Managing Conflict as a Nurse

As a registered nurse, you have the potential to run into conflict every day in various ways, such as with a patient/client, a patient’s/client’s family, a fellow RN, a supervisor, an employee reporting to you, an ordering health care provider (HCP), interprofessional team members, and even yourself. As RNs, our role is one carried out with and through others, so the potential to be challenged with conflict is high. Conflict can be avoided, mismanaged, or managed. We may avoid conflict by ignoring it, thinking of what we will say next, changing the subject, etc. We may mismanage conflict by insisting “we are right,” by blaming others, and by not listening. We can manage conflict and grow from the experience, leading to a win-win outcome.

Conflict management has long-been addressed in the nursing workforce with various views and recommendations. The basic principles of the recommendations focus on effective, respectful communication, openness, and willingness to collaborate. The recommendations remind me of Dr. Jean Watson’s Caring Science theory and her “Ten Caritas Processes.” Watson stresses listening from the perspective of the other person rather than our own perspective.

Watson’s Caritas processes can be guiding principles for us to follow in conflict situations. The Caritas processes and the key words that can be applied to conflict are:

#1 Practice compassion

#2 Honoring self and other

#4 Develop loving trusting relationships

#5 Encourage and express positive and negative

#6   Creative problem solving, “solution seeking”

Visit here  for more on Watson’s work.

“I” statements are also a recommendation for how to effectively communicate by being assertive and respectful. In her book Confident Voices, Beth Boynton suggests using this method and adding your own specific details to compose your message.:

“I feel [blank] when you[blank] because[blank] and I would like [blank].”

This approach allows us to:

  • identify how we are feeling in a situation
  • state why we feel that way
  • indicate what change we are seeking

Using this guiding method can help us to create messages that will be heard more effectively. Creating the message in a respectful way is crucial. If we were to personalize this message in a blaming manner, it would likely not help.

For example, consider the three versions of statements/messages for one situation:

Message A: You never tell me of changes and you make it difficult for me to do my job. You drive me nuts.

Message B: I feel mad at you when you do not alert me to crucial changes because then I cannot do my job. I want you to make telling me of changes your No. 1 priority.

Message C: I feel anxious and unprepared when I am not aware of crucial changes because I then carry out my job without considering the changes and possible need to modify my work. I would like you to share knowledge of changes with me as soon as practical.

Message A is written from a blaming point of view, and the nurse is just sending out emotions and unfiltered thoughts. This message not likely to be heard or considered thoughtfully.

Message B is written using the “I” message method, yet it is blaming in nature. It continues to focus on the other person and the “bad” action or inaction they did. It does not separate the person and action, and is not likely to be helpful.

Message C is written using the “I” message method from a respectful, assertive point of view, valuing, and respecting both parties and seeking collaboration.

Being able to address conflict by clearly stating one’s feelings, listening to the other parties’ feelings, and collaborating can bring about healthy responses and win-win outcomes. Using this approach will help us personally and we can be a role model for others. It is reminiscent of the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Excelsior College, its trustees, officers, or employees.