Conflict resolution in the nursing profession

Conflict cannot be completely eliminated in any working environment. It is caused by inherent differences in needs, goals, responsibilities, desires perceptions and ideas. Continuous conflict at the place of work is detrimental to the work atmosphere and causes negative effects to the psychological and physical well-being of those involved. This causes increases in rates of absenteeism and turnover, lower collaboration and co-ordination, and less efficiency. With the rise in the increase of the awareness of a better environment for both patients and nurses, the factors that influence the well-being of nurses must also be looked into. This paper seeks to analyze the nature of conflict and determine if the five major conflict resolution methods have been used effectively in the past.

Nurse leaders

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In the middle of all this conflict, nurse leaders have to be continuously involved. According to Valle (2014) nurse leaders are highly regarded if they are seen to be supportive and to value the nurse under them. Jones-Berry argues that for one to be a nurse leader, they must strive to be effective towards serving patients while at the same time using the support around them. The role of nurse leaders is complex and needs people with set values which include physical and emotional resilience, intelligence and caring values (Valle 2014; Jones-Berry, 2014). Nurse leaders’ roles revolve around the relationship between them and the patients. They are responsible of improving the quality of care for the patients while at the same time leading the nurses through collaboration and advocacy Lattavo (2014). In this role, they have to advocate for the rights of both the nurses and the patients.

Causes of conflict

According to Brinkert (2009), 25 % of conflict issues revolve around interpersonal issues and 75 % revolves around work related issues. Causes of conflict vary in different environments and individuals. Perceptions of disrespect and injustice are an example of conflict that arises from interpersonal disagreements. Nurses often feel that their supervisors and physicians lack respect for them. Interactional justice arises on two fronts. First, nurses may feel disrespected and undignified. This is referred to as interpersonal justice. Second, informational justice may be experienced where supervisors or physicians withhold information concerning how rationale of decision making is done. Nurses view minimizing, ignoring and invalidating their concerns by their physicians and managers as disrespectful and may be a source of conflict.

Organization effect requires building a system of interdependence between its members (Al-Hamdan, Shukri & Anthony, 2010). This leads to a situation where every member of the organization has to use the help of others for progress to be seen in the organization. In cases where interdependence is strong, the effect of conflict when it occurs is enormous. In organizations, struggle for autonomy occurs between two differentiated groups like nurses and managers and revolves around rule making, rules, decision making, leadership and organizational procedures. The conflict between nurses and physicians is especially prevalent. This is however decreasing especially due to the rising level of education for nurses and their capacity to articulate what is useful from a nursing perspective during their interactions with physicians.

Conflict between nurses and their coworkers and managers has been rising steadily.  The rise could be associated to limited contact with their managers who would otherwise act as mentors, frequent changes in the organizations, and time pressures that could be associated with short staffing, overtime or high workload.

Effects of conflict resolution

When conflict arises in a health institution, it does not just affect the parties involved. First, it affects the very parties involved by eliciting, anger, fear, and disgust (Chappell, & Willis, 2013). The self esteem of people who are in conflict is usually threatened and they result to cognitive resources that help them to cope. Long term endurance of conflict often causes and psychomatic complaints like stomach upsets, headaches, depression and anxiety. The higher the levels of intra-group conflict among nurses, the higher the levels of job dissatisfaction.

On the other hand, conflict can lead to higher quality of ideas and cohesiveness among team members. Once issues are resolved, people become more integrated, competent and adjusted. People who have resolved their conflicts will often feel that team work will make them more productive. The resultant success on the other hand makes relationships and individuality stronger.

Patients are also often a target of conflict that sometimes does not involve them. Nurses who are experiencing conflict may show unprofessional behavior towards patients. This may involve failure to deliver, and improper attitudes towards the patients. The conflict therefore undermines the very role of nursing which is to offer tender care to patients.

An organization may also experience several difficulties in the times of conflict. First, performance will slum due to inactivity in certain departments of the organization. Second, customers who feel insulted by the conflict may not become return customers as the nurse may have portrayed a bad image of the organization.

What is effective conflict resolution?

Effective conflict resolution would seek to achieve several things at once. First, it seeks to bring understanding between the conflicting parties. Once conflict has been resolved, the nurse leader should seek to ensure that those who were conflicting start a better relationship after the resolution. Second, resolution seeks to heal the effects of conflict. It ensures that those problems that were caused by the conflict cease to exist. Finally, it seeks to understand the cause of conflict and deal with it. Issues identified regarding a conflict should be resolved completely hence leaving all parties cohesive and striving towards the goals of the company (Yi-Feng, 2014).

Conflict resolution

The five major conflict management strategies comprise of compromising, collaboration, avoidance, competition and accommodation. The five major conflict resolution strategies serve to resolve all these forms of conflict (Galletta, Portoghese, Battistelli, & Leiter, 2013). A good leader therefore identifies the best means for resolving conflict while causing minimal hurt to all individuals. Different strategies are more effective in resolving different issues. A leader should however be able to apply most of these strategies to be effective in conflict resolution (Al-Hamdan, Shukri & Anthony, 2010). An issue that stands unresolved often becomes an obstacle to customer service and delivery in the industry.


This is a win-lose/lose-win method of resolving conflict. It is a give and take method that ensures that both parties gain temporary settlement and each party achieves their objectives. This method is sometimes the only method available for resolving an issue. In this method, negotiations are made until both parties are in a middle ground. This method can be used effectively by nurse leaders when no other option is available. When this method is used, a mild relationship is left between the two parties. This method is the most widely used method especially whenever both parties have something that means a lot to them.

Nurse leaders often opt to use this method and most are effective in it. It is far easier to take advantage of than most other methods. It only gets complicated when a nurse leader seeks to resolve a conflict that involves parties that are unequal. In such cases, unless the more superior individual is willing top resolve the conflict, the method is rarely useable.


In competition technique, the best person wins. It is most applicable in case where both people have almost equal power (Lorber, & SkelaSavivc, 2011). Power may however be determined on various grounds. A nurse may feel that they have more knowledge of a hospital where they have worked for longer while the physician may feel more powerful due to his position. Both parties then compete to see who wins the conflict. This method is a win-lose method as only one person can win. The only reason why this method could be effective in certain cases is that it hardly negatively affects the clients. The method uses assertiveness and disregards co-operation. It is best utilized when time does not allow for more co-operative techniques.

Competition is rarely advisable except in cases where time does not allow for a consensus to be reached (Chappell, & Willis, 2013). Nurse leader are prompt in using this method when it is the only reasonable method. In this case, nurses may be allocated certain roles to be used as a means to resolve the conflict. In the end, both parties opt to put their best to it to win the conflict.


In this method, both assertiveness and co-operation are vital. It is the most effective method and results in a win-win situation (Bender, Connelly, & Brown, 2013). The people involved in the conflict now concentrate more on resolving the conflict rather than winning their opponents. Although it is the most effective conflict resolution technique, it cannot be used in resolving all matters as it requires time to reach a mutually agreeable solution.

Most nurse leaders are prompt to use this method. It is far easier to use as all parties end up winning the conflict. Research shows that it is the most preferred and most effective method of resolving conflict.


This method is very effective at preserving harmony (Boschert, 2010). It is a win-lose method used when one person has no direct interest in an issue. The method requires one person to forego their own values, interests to accommodate other people. The method may be used when one party in the conflict is not assertive and can be easily swayed to accept a settlement. This method is however demeaning to one party and may cause a loss of self esteem.

Accommodating is used by various nurse leaders to resolve conflict. It is especially useful when resolving conflict between unequal parties (Boschert, 2010). The lesser party, most usually the nurse, gives in to the superior party, usually the patient or the physician for a more harmonious correlation. Accommodating may however be demotivating in some situations and should be used minimally.


Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative. It requires one person not to take action but to ignore a certain issue to take its own form. For nurses, they may opt to work with the rules as they are rather than resolve the issues and hurt whoever they are. This method is best used when people are disagreeing on trivial matters, have little chances of winning, or when someone else in a better position to resolve an issue.

Avoiding is rarely used by nurse leaders. Even when they use it, nurses may see them as ineffective in conflict resolution and see the case as unresolved (Boschert, 2010). This method is rarely an effective method of conflict resolution especially in cases where both parties have interest in an issue.


Many nurse leaders are often involved in resolving conflicts within an organization. Resolving such conflicts requires them to be able to make sound judgments for a harmonious work-place. Whether a resolution is seen as fair is however only to be determined by the parties involved by the way they feel after the resolution. Nurse leaders musty understand every aspect of the conflict to determine the best way of resolution. They should however be ready to use any method depending on the formalities of the issue.


Al-Hamdan, Z., Shukri, R., & Anthony, D. (2011). Conflict management styles used by nurse managers in the Sultanate of Oman. Journal Of Clinical Nursing, 20(3/4), 571-580. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2010.03557.x

Bender, M., Connelly, C. D., & Brown, C. (2013). Interdisciplinary collaboration: the role of the clinical nurse leader. Journal Of Nursing Management, 21(1), 165-174. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2834.2012.01385.x

Boschert, S. (2010). Methods of conflict resolution and role finding in the team: psychodrama – a useful method in geriatric nursing]. Pflege Zeitschrift, 63(9), 535-537.

Chappell, K. K., & Willis, L. (2013). The Cockcroft difference: an analysis of the impact of a nursing leadership development programme. Journal Of Nursing Management, 21(2), 396-402. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2834.2012.01425.x

Galletta, M., Portoghese, I., Battistelli, A., & Leiter, M. P. (2013). The roles of unit leadership and nurse-physician collaboration on nursing turnover intention. Journal Of Advanced Nursing, 69(8), 1771-1784. doi:10.1111/jan.12039

Jones-Berry, S. (2014). Well-rounded leader. Nursing Management – UK, 21(1), 39.

Lattavo, K. (2014). National Nurses Week Highlights the Many Leadership Roles of Nurses. MEDSURG Nursing, 23(3), 141-142.

Lorber, M., & SkelaSavivc, B. (2011). Perceptions of managerial competencies, style, and characteristics among professionals in nursing. Croatian Medical Journal, 52(2), 198–204.

Valle, J. (2014). ‘Being a nurse leader is a tough role’. Nursing Management – UK, 21(3), 9.

Yi-Feng, Y. (2014). Transformational Leadership In The Consumer Service Workgroup: Competing Models Of Job Satisfaction, Change Commitment, And Cooperative Conflict Resolution. Psychological Reports, 114(1), 33-49. Doi:10.2466/01.14.Pr0.114k11w3

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