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When people come together to work in a large environment, like a healthcare organization, conflicts will develop. Conflict in nursing can be particularly problematic, however, because it can have a direct impact on patient outcomes. If you are in a position of leadership in the healthcare and nursing fields, you need to understand what causes conflict and how to avoid it. Here are some tips you can implement to help reduce conflict within the ranks of nurses who work for your healthcare organization, so everyone can enjoy their job and deliver a high level of care to the patients in your care.

What Is Conflict in Nursing?

The world of healthcare requires a large number of people, and people tend to have different personal and professional backgrounds. This can lead to different opinions about care for patients. It can also create misunderstandings, especially when things move quickly. All of these differences can lead to conflict.

Conflict can occur when more than one medical professional has a different idea about the care the patient needs. It happens when two incompatible or opposing ideas are presented, and the nursing professionals cannot come to a resolution.

How Does Conflict Affect a Healthcare Organization?

In a healthcare organization, conflict can create personal problems between staff when two who do not see eye to eye cannot come to a supportive conclusion. It can also create problems with patient outcomes, because the best course of action may not be taken when opposing views mean a patient does not get the right care in a timely manner. And if patients are aware of the conflict, it can reduce patient satisfaction with the healthcare organization. 

Types of Conflict in Nursing

There are several types of conflict in nursing, and they can be among individuals or between people and the organization. The conflict within healthcare can affect things like nursing sensitive indicators, which in-turn affects the quality of care for the patients. Some of the most common types of conflict are:

Interpersonal Based

Interpersonal conflict occurs when two or more people have a conflict due to different values over personalities. This conflict can occur between nurses and doctors, patients and nurses, or two nurses. Nurse to nurse  is the most common type of conflict in nursing.

Value Based

Value-based conflict happens when the ethics or values of the individuals are the source of the conflict. Because of varying backgrounds, what is important to one person is often not what is important to the next. Learning to value the ethical positions of others can help resolve these types of conflicts.

Issue Based

If the root reason for the conflict is how to handle an issue or problem, then you have an issue-based conflict. This type of conflict often stems from differences in the approach to a problem. It can be easy to resolve if communication is kept open.

Organization Based

Sometimes conflicts are not between two people, but rather between a person and an organizational standard or rule. These can be difficult to resolve because they do not involve two specific people.

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How Nurse Leaders Can Deal with Conflict

If you are in a position of leadership in nursing, dealing with conflict is going to be part of your job. Conflict resolution in nursing is easier when you understand the causes of conflict between nurses, so you can eliminate these when possible. Help limit the amount of conflict your team faces with these conflict-resolution strategies:

Be Proactive in Intervening

Don’t wait until problems explode and start impacting patient outcomes. If you feel a conflict brewing, be proactive in seeking a solution. Get involved before it escalates to have a better overall outcome.

Stay Calm

A key to conflict management in nursing is to avoid becoming part of the problem. When your team is not getting along, finding an effective resolution requires the nurse manager to stay out of the problem and keep a calm head. Practice your own self-regulating behaviors to ensure you are not escalating the problem.

Communicate to All Parties

Lack of communication is often a cause of conflict in nursing. To help resolve conflict, keep the lines of communication open. Communicate to all parties as much as possible, both when you notice problems and before problems develop. This will help keep morale high because your team will understand that you will keep them appraised of what is happening within the organization.

Suggest Solutions

When conflicts happen, you may find that your team members are stuck and cannot figure out how to come to a solution. Consider suggesting some solutions that may be an effective resolution to the conflict. As a nurse manager, your job is to help steer your team members to a point where they can work together effectively.


How to Avoid Conflict in the First Place

While learning conflict resolution in nursing is important, nurse managers can do well to learn steps to take to avoid conflict in the first place. By setting up a workplace where conflict is rare, nurse leaders can improve patient outcomes and overall job satisfaction for their team members.

Clear Communication Across All Staff

Most cases of conflict can be resolved with better communication. When you communicate with all staff members well, you can eliminate problems from people not understanding expectations or organizational policies.

Communication needs to be clear, and it needs to be often. It also needs to be a two-way street. Provide a way for staff to communicate with leadership if they have a concern or suggestion and take the time to listen to these thoughts.

When you model good communication as a nurse leader, your team will learn the value of communication. This can help them learn to communicate with each other. Better communication makes conflict less likely and improves collaboration between different team members.

Encourage All to Be Respectful

In all communication, even when conflict is brewing, demand that your team members treat each other with respect. Even differing opinions, when conveyed with a high level of respect, can be heard. If your team members are not able to be respectful of each other, you are going to have frequent conflict.

Again, this is an area where you need to model what you respect. Treat your team with respect and require that they treat you the same. When they see how respectful communication happens, they will be more willing to treat each other with respect, as well.

Training and Education

When people in your workforce are not properly trained, they will feel frustrated with the tasks you give them. The proper training and education can go far in preventing conflict because you will be giving your team members the tools they need to fulfill their responsibilities. This means fewer instances where other team members pick up the slack for someone.

Staying on top of staff training and education in new healthcare techniques can also prevent conflict because of different opinions about patient care. Training and education can also reduce conflict between organizational policies and individuals. When the individuals are thoroughly trained on the “why” behind organizational policies, and learn how to implement those policies well, they are less likely to have a conflict about those policies.

Identify Potential Conflicts Before They Happen

By understanding the different causes of conflict between nurses, you may be able to identify them before they happen. This, in turn, can help you stop conflict before it develops. Being proactive to communicate, head off problems before they happen, and ensure everyone’s position is valued and respected, you may be able to stop conflict before it starts.

The longer you are in leadership, the better your skills at identifying potential conflicts will become. When you see an area that is likely to lead to conflict, be proactive to put a stop to it with conflict-resolution strategies. This proactive approach will make your workplace a much more positive place for your team members.


If you knew someone was having a conflict within the nursing field; how would you suggest they handle it? We want to know. Tell us in the comments!


Improve Your Skill as a Nurse Leader with the Right Training

Learning how to reduce conflict in the nursing field is a critical part of being a nurse leader. These types of workplace conflicts are common, and there are specific strategies you can implement to reduce them. A nursing leadership degree from the American Sentinel College of Nursing & Health Sciences at Post University can provide the right foundation. Reach out to the school today to learn more about this training and how it can extend your conflict resolution skills.


Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!


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