This is part one in a two-part series on conflict
resolution in the workplace.
By Tanna R. Thomason, RN, MS, CCRN, contributor
Conflict happens when there is an opposition, a difference
in opinion or a struggle. It can occur when relationships are not in balance.
Conflict may happen as a result of opposing viewpoints.
It is inevitable that conflict will be present throughout
both our professional and personal lives. We must remember that no two people
think alike or feel alike on everything, especially when working in a hectic
The purpose of this article is to discuss various myths
surrounding the topic of conflict along with a description of some expanded
points of view to use when approaching conflict. In Part II, we will explore
your personal conflict resolution style along with a few new tools to help you
handle these tough situations.
Myths about Conflict
A myth is a belief that is not based on fact or has been
passed down to us without a strong foundation of validity. If you believe in any
of the following conflict myths, please challenge yourself to consider a
different point of view:
- Myth #1: Conflict is Negative
Example: Sarah, a nurse manager
with three years of experience on a busy pediatric unit, has always believed
that conflict can only produce poor outcomes. Based on past experiences both at
home and at work, she simply avoids conflict and attempts to make others happy.
Sarah has an underlying belief (and fear) that if discussed openly, the conflict
will only further divide her relationships with others.
Expanded Point of View:
Conflict can actually be constructive and may generate new solutions to
unresolved problems. By embracing and confronting conflict, new ideas and
stronger relationships may result.
- Myth #2: Conflict is a contest where “blame” and
“fault” must be assigned before an agreement can be reached.
Example: Jessie is a manager who
runs a tight ship; everyone is clear on the rules of the unit along with
individual roles and responsibilities. When conflict arises, it must be resolved
as soon as possible with a confrontational dialogue. When allowing each person
to discuss their point of view, Jessie listens to the conversation and then
clearly articulates who is a fault and who is correct. Jessie believes it is
important to be clear on what is right and what is wrong. In her opinion,
assigning fault is essential for the full resolution of the conflict, thus
allowing staff to move forward.
Expanded Point of View:
Being right and placing blame on another person does NOT enhance your social
status, nor is it required to resolve a conflict. In conflict between two
people, you may both be at fault and you may both have creative
ideas for resolving the conflict. . .So let’s just move past the unnecessary
- Myth #3: Conflict will take care of itself
Example: Michelle hates
situations involving conflict and does not believe the nurse manager should get
in the middle of issues between staff members. She believes that staff members
are mature adults and should work things out among themselves. On a personal
level, Michelle also believes that if she avoids the conflict, it will help to
preserve her reputation as a fair and well-liked manager.
Expanded Point of View:
Left alone, conflict does not typically resolve itself. Since many people use
the “avoidance” style when conflict is present, it is no wonder that the
conflict is left unresolved. If not discussed, conflict might be shelved but is
rarely forgotten. At some time in the future, the nurse may decide to “un-shelf”
the conflict and layer it upon a newer problem, making conflict resolution
increasingly difficult. Unresolved conflict generally leads to decreased morale,
communication and productivity.
Below are some additional
expanded perspectives to help you think “out of the box” on the subject of
- There are several good answers or solutions for one
problem; conflict releases energy that can produce positive and constructive
- Conflict can be synergistic and can be a positive
motivator for new and innovative solutions.
- Listening is the key. Really listen to what is being
said. Meet your initial feeling of “resistance” with a deep breath and an
increased effort to understand the other person’s point of view. Listen
carefully (step away from your personal emotions) and summarize what you just
- If you were wrong, go ahead and share this. We all make
mistakes. Admitting fault will enhance your status and respect among peers
- Conflict is an opportunity for growth. Although very
uncomfortable for most of us, conflict is a vehicle for new dialogue, new
understandings and new creative solutions.
In summary, conflict is viewed as not only inevitable, but
as a natural condition of our social phenomenon. Conflict is necessary if
people and organizations are to change, modify and adapt. Are you able to
Tanna Thomason is a
clinical nurse specialist at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, California
and is a member of the adjunct faculty at Point Loma Nazarene University.