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Eleven Tips to Reduce Conflicts with Fellow Healthcare Workers

Not only do workplace conflicts contribute to employee burnout, but they can also hurt patient outcomes. These adjustments can help your team gel, even in the most stressful situations.

Photo by: Eva-Katalin

As a healthcare professional yourself, you don’t need to read a statistic to know that interpersonal conflict happens regularly in your workplace — whether it’s nurse bullying or disruptive outbursts from a physician.

It’s only natural that when you see such behaviors, your instinct is to look the other way and focus on patient care. However, research shows that passive-aggressiveness, cliques, and incivility can harm patients.

That’s why a recent guide published in Nursing Management outlines several evidence-based strategies for addressing common types of interpersonal conflict in the healthcare workplace.

Common Types of Personal Conflict in Healthcare Settings

  • Defensiveness. This occurs when employees respond to critiques of their behavior with a comment about someone else’s shortcomings. It’s best to redirect the conversation by reminding the employee you’re using that time to focus on helping them improve.
  • Victim mentality. This occurs when a person feels unnecessarily singled out. Explain that the employee doesn’t know what disciplinary conversations are happening with others and that your professional standards are consistent.
  • Passive-aggressiveness. Be as direct as possible when you observe this behavior. For example, request the employee address any complaints about your performance or role with you in person.
  • Vertical aggression. Some experienced staff may bully superiors with less experience. If you’re in such a situation, ask them for their support because you value their expertise.
  • Bullying. Members of healthcare teams have a responsibility to stop nurse bullying. Bring it to a team leader — or if you’re a team leader, provide examples of unacceptable behavior to the bully, and state clearly when you’ll be following up to ensure they have stopped.
  • The informer. If you’re in a leadership role and a team member tells you about another employee’s mistake, request that the team member hold coworkers accountable. If more than one person brings up the same employee to you, consider conversing with that individual.

How Should Healthcare Professionals Respond to Conflict in the Workplace?

  1. Be consistent. Especially if you’re in a leadership role, ensure all employees understand what’s expected of them. For example, consider reviewing standards like dress code, attendance, paid leave, and behavior at least once a year. Enforce these rules consistently for all team members.
  1. Think about your team. When you’re on the fence about having a challenging conversation with a coworker or superior, remind yourself that this person learning to pull their weight benefits more than just you.
  1. Be in the right frame of mind. When you have such a conversation, take time to calm down and remind yourself of why you work in healthcare: to serve patients. Try to hold these discussions in a place that protects the person’s privacy.
  1. Respect other employees. Convey that you care about the individual’s success and you understand that they have a life outside work with its own set of challenges. Consider calling out coworkers’ positive behaviors, as well.
  1. Observe boundaries. As much as you care about a coworker, it’s not your responsibility to make that person improve or follow instructions, and ultimately, looking the other way can hurt your team long-term.
  1. Be direct. If you have something negative to say, lead with that message. It builds trust. If you can not succinctly explain the problem, wait until you can.
  1. Anticipate reactions. When you start a challenging conversation, you want to create a dialogue encouraging improvement. If you get a negative response, say that you feel you owe it to share feedback so the individual can succeed and build positive relationships with the team.
  1. Focus on people’s strengths. Whether you’re a leader or a teammate, genuinely placing yourself in someone’s corner, especially someone going through a tough time, can be an incredible motivator to improve.
  1. Ask for help (from mentors and employees). If someone you trust has lived through a similar problem, ask for help. Role-play difficult conversations with peers and be willing to help others in return.
  1. Acknowledge when employees don’t want to improve. Perhaps the biggest challenge for leaders is when you must face that someone you care about isn’t up to the task, no matter how much support you’ve given. Beforehand, give them every opportunity to succeed, and then regularly remind yourself you’ve done so.

Don’t give up. If you feel like you can’t deal with conflict, consider why you chose a healthcare career. Focusing on your daily goals and how you act on them can help you feel motivated and refreshed.

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