Conflicts are an unfortunate byproduct of interactions gone bad among coworkers. Whatever the cause, conflict can create discomfort for members of the entire team, even those on the periphery who silently witness the unhealthy behaviors and the adverse outcomes that follow. The people involved in the conflict may try to draw innocent bystanders into taking sides. Stress levels increase; morale can tank. Taken to an extreme, conflict gives rise to a hostile work environment, poor job satisfaction, and high staff turnover.
When conflict is resolved quickly and the individuals concerned can move past it, everyone benefits and the overall climate improves. However, if the conflict festers and deep-seated grudges set in, dysfunctional behaviors result. Staff request to change assignments or schedules just to avoid certain people; teamwork suffers, potentially leading to patient or staff safety issues; and incivility can ensue.
Although coworkers do not have to be friends, they are expected to function effectively as part of a larger team. Many resources offer guidance on the art of timely conflict resolution, as discussed this month in Learning Curve on page 14. My personal favorite involves a simple technique called SBI, or Situation—Behavior—Impact.1 Here's an example of using SBI to begin a private, difficult conversation to address a conflict head-on rather than letting it stew: “When I asked for your help with a complex drug calculation (situation), you just laughed at me in front of the other nurses (behavior). I felt demoralized and am worried my co-workers now think I'm incompetent (impact).” This technique gets a hard message across professionally. The goal is to generate direct but respectful dialogue. If that approach fails, leadership intervention and support from Human Resources may be warranted.
Effective conflict resolution requires mature, professional behaviors and healthy doses of emotional intelligence on both sides. Each person must own his or her responses and recognize that other valid viewpoints may exist. Honest conversation is essential, but with the goal of preventing such conversations from degenerating and ruining relationships. Careful word choices and the courage to apologize when necessary are keys to a successful resolution.
Ongoing conflict is destructive. In this season of celebration and goodwill, strive for peace now and into the years to come.
Until next time,
LINDA LASKOWSKI-JONES, MS, APRN, ACNS-BC, CEN, FAWM, FAAN
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, NURSING2018 VICE PRESIDENT: EMERGENCY & TRAUMA SERVICES CHRISTIANA CARE HEALTH SYSTEM, WILMINGTON, DEL.