Workplace Interpersonal Conflicts Among the Healthcare Workers

The work in a healthcare setting is rather demanding and may sometimes require much more than a thorough preparation and the knowledge of one’s job. Since medical workers and patients communicate on a daily basis and since different people have various opinions and approaches to situations, conflicts are inevitable. Disagreements may appear due to insufficient experience, unsatisfactory working conditions, or unjustified demands from customers. Whereas some individuals tend to keep their feelings to themselves, others prefer to share their emotions either in a polite or in an unfriendly way. Whatever the type of conflict is, it is vital to find the most suitable method of resolving it so that neither a healthcare employee nor a patient should suffer from the misunderstanding that took place. The present paper depicts an unresolved conflict that occurred in a healthcare setting, outlines the four stages of the conflict and relates them to delegation, and offers strategies for conflict resolution.

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Description of the Unresolved Conflict

Since all employees in our hospital are trained to prevent or avoid conflicts with patients and their families, the rare cases of misunderstanding that occur usually happen among the staff. Scholars remark that interpersonal conflicts in a healthcare setting are a rather common phenomenon (Jerng et al., 2017). Recently, I witnessed one of such disputes between two nurses in the elderly services department. The head nurse told one of the nurses, L. C., to take the vital signs of the patient who had been admitted that morning. While L. C. was measuring the patient’s pulse, another nurse, R. N., entered the ward. R. N. observed the work of L. C. and said, “You are doing it wrong! Let me show you how it is performed!” The patient, O. W., was a seventy-five-year-old lady who became shocked both by the tone of R. N. and her words. O. W. immediately asked for the nurse manager to come and complained about L. C.’s unprofessionalism. When the nurse manager listened to the patient’s explanations, she apologized for her subordinates’ misconduct but assured O. W. that every employee of the department was highly-skilled.

The conflict was unresolved since, despite the nurse manager’s explanations, the patient demanded not to have L. C. as her nurse for the whole stay. The type of conflict was interpersonal because it involved two healthcare employees, one of whom prevented the other from performing her professional duties by interrupting her work. The outcome of the situation was the dissatisfaction of the customer and the tense relationship between the colleagues.

The Four Stages of Conflict

The diversity of conflicts and the problem of resolving them led specialists to identifying several stages of disagreements. Finkelman (2018) distinguishes between such conflict phases as latent, perceived, felt, and manifest. At the latent stage, the factors that might induce the conflict are identified (Champoux, 2017). The most probable precondition of this situation was a series of small misunderstandings between the two nurses prior to the described conflict. R. N. had worked at the hospital for five years whereas L. C. had only a few months of experience. Thus, R. N. thought that she was more competent without the actual ground for such an opinion. A common reason for latent conflicts is the incompatibility of goals (Finkelman, 2018). However, it is not possible to say that the two nurses had different purposes. It is more likely that R. N. was trying to demonstrate that she was a more experienced and, thus, valuable employee than L. C. Delegation was not the issue since L. C. was performing her professional duties.

The perceived conflict occurs when the parties involved in the case admit that there is a problem between them. In the situation that happened between R. N. and L. C., such realization occurred. After R. N.’s intrusion in the work of L. C., it became clear that the former wanted to spoil the reputation of the latter. Even if L. C. did something wrong, R. N. should have asked her out to explain what her mistake had been without getting the patient involved in the situation. However, the behavior of R. N. made it clear that she wanted to create an unpleasant situation and show L. C. in a bad light.

The next stage is the felt conflict that presupposes the recognition of the issue by both parties. In the situation described, at this stage, not only the two nurses but also the patient was involved. O. W. tended to believe R. N.’s resolution about L. C.’s professional skills (or, rather, unprofessionalism) and demanded to have another nurse. At that point, it became obvious that the conflict was felt by all parties.

The last phase is the manifest conflict, and it involves the response from the participants of the situation. The most typical manifestation is aggression (Champoux, 2017). L. C. did not make a scene in front of the patient, but she burst into crying in the nurse ward later and shouted at R. N., saying unpleasant things and complaining on her conduct. There was no violence in L. C.’s reaction, but some mild aggression was present.

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Strategies for Conflict Resolution

The next thing to do upon acknowledging a conflict situation is finding ways of resolving it. Leadership, as well as the participation of team members, can help mitigate the problem and prevent the occurrence of similar cases in the future (Finkelman, 2018). One of the most important aspects of conflict resolution is the regulation of emotions (Halperin, 2013). The nurse leader should have explained to the patient that L. C. had done everything correctly and that R. N.’s statement had been wrong. By doing so, the leader would have mitigated the dispute, and no further development of the problem would have occurred. The best of possible approaches to conflict management is the win-win method of conflict reduction (Champoux, 2017). When applying this approach, all parties receive what they want. However, it is impossible to implement this method in the current situation since by satisfying R. N.’s interests, the nurse leader would diminish L. C.’s role. Thus, the best strategies to solve the issue would have been the authoritative command (Champoux, 2017). The leader should have explained to R. N. what she had done wrong and should have warned her that the repetition of such a demeanor would lead to negative consequences for R. N.


The observed situation gives several important lessons for the future practice. First of all, it seems that for the effective management of such conflicts, it is necessary to take preventive measures. In particular, the head nurse needs to explain the subordinates their duties not only to patients but also to one another. Also, in such a situation, the nurse leader could have approached the patient to mitigate the conflict. Finally, it is crucial to cultivate the positive environment in the workplace in order to avoid such incidents.


Champoux, J. E. (2017). Organizational behavior: Integrating individuals, groups, and organizations (5th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Finkelman, A. (2018). Professional nursing concepts: Competencies for quality leadership (4th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning.

Halperin, E. (2013). Emotion, emotion regulation, and conflict resolution. Emotion Review, 6(1), 68-76.

Jerng, J.-S., Huang, S.-F., Liang, H.-W., Chen, L.-C., Lin, C.-K., … Sun, J.-S. (2017). Workplace interpersonal conflicts among the healthcare workers: Retrospective exploration from the institutional incident reporting system of a university-affiliated medical center. PLoS One, 12(2), e0171696.

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