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The Importance of Conflict Resolution for Nurse Administrators

Conflict may occur among employees and other individuals in every industry. However, the fast-paced environment and critical situations in nursing coupled with personality clashes can cause unresolved conflicts that jeopardize the welfare of patients, staff and organizational culture. So, it is essential that nurse administrators focus on ways to prevent dissension or readily defuse it. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Nursing Administration program prepares nurses to prevent and manage disruptive or volatile situations rooted in conflict.

What Is Conflict in Nursing?

Conflict in nursing is a disagreement or argument — spoken or unspoken — that may arise between two or more individuals because of opposing viewpoints, goals, preferences, values or beliefs. Generally, the sources of conflict in nursing are:

  • Other nurses
  • Patients
  • Physicians
  • Patients’ family members
  • Managers or nurse leaders

What Is Conflict Resolution?

In a nursing environment, conflict resolution is the action that nurse administrators and nurses take to mediate or solve issues between people that cause disharmony in the workplace.

What Are Some Reasons for Conflict?

A variety of disputes among nurses, co-workers, staff, patients and visitors can develop in a healthcare setting. Some reasons for conflict include:

  • Competition among healthcare professionals
  • Expectations about the level of competence co-workers should exhibit
  • Different personalities
  • Disputes about patient care
  • Inadequate communication skills
  • Nonexistent working relationship with an individual or members of healthcare team

High levels of stress, burnout, moral distress, health concerns, tragic circumstances and differing values and beliefs during the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated both interpersonal and ethical conflicts in healthcare environments. Whether rooted in emotional stress or disagreements about vaccines and treatment methods, the pandemic spurred substantial conflict between staff, leadership and patients at times. In this, the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a striking example of the unique and complex potential for conflict in healthcare settings.

How Does Conflict Affect a Healthcare Organization?

The most dangerous outcome of conflict in nursing is that the quality of patient care and patient safety may be compromised. When nurses are distracted or agitated, they may make medical errors that can harm patients. Conflicts can also result in the following:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Interruption of workflow
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increased attrition

What Are Common Methods Nurses May Use for Resolving Conflicts?

Without guidance from a nurse administrator, nurses may try to resolve conflicts themselves. Thus, it is important for nurse administrators to address and resolve conflicts effectively while also educating their staff in constructive conflict resolution practices. Here are five common methods for managing conflict:

  1. Accommodating involves an individual or group conceding to the other party without resistance so everyone can move beyond the conflict and continue to work together. This serves to maintain positive relationships, but a real resolution is often not achieved if the conflict is not addressed in an equitable manner.


  1. Avoiding is common when a participant in the conflict chooses to ignore the problem, denies that there is trouble or does not want to engage in finding a resolution. This method is rarely constructive because ignoring the problem means no solution can be found. Unresolved conflict can increase stress for everyone in the workplace and communication suffers further.


  1. Collaborating can be the ideal form of constructive conflict resolution. Both parties involved in the conflict are committed to discussing the problem, evaluating solutions and pinpointing the best conclusion for resolution. This supports trust, teamwork and alignment with shared goals.


  1. Compromising in conflict resolution is carried out through negotiation, trade-offs and exchanges. Compromise can be necessary and constructive when managed effectively. Yet, it can also be an ineffective method if managed poorly, leading to power struggles, hostility, frustration and a lack of commitment to accomplishing goals.


  1. Confronting and competing occurs when emotions boil over or a participant cares only about winning the dispute. Nurses or patients embroiled in a conflict may become combative. This is often an unconstructive way to manage conflict because purely combative behavior can shut down communication needed for a workable resolution. Yet, there are times when administrators managing conflict must be resolute about the needed outcome, like if a patient or staff member is becoming violent or abusive.

Clearly, these conflict resolution methods are not always mutually exclusive. Constructive collaboration often involves a degree of compromise. An aspect of compromise is working to understand another’s perspective and accommodate their needs. In a neutral sense of the word, civil confrontation is necessary so conflicts can be addressed, as opposed to being avoided altogether. Effective conflict management employs a combination of resolution methods appropriate to the situation, relationships and desired outcomes involved.

What Are 5 Tips for Managing Conflicts in a Healthcare Setting?

Conflicts are inevitable in healthcare settings, so nurse administrators should be prepared with strategies to achieve a positive resolution. Here are five tips they can incorporate into their conflict resolution process:

  1. Acknowledge that there is a conflict.
  2. Listen attentively to identify and understand the problem.
  3. Refrain from being judgmental.
  4. Ask thought-provoking questions to ascertain the facts and probe for solutions.
  5. Stay calm, focus on a resolution and demonstrate confidence in your decision.

For nurse administrators, conflict resolution is challenging but necessary. Not all conflicts in nursing are bad; sometimes conflict can provide a learning experience. Conflict can be constructive when resolved in healthy ways, supporting honesty, civil discussion and diversity in ideas and perspectives. Conflicts, and their resolutions, may also improve relationships and stimulate progress while building trust and teamwork.

It is important for nurse administrators to promote a collaborative and respectful working environment so nurses can express their concerns and feel comfortable sharing their grievances. Effective conflict management in healthcare settings helps staff perform at their best, which, in turn, ensures patients receive the highest level of care.

Learn more about Texas A&M International University’s online MSN – Nursing Administration program.

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