Managing conflicts and relationships

Nurse Leader Insider, April 23, 2007

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The Joint Commission's revised leadership standards emphasize the importance of effective communication and conflict resolution as crucial skills for leadership. In addition, effectively dealing with conflicts between physicians, nurses, staff, and hospital administration allows the organization's focus to remain on providing quality patient care.

The rapidly changing nature of healthcare-rising costs and accountability, reductions in reimbursement from payers, and the ever-present threat of malpractice lawsuits-can produce an attitude of fear and resentment in employees that can lead to conflicts that are counterproductive to success.

Three steps to effective conflict resolution
Building trust and mutual respect in an organization can reduce conflicts. But when conflicts do arise, it is essential for leaders to have a system in place to manage them appropriately. Ron Sherman, JD, a leadership trainer, provides the following three key steps to effective conflict resolution:

  1. Identify the problem. It is important for leaders to understand the needs or wants of the parties involved in a conflict. "Oftentimes, we get so emotionally involved, we fail to understand what exactly the fight is [about]," Sherman says. "What's the conflict? Was it a statement from six months ago? The only way you can [respond] to that is to ask questions." By asking questions and listening to the parties' concerns, leaders will better understand the root cause of the conflict and be able to express empathy, which is key to building trust. Leaders should acknowledge the opposing sides' interests and concerns, and express understanding and empathy, even if they are not in agreement.

  2. Assess the situation. "I think that the mistake that leaders make when they try to defuse a hostile situation is to tippy-toe around it," he says. Don't soft-pedal the issue, but speak with honesty, integrity, and straightforwardness.
    Tip: Environment is also key to effective conflict resolution. Sherman suggests that when dealing with difficult people, take them off-site, away from the hostile environment.

  3. Explain the result or outcome. Once a resolution has been reached, leaders who arbitrate between conflicting parties must be sure to explain the outcome or decision. Rely on objective data, written policies, mission statements, and best practices. "That keeps you out of the emotional side," Sherman says.

Source: Medical Staff Briefing, March 2007, HCPro, Inc.

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