Why nurse managers hate conflict and what to do about it

Why nurse managers hate conflict and what to do about it

Almost all nurse managers will avoid conflict.  That is what I have found over the years when I ask the question in our program (Mastering conflict, collaboration and culture). They are not alone of course but the problem for them is that they can’t afford to avoid it.  There is loads of evidence that conflict that is not addressed early and constructively grows and manifests as resentment, disengagement, passive undermining, stress injuries, mistakes and poor patient outcomes.

So why do nurse managers avoid conflict (or anyone for that matter)?  The reasons nurse managers give for avoiding conflict are that they:

  • are not sure how to handle it
  • don’t like to be disliked
  • worry about hurting the other person’s feelings
  • hope that it will just go away
  • feel like they have failed as a manager
  • feel emotional and worried, and can’t find the right things to say when there is conflict
  • worry about retribution
  • worry about seeing the person outside of work and what this means in their community

All of these fears are so significant that many nurse managers will choose to avoid the issue rather than deal with it and avoid it becoming worse.  And make no mistake, this is the choice that is being made – whether it is conscious or unconscious – to avoid a very real and uncomfortable confrontation rather than addressing it immediately to prevent something worse that might happen.

When you look at all of these worries, they are grounded in a concern for self-protection.  Unfortunately, our brains can’t distinguish between what is a real threat to our life, and what is just a worry about something that may never happen – or might not even matter in the scheme of things.  So, adrenaline is released when we think about an impeding conflict or when we find ourselves in one, which triggers our fear, flight and fight response.  This hijacks our pre-frontal cortex (our brain’s voice of reason) and knocks out our capacity for rational thought, and the ability to put it in perspective, see the choices and make the right ones.

Unless we have an awareness of how we view conflict, and what our default responses to conflict might be, we operate on an unconscious level – and that’s when all of the worries listed above may well come true.

So, next time you are faced with a workplace conflict:

  1. Do not react immediately – this is not avoiding, but taking the time to consider the best way to respond. Take deep breaths and count to 10 (at least – and maybe more) – this tells your brain that you are relaxed and don’t need that adrenaline – so it doesn’t go limbic! Notice how you are feeling – this also puts your pre-frontal cortex firmly in gear.
  2. Consider – “Why am I here”?  Transcend your own self-interests and focus on the greater good (for example, what is best for the patient?).
  3. Acknowledge and understand your own fears and worries (there is no doubt you will still feel these) and find the courage to do it anyway
  4. Realise your own thinking patterns and default reactions when faced with conflict, and develop a constructive mindset and strategies that allow you to always win – without making them lose!

If you want to learn how to do this, and understand yourself better so you can deal more consciously and constructively with conflict, then join us at our next workshop: “Mastering conflict, collaboration and culture” on 24 November in Melbourne.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *