Do you and your partners frequently have difficulty working through operational decisions? Is there internal strife or are there misunderstandings between your office manager and the lead nurse? Is the hospital committee you serve on stalled because of conflict?

Healthcare professionals face more conflict and greater complexity than any other professions. Such conflicts arise due to current reform and the challenges of balancing competing interests, philosophies, training backgrounds, the endless quest for adequate resources, and the emotional quality of the work.

Conflict is an incompatibility of interests, goals, or perspectives. A natural occurrence in daily life and human interactions, conflict is an expression of differences. Handled poorly, conflict can mushroom into adverse consequences, including negativity, divided groups, and decreases in work productivity and satisfaction. However, if managed effectively, conflict can be a source of growth, unity, and positive change.

Despite your best efforts, systemic conflict situations cannot be resolved by just a personal approach. Nevertheless, physicians are in a position to assess the situation and employ strategies that move conflict dynamics towards a positive outcome for themselves and others involved.

Recognize conflict in your workplace.
Conflict and conflict management are dynamic processes. Only through awareness can we prevent conflict from happening, or if it happens, resolve it quickly before the conflict takes on a life of its own. Conflict does not always surface in gale proportions. The stages of conflict can range from robust argument within a single meeting, to longstanding opposing and entrenched positions of medical staff, administration, and the governing body. Early engagement can avoid you from taking many unnecessary and costly measures later.

Learn your mode of handling conflict
Most people have one style of managing conflict that comes most naturally to them. Be able to use any of the following four styles, as each has advantages and disadvantages, and no one style is best for handling all conflict situations:

  • If your style is to compete, you may feel that if you do not win, you are a loser. You try to make sure that your way is the way that things are done.
  • If your style is to avoid, you may not want to talk about the issue.
    If your style is to accommodate, you give in to the other person’s idea.
  • If your style is to compromise, you address the conflict openly so that both people get some of their needs met.

Listen for understanding.
To be present and listen for understanding is challenging as you move through a chaotic day. Have the intention to listen to others at deeper levels for collaboration barriers that result from fear, shame, or need for control.

Although conflict cannot be avoided, you can have an impact on how to maximize constructive opportunities from the differences. Effective conflict management will enhance your ability to provide safe and effective care and regain hope that complex challenges can have creative solutions.

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