Conflict Resolution for Health Care Professionals

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Conflict happens, especially in stressful situations. As a health care professional, you face intense situations nearly every shift, and learning to manage your emotions and bring about a swift resolution to any conflicts that may arise can make your work life much easier, more successful, and more enjoyable. Because great health care relies on frequent communication and collaboration among coworkers, it is essential that a positive and open atmosphere is maintained. Here are some tips to approach workplace conflicts with the goal of a swift and mutually agreeable outcome in mind.

1. Take a Moment to Calm Down

The classic advice of taking a deep breath and counting to 10 works well for many people. You can also try Ujjayi breathing — a technique used in yoga. Taking a deep inhale through the nose, slightly constrict your throat (as if you are whispering), followed by a long exhale through the mouth. Fully expand your lungs as you breathe. Each breath should be slightly audible to you. Experiment with other ways to calm down, such as meditation, easy stretches, or visualization techniques. Drop your shoulders and release any unnecessary muscle tension. Try to take your focus off the specifics of the conflict for a moment, until the anger subsides and you can think through the situation from a logical perspective. Two angry people cannot resolve a conflict effectively. Once you are calm, think through the situation and formulate a plan to resolve it.

2. Identify Your Triggers

Look back on the conflicts that you have experienced during your career. Do you notice any patterns? Do you tend to find yourself in conflicts more often when you are hungry or tired? If you know being hungry gives you a short fuse, ensure that you always have quick snacks on hand. Is there a specific tone of voice or personality type that always gets under your skin? Maybe certain people speak to you in a way that feels condescending, and being spoken to that way makes you angry each and every time. Once you understand what types of situations frequently lead to conflicts for you, you can work to ensure you don’t find yourself in those situations often, or at least approach them from a more logical perspective. 

3. Be Empathetic

Try to look at the conflict from the other person’s point of view, and have empathy for them. Remember everyone has difficulties in their personal life that can carry over into the workplace. Maybe your know-it-all coworker has been passed over on promotions too many times, and speaking down to newer staff is her way of coping. Maybe that irritable coworker has a new baby and hasn’t slept an eight-hour night in months. None of those things justify bad behavior, but understanding where someone is coming from and thinking of the challenges they might be facing can help you approach the conflict with more grace, and may help you resolve it more quickly.

4. Think of Every Conflict as an Opportunity to Improve Your Conflict Resolution Skills

When you find yourself in a conflict, view it as an opportunity for self-improvement. We all know someone who floats through their career and is adored by everyone. While it may seem like luck, that person likely has a high EQ (emotional quotient) and knows how to work well with others, and avoid and diffuse conflict. EQ is a learned trait, and each conflict you experience or difficult person you have to deal with is giving you a chance to improve yours. TalentSmart found that 58% of job performance is attributable to EQ and that individuals with high EQ earn $29,000 more annually than their low EQ counterparts.

5. Be the Bigger Person

In some relationships, it can feel like you are always the one taking the initiative. Know that everyone feels like that sometimes. That said, you can only control yourself, not others. Do your best to resolve the conflict, even if the other person remains difficult. Compromising or accommodating are both valid conflict resolution strategies, and they can often be the best method when you are dealing with a particularly unyielding coworker. Take pride in your professionalism and your ability to put the work above your personal wants and needs.

6. Don’t Let Silent Stalemates Continue Indefinitely

Luckily, most workplace conflicts don’t devolve into screaming matches, but freeze-out conflicts can be equally damaging, especially in health care where communication is essential. If you find yourself so angry that you are avoiding someone, and only speaking to them when absolutely necessary, it’s still important to resolve the conflict and get back to friendly terms. Once you’ve calmed down and reflected on how this conflict arose, figure out an action plan to bring about a resolution. Would it be best to approach your coworker with a smile and ask how he or she is doing? Or could you ask him or her to spare a moment for a quick meeting, where you work to bring about a resolution? Ultimately, you don’t have to be best friends, you just have to get to a place where you no longer feel any tension between you and you have an open line of communication.

7. Keep the End Goal of Patient Care in Mind

In the end, everyone is working towards the same goal — the comfort and safety of the patients. It is in the patients’ best interest that their care team works well together and without conflict, so do your part in making this happen. While personal conflicts arise in every workplace, as a health care professional, you have patients’ lives in your hands and it is essential that you put aside personal differences so that your patients get the best possible medical care.

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