthcare Industry
“Wild ducks make a lot of noise, but they also have the sense to benefit from occasionally flying in formation” – anonymous
I was blessed to have a 25-year career as a staff nurse in the operating room. It was a privilege to provide care to my patients and to work with teams of highly skilled professionals. Early on I learned that conflict was a natural by-product of the highly charged atmosphere of the O.R., and it was the one thing I had the toughest time with (dealing with shiftwork came a close second!).
I soon realized that disliking conflict, or attempting to avoid it, was not going to make it go away.
No matter where it is you work in healthcare, stress and conflict are ever-present.
Conflict is a natural part of interpersonal relations, but it can also lead to positive change. As an employee or a manager, it is essential to have the skills to recognize a source of conflict within your workplace and facilitate its resolution.
To recognize sources of conflict, you need to know what to look for.
What Are Sources of Conflict?
I’m going to borrow from the “Circle of Conflict” model, which tells us that there are 6 sources of conflict.
These sources of conflict can be described as follows:
- Relationships: miscommunication, repetitive negative behavior, stereotyping.
- Moods/Externals: bad hair days, psychological issues, personal problems.
- Power and Authority: differences in power and unequal control over resources.
- Interests: different needs, hopes, wants, fears, expectations.
- Data: lack of information, misinformation, lack of understanding, different interpretations.
- Values: different belief systems, perceptions, points of view.
But how are we supposed to respond to these various sources of conflict?
When exposed to conflict, people tend to respond instinctively with:
- Emotional Outburst
This default response can serve to make the conflict worse!
How can we each learn to best manage ourselves and our team within this challenging environment and avoid fanning the flame of conflict?
Consider the following situation:
“Karen is a highly competent, veteran operating room nurse. Her knowledge of procedure and protocol are outstanding – and she knows it. Whenever there is an issue to be decided, Karen tries to bully her other team members into accepting her way of doing things. She is particularly ruthless with less experienced members of the team, often demeaning them for errors in front of other operating room staff. While her team appreciates her competence, her brusque and often rude demeanor often upsets members of her team, sometimes bringing them to tears.”
Referring to the Circle of Conflict, what do you believe is the source of the conflict between Karen and her nurse colleagues? Are you thinking Power and Moods? I sure am.
Karen (not her real name) was someone who I worked with for many years in the operating room. As one of the junior members of the team, I was terrified of Karen and dreaded every shift I had to work with her. I flipped like a fish in a boat the night before a day shift when I knew I would be teamed up with her.
How Did I Deal with the Workplace Bully?
My initial response was to try to avoid Karen, but that strategy did not help to improve the situation. Each of us can contribute to creating a positive workplace. By being able to identify the source of conflict, we are better able to come up with a strategy for resolution.
Together with a number of my nurse colleagues we brought Karen’s behavior to the attention of management who then were able to address it with her, but over the course of 8 months she left her position due to health reasons.
Because we know that avoiding conflict only serves to fuel the flames of the issues that are causing it, we need to consider what the source of the conflict might be before the heat gets turned up too far.
We can’t change people, but it is up to ALL OF US to create a healthy and respectful workplace.
More posts? Bring it on!
- How to See the Humor in Stressful Situations
- Motivational Speaking Events: Do They Improve Employee Engagement?
- Why Use Humor as a Motivational Tool in the Workplace?