Career advice

Dealing with conflict Part 1: Within the team

Working in a caring profession does not give you immunity from tensions with colleagues. Fortunately, there are techniques you can use to stop normal conflict becoming a problem

Working in a caring profession does not give you immunity from tensions with colleagues. Fortunately, there are techniques you can use to stop normal conflict becoming a problem


Picture: iStock

You are sitting down to a family dinner when suddenly the tension shifts in the room. Someone has said something that irks another member of the family. Bang go your hopes that this reunion would be different.

Don’t worry, your family is perfectly normal. When any group of people come together regularly, or for a prolonged period, some degree of conflict is inevitable.

Though you have a professional duty to work cooperatively with your colleagues, the reality is that disagreements are unavoidable. But you can prevent everyday squabbles from escalating to the point where team efficiency and patient safety are adversely affected.

Conflict needn’t be bad

Workplace conflicts are challenging for everyone, not just those directly involved. How many times have you scanned the off-duty in the hope that certain members of staff won’t be working together, as you know the shift will be fuelled with tension?

Yet, believe it or not, conflicts aren’t always a bad thing. If dealt with openly and sensitively, disagreements within the team can be a catalyst to increased understanding, personal growth and operational changes which in turn can enhance patient care.

Address what’s happening

The key is to actively address what’s happening instead of ignoring it. This is easier said than done. Here are some tips:

  • Let go. You can’t agree with everything that’s said all the time, but try not to let sources of conflict linger.
  • Think before you speak. Though it is better to address things quickly, make sure you don’t act in haste and say something you will regret.
  • Listen. Don’t underestimate the power of actively listening.
  • Be mindful. Conflict can be emotional, but try not to let feelings such as anger, frustration and sadness guide what you are saying. Take a moment to look at yourself before you challenge someone else.
  • Avoid judging. In the heat of the moment we may all say things we don’t really mean. But if you are committed to resolving conflict you need to remain open to what the other person says.
  • Ask for help. Consider asking a colleague to mediate. Make sure this person is unbiased, agree what you all want out of the discussion and set ground rules.
  • Show integrity. Regard conflict-resolution conversations as private. Don’t share them with the rest of the ward.
  • Stick to the facts. Avoid apportioning blame or becoming defensive.
  • Resolve. Try to agree on positive ways of moving forward.
  • Reflect. What you have learnt from this experience? How can you use it to enhance your practice?
  • Remember that no one is perfect, not even you.

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach


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