Smart Strategies for Nurses Dealing with Workplace Conflict
How to keep the peace inside hospital walls
It doesn’t matter whether you ask every nurse in her interview how she handles workplace conflict. It’s hard to predict how a team will mesh. And once nurses are already involved in some workplace drama, it can be even harder to deescalate the situation. Resolving workplace conflict requires excellent communication skills, initiative, and humility. It also takes some emotional intelligence. Still, learning to navigate relationships with fellow nurses is a critical skill, and an important one to master early on in your career.
Confront the problem
Nobody likes conflict, and conflict at a high-stress workplace like a hospital is especially hard. However, simmering tensions and constant sniping will undermine your happiness and your ability to provide quality care. Don’t ignore the issue. Rather than avoiding the person who is causing you stress, seek her out and see if you can speak privately. Setting a time to clear the air may allow you both to move on from whatever is causing a problem.
Taking the initiative to address the workplace conflict also allows you to set the conversation for a time and place that feels comfortable. Nobody likes being caught in a hostile conversation right at the end of a long hard shift. When you are planning to have a difficult conversation, you have time to marshal your emotional and mental resources. You can also plan to have the conversation in a peaceful place where you won’t be interrupted.
Seek advice and feedback
After you’ve set a time to have a conversation, think about what you need to say to the other person. Instead of evening the score with a long tirade, focus on what’s essential to maintaining workplace harmony. Sometimes it’s hard to be objective about a conflict when you’re involved. Seek out advice from someone you trust and respect. Workshop what you plan to say with this person and listen to their feedback.
Once you have a clear idea of what you need to say, write down some of the most important points. You can also write down reminders for yourself about what you plan not to say. For instance, you should stay away from insulting or accusatory language. Try to name the problem without demeaning the person.
Look for win-win solutions
Instead of thinking as a fellow nurse as your adversary, try to reframe the conflict so that you can both walk away satisfied. This does not mean you have to be on the best possible terms, or even friends. However, if you both can leave the room feeling that you’ve been heard and accommodated the conflict is likely to stay resolved.
It’s true that not every workplace conflict can be resolved in a way that lets both parties get exactly what they want. However, when both people feel like they have a stake in the solution they can be more committed to keeping the peace. A solution that depends entirely on one person coming out ahead will probably only contribute to long-term bitterness and workplace strife.
Involve another person when appropriate
Sometimes a workplace conflict has become too difficult to resolve privately between nurses. If necessary, you should go to a nurse manager or someone in human resources who can act as a mediator for your conversation. It’s important to use good judgment about involving another party, since you don’t want to develop a reputation as difficult to work with or a gossip. However, managers and human resources personnel are there for a reason. Use them if you feel it’s appropriate.
Avoid asking an interested friend or other coworker to mediate the conversation. Without either the proper authority or training, this person is more likely to end up making matters worse. It’s important for a mediator to be neutral and objective, so that nobody feels as attacked. A friend is likely to take sides, leaving one nurse feeling as if people are ganging up on her.
Rely on your empathy
Just as it’s important to empathize with difficult patients, you can use your empathy to try to understand difficult co-workers. Healthy boundaries are key, but when you can truly see the situation from someone else’s perspective, it may be easier to let go of some of your frustration. You may even think of something that you could honestly and sincerely apologize for, leading to a deeper reconciliation.
Just be sure not to get burned out. It’s important that nurses make time to take care of themselves, especially in the middle of conflict situations. Relax, spend time with people who care about you, or try some retail therapy. Don’t get bogged down in toxic situations that can only negatively impact your ability to do the most important thing – your job.