Conflict Resolution in a Healthcare Setting

Conflict Resolution in a Healthcare Setting

Conflict Resolution in a Healthcare Setting


Despite the fact that there is no one universal definition of a conflict, Kreitner and Kinicki (2010) defined it as a “process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party” (p. 373). In a professional setting, conflicts can arise from a variety of reasons ranging from resistance to change to the opposition between personal views of employees. While the avoidance of conflict may seem like a way to go, the truth is that it may negatively affect productivity and the delivery of the services an organization provides, especially in a healthcare setting. Therefore, it is crucial for the senior management of a facility to find a way in which a conflict can be resolved in order not to undermine employees’ productivity and the quality of the provided care.Conflict Resolution in a Healthcare Setting

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Conflict in a Healthcare Setting

In a hospital setting, all conflicts are tied to the interactions between people since the delivery of quality health care implies the use of human resources. To better understand the process of conflict resolution in a healthcare setting, the following scenario is proposed for examination:

The University of Miami Hospital located in Miami, Florida, has been recently dealing with an interprofessional conflict associated with the disruptive behavior of an attending physician that seemed to be opposed to the practices employed by the nurses. The physician who occupied a dominant position over the nursing personnel made up assignments for nurses during patient care that did not coincide with their responsibilities. For example, when the physician came to visit an elderly patient for a check-up, he ordered a nurse to clean the room and bring new window curtains for the patient to feel more comfortable. Such a disrespectful attitude made the nurse unsatisfied, but she followed the order so that the patient did not witness conflict. After the physician had left the patient, the nurse confronted him in the hallway and expressed her frustration with what had happened; however, the physician brushed it off and stated that he was superior in position and could do anything he wanted. Within the next week, he proceeded to give nurses unnecessary tasks to which they sometimes agreed due to the fear of patients being witnesses of a conflict.Conflict Resolution in a Healthcare Setting

The week of conflicting interactions among workers significantly impacted the delivery of quality patient care because some nurses were occupied by irrelevant tasks and were losing time they could spend on caring for patients. One elderly patient expressed her dissatisfaction with the work of nurses since she had to wait forty minutes for someone to help her get up and go to the bathroom. Sadly, the conflict remained unresolved since the hospital’s management did not find any time to look into it – they were preoccupied with an upcoming arrival of a foreign delegation of possible sponsors. Nurses exhibited hostile behavior towards the physician but kept following his orders. If the conflict is not resolved, it will negatively affect nurses’ satisfaction with work and patients’ satisfaction with care (Higazee, 2015).Conflict Resolution in a Healthcare Setting

Stages of Conflict

It is important to outline four stages of conflict to align them with the case scenario. Latent conflict is the first stage, in which factors that can cause a conflict to emerge. In the case, such factors included the disrespectful behavior of a physician, the opposition of roles, as well as professional superiority of one healthcare provider over another. Perceived conflict, on the other hand, occurs when parties do not have a full understanding of each other’s positions – the physician did not understand that nurses are not cleaners or the maintenance personnel.

Felt conflict is the stage in which parties can cognize and feel the negative attitudes. In the case of the Miami hospital, the conflict was felt because nurses had to follow the inconsistent demands of a physician who exceeded his professional powers and showed a disrespectful attitude towards nurses that in his opinion, were lower in rank. Lastly, manifest conflict implies the parties of the conflict is engaged in behavior that evokes responses such as aggression, apathy, disobedience, etc. (MBA, 2013). In the discussed situation, nurses exhibited obedient behavior when they were in the presence of patients; however, when patients were not around, they did not follow the physician’s orders, were rude, resentful, and angry. The delegation did not play a role in the conflict because the “higher-standing” physician did not assign any responsibility or authority to nurses; instead, he diminished the work of nurses to meaningless tasks.Conflict Resolution in a Healthcare Setting

Conflict Resolution Strategies

While conflict resolution practices can take a variety of forms, the key strategy that should be included in all cases is associated with assembling a team of stakeholders interested in mitigation. Such a team should include a nurse leader, the physician involved in the conflict, the department manager, as well as a representative of the hospital’s senior management. Fist, every stakeholder should express “self-interest” while the other step relates to finding overlaps between “self-interest” to find “enlarged interests” (Dorn, Marcus, & McNulty, 2013, para. 3). According to Dorn, Marcus, and McNulty (2013), experience showed that there is usually a larger number of agreements than disagreements with regards to common interests. The third component of the strategy is coming up with “enlightened interests” that make up the solutions for disagreements that remained. The last stage is identifying the set of agreements or “aligned interests” (Dorn, Marcus, & McNulty, 2013).

Active listening, structured dialogue, appreciative inquiry, and positive deviance should become tools for resolving the conflict that arose in a healthcare setting. Active listening should be incorporated into the physician’s practice so that he understands the perspective of nurses. Conflicting parties must engage in a conversation and encourage the sharing of thoughts and feelings through a structured dialogue supported by the facility’s management. Appreciative inquiry implies learning from the experiences of others (Sigut, 2013); therefore, a physician should look at the everyday responsibilities nurses have to gain respect for their work. A nursing leader should also be involved in conflict resolution and participate in positive deviance, which is an approach targeted at finding best mitigation practices in other healthcare facilities and promoting their adoption (Sigut, 2013).Conflict Resolution in a Healthcare Setting


The experience of the conflict between a physician and nurses in a hospital setting shed light on the fact that some people in a profession can consider the work of others invaluable when in fact such work brings tremendous benefit to patients. Resolving conflicts that arise from disrespect and the lack of understanding for the efforts of others is an important issue to address in a healthcare setting. Moreover, the fact that the physician appealed to his superiority to justify his actions only contributed to the development of the conflict. In future situations, it will be best to address the issue immediately with the help of the mentioned tools and strategies instead of ignoring the problem and acting as if nothing is happening.


Dorn, B., Marcus, L., & McNulty, E. (2013). Four steps to resolving conflicts in health care. Web.

Higazee, M. (2015). Types and levels of conflicts experienced by nurses in the hospital settings. Web.

Kreitner, R. & Kinicki, A. (2010). Organizational behavior (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Conflict Resolution in a Healthcare Setting