Conflict Resolution

Conflict is a normal part of human interaction. In health care conflict of some sort has been estimated to occur in the management of a half to two thirds of patients. This conflict most commonly arises between clinicians, but also occurs between the clinician and the patient.

Given this prevalence, it is inevitable that you will experience conflict in your role. This makes skills in conflict resolution very important. Conflict resolution skills will help you manage workplace conflict effectively and will reduce the stress conflict can bring to you and those around you.

Conflict can be productive when, as a result of listening to other perspectives, a solution is found that may not have been considered previously. It can be destructive when issues are left unresolved or there is coercion and dominance by one group over others. Conflict management and resolution is an essential part of successful teamwork. Central to managing conflict is good communication, as ambiguity or uncertainty can heighten any potential conflict.

The level of conflict can vary. Think about conflict as continuum from minor disagreements and differences of opinion, to personality clashes, to blatant hostility. The type and level of conflict will determine what response is needed to address it.

Katz (2007) suggests conflict resolution requires approaches at both the institutional and personal level. Focus on what you can control: how you identify, address and manage conflict. Some suggestions for resolving conflict include:

  • Anticipate conflict. It is normal!
  • Develop good communication skills - speak clearly, listen carefully, and receive feedback constructively
  • Accurately identify the precise source of the conflict including an accurate history and identify primary players and other stakeholders
  • Find a nonjudgmental starting point for the discussion
  • If confrontation with a colleague is necessary, it should be conducted in a private setting
  • It may be useful to seek the perspective of someone outside the conflict, such as a manager or neutral mediator
  • If conflict is ultimately irreconcilable, transfer patient care to an uninvolved colleague. 


Conflict Resolution & You

Think about the way you manage and resolve conflict:

  • Do you have well developed conflict resolution and management skills?
  • What do you think are your conflict resolution and management strengths and weaknesses?
  • How can you develop your conflict resolution and management skills?  


Useful Resources

  • Katz J. Conflict and its resolution in the operating room. Journal of Clinical Anaesthesia, vol 19, pp. 152-158; 2007.
  • Porter-O'Grady T, T. Porter-O'Grady. Embracing conflict: building a healthy community. Health Care Management Review, vol 29, iss 3, pp. 181-187; 2004