Sample Essays on Interpersonal Nursing Team Conflicts

Interpersonal Nursing Team Conflicts


Today, working in teams is common as workers join virtually, cross functionally and autonomously. A team is a small group comprising mostly of 3 to 10 members who distinguish themselves mutually as a group and they have some common goals and objectives. When one or more members of the group differ with each other, Intra-group conflict is said to emerge. Managing a team is a difficult task, which involves high organization stakes and expectations, enormous financial undertakings, involving various stakeholders and the capacity to handle diversified teams and members in a professional way.

The nursing profession is a career that involves dealing with a number of complex, burdening and demanding situations. This is due to the workload, emotional demands, and working in shifts (Wlodarczyk & Lazarewicz, 2011, p.847). To have a smooth and a conducive working environment, nursing is founded on joint relationships and interactions with both clients and fellow workers. In the operating rooms and boardrooms, staffs are expected to work jointly in teams in order to realize their common goals and objectives (Greer et al, 2012, p.935). However, when more than one professional observes issues from a dissimilar point of view or there are differences caused by one’s opinion, interests, beliefs and background, conflict may arise. Although many regard conflict as a negative issue, experience in conflict resolution can lead to positive results for nurses, their workmates, and clients. However, if it is not managed effectively it can hamper a nurse’s capability to deliver quality services to the patients and can escalate into cruelty and abuse. Therefore, nurses are required to be aware of the processes in which conflicts can rise.

By nature, conflict is a typical state, which can be either positive or negative. When conflicts are used for individual gain or are directed to harm another member of the team, it acts as a destructive force. For the purpose of this paper, conflict can be defined as the condition arising from differing opinions and/or disagreements in interests between two or more members of a team. In a typical team setting, reasons for the occurrence of differences between members are two-fold. First, there exists interpersonal diversity in every aspect such as age, sex, race, educational level and expertise, opinions, beliefs and cultural backgrounds. Second, affiliation of members in terms of positions, roles, and status can lead to their differences.

There is need for researchers to analyze the scope of interpersonal nursing team conflicts and come up with suggestions and solutions on how to handle and manage these conflicts and alleviate their adverse effects and at the same time harnessing benefits from them. This paper analyses the scope of interpersonal nursing team conflicts with special focus on the nature of nursing team conflicts, their causes, their impact, and possible resolutions to this nursing leadership problem.

Background Information

Interpersonal conflicts at the workplace arise when two or more persons in a team or group with common perspectives, goals, and objectives fall short of sharing similar views thereby having diversified interests, and interferes with accomplishment of set goals and objectives by other members of the group. It could also occur because of issues unrelated to tasks such as demographic and group differences. The conflicting parties are incapable or reluctant to accomplish the expectations of one another. Conflicts differ in their nature due to the issues concerned, the character and relationship between the parties, the circumstance, the methods used to wage the conflict, and results. These elements among others determine the degree of constructiveness or destructiveness of the conflict.


Types of conflicts

Constructive conflict arises when interdependent parties express their differences without being hostile to each other and both parties are committed to resolve their differences. In this case, the benefits that arise from the conflict exceed the expenses. Productive and equally valuable shared decisions are generated. In constructive conflicts, the method is equally important to the outcome. The parties involved in the conflict come together to redefine and enhance their relationship for mutual benefits. In constructive conflict, the goals of both parties are elastic and both parties believe they can triumph. Whenever interdependent parties have opposing views and opinions, they try to find a universal link between them and use it to reach a common decision. In this case, the involved parties acknowledge the disagreements and willing to compromise. There is a sound flow of negotiations willingness to transform. In the place of work, constructive conflict brings about open communication in the team and leads to superior ideas and decisions. The relationship between the employees themselves and their seniors is enhanced.

Destructive conflicts arise when interdependent parties are engaged in actions and/or behaviors resulting in increased aggression rather than resolving their differences. In this case, a conflict amplifies in scale and tends to turn out to be self-perpetuating. The outcomes are destructive whenever they are used unilaterally without regarding the interest of the other parties involved. The conflicting parties become inflexible and assume that the other parties involved must experience defeat. Conflicting parties surrender to individual attacks, bullying and a universal character of antagonism. Destructive conflict overlooks the actual issues between the disagreeing parties. It occurs due to power struggle whereby one party is resolute to win with particular personal gain. Poor conflict resolution limits optimistic interaction and gives way to destructive conflict. The source of destructive conflict is the feeling of inadequacy and desperation. Destructive conflict promotes inequity power discrepancy and spoils relationships. This kind of conflict can lead to absenteeism of the affected parties. The parties affected pessimistically lose focus, their productivity is reduced, and their self-esteem may go down considerably.

Disruptive conflict occurs when an individual cares about his/her egos, and have desire to dominate on others. Work may halt as parties in a team seek to protect themselves from the manipulative desires of the disruptor. This kind of attack is characterized by rigidity and domination attitudes. The sole goal of the disruptor is to fragment a team with an agenda of controlling the team.

Analysis of the Causes of Conflicts

Conflict may arise from a number of factors, and for effective resolution and management, understanding these factors is critical. Alleged breaching of faith and trust can lead to differences between parties. Individuals in a team trust and have faith in other members of the team. When that trust and confidence is infringed, it can generate emotional responses that can escalate into conflict. A good relationship is founded on trust, which enhances confidence and security. Another cause of conflicts between parties is the existence of unresolved differences. Differences between individuals are normal but when they are not resolved, bitterness remains in force. In case of another disagreement, memories of unresolved disagreements explode with force. Therefore, it is essential to resolve differences between parties as soon as they arise and curb their continuation (Singh & Antony, 2006, p.3). Poor communication is another cause of conflicts. The capability to communicate is a common skill that is used to pass information between team members. When the exchanged information is not clear and is inconsistent, disagreement may occur. Wrong delivery of information sometimes leads to erroneous activities and if no one is willing to be accountable, conflict will emerge.

Clashing of personality is another source of conflicts in groups. Every individual is different from one another. Personality differences are brought about by natural sets and they define the strength of an individual but they can be a source of disagreements in teams. Individual values and beliefs help them to distinguish what is wrong and what is right and make the right decision. These beliefs are developed from cultural backgrounds and life experiences and they shape the behavior of an individual. The different values and beliefs between individuals in a team can result in conflict if not managed properly. Stress and tension among workmates that are caused by demands that sometime go beyond individual capacity to deal with them (Guidroz, Wang & Perez, 2012, p.70 ). Working in an environment that is not conducive can result in conflicts between parties. When individuals are not aware of the future and resources are scarce, conflict is inevitable. A threat to the status of an individual can cause disagreements. The status of an individual in a team is very critical. When this status is under threat, the affected party struggles to maintain his/her position. This can bring conflict between the defensive party and the parties initiating the threat.

Interpersonal Conflicts within the Nursing Team

In nursing environments, conflicts can either be between a nurse and a client or a nurse and a colleague. The therapeutic nurse-client relationship forms the basis for provision of nursing services contributing to the client’s well being. The responsibility of the nurse is to offer support services to the client in order to attain the client’s health goals. However, unsettled differences can impede achievement of these goals. Conflict between nurses and clients can escalate due to various reasons. They include client’s withdrawal from stimulated states, constrain to the client, a medical condition that impairs the decision of the client, when a nurse misunderstands clients, when a nurse does not respect client’s views, requirements and ethno cultural beliefs (CNO, 2009, p.4).

Disagreements with fellow nurses can have indirect pressure on the relationship between nurses and clients. However, it will have a negative effect on service delivery. For instance, workplace harassment can affect nurses’ self-confidence and compromise on their capacity to foster relationship with clients ( Simpao, 2013, p.54). The power dynamics are intrinsic among fellow workmates. However, when this power is misused, it can result in disagreements and conflicts of interests. When nurses recognize the factors that contribute to the abuse of power among fellow workmates, constructive and collaborative methods can be reached in seeking solutions to their differences. Conflicts among nursing team members can escalate when individuals are allocated duties that are beyond their capacities, due to lack of understanding the need to manage conflicts, and when some members are marginalized.

Impact of Interpersonal Nursing Team Conflicts

Reasons why Interpersonal Nursing Team Conflicts need Attention

The nature of work that nurses are involved in is very critical. Interpersonal nursing teams’ conflicts can lead to stress and agitation. This has an effect on the discharge of duties by the affected nurse. The environment that nurses operate in demands a lot from them and addition of conflict load is almost unbearable to many. Communication barriers due to interpersonal conflicts can be detrimental to the heath of clients. Therefore, interpersonal nursing team conflicts require attention and cannot be ignored due to the sensitive work that they are involved in (Losa Iglesias, 2012, p.74).

Effects of Interpersonal Nursing Team Conflicts on Patients and Work Environment

Interpersonal nursing team conflicts will have an effect on both the working environment and patients. Conflicts between parties will hinder proper information flow thereby affecting decision-making processes. Allocation of duties will be affected as the parties do not agree on the ways of delivering services. Conflicts between nurses can cause a high human resource turnover due to exiting by some of the involved nurses. Nurses on the management level can use authoritative approaches to protect themselves at the expense of the other parties. Patients are likely to be given substandard services in case of conflicting parties between nurses.

Destructive Effects of Interpersonal Nursing Team Conflicts

Interpersonal nursing team conflicts lead to loss of confidence, low self-esteem and agitation of the affected nurses. This affects their service delivery and their productivity goes down considerably. This will promote a negative attitude towards the healthcare center. Due to the low productivity of affected nurses, the human resource overhead increases as they may be forced to hire more personnel. Sometimes, the process of resolving conflicts becomes very involving and demands a lot attention and time to get the root cause and to synthesize the best solution without favoring one party. Because of this, conflicting parties spend a lot of time trying to resolve their differences rather than performing the assigned tasks.

The nurses involved in the interpersonal conflicts develop negative feelings toward their rivals and working environment. The indifferences bring about communication barriers both horizontally and vertically. This brings more misunderstandings and deterioration of working relationships among conflicting nurses. There is no cooperation among nurses due to their differences, complicating delivery of services to the patients. There is increased mortality rate due to the poor services and negligence due to conflicts among nurses. There is distraction from concentration of duties due to the effect of conflicts.

Constructive Effects of Interpersonal Nursing Team Conflicts

Interpersonal nursing team conflicts are not always bad as most people perceive when they are resolved in the right way, they can have positive effects. Misunderstanding due to personality differences and beliefs can bring conflict among nurses. When they are resolved, the conflicting nurses have the opportunity to understand and value each other’s beliefs and personality and they are able to know what fellow nurses like and what they do not like. After successful conflict resolution, relationships among conflicting nurses improve and this enhances productivity due to good working conditions (Boomer, 2011, p.5). The working environment becomes conducive to deliver quality services to patients. Communication between parties is enhanced. Due to the good working conditions, patients enjoy quality services and it restores the image of the healthcare center and the profession as a whole.

Nature of Interpersonal Nursing Team Conflicts

Interpersonal Nursing Team Conflict Process

The conflict process can be broken down into five stages. Incompatibility is the first stage. In this stage, there is existence of conditions that create opportunities for the occurrence of conflicts. These opportunities may not necessarily lead to conflict, but for a conflict to occur these conditions are indispensable. These conditions include communication misunderstanding, styles of leadership, degree of expertise, poor rewarding system, and difference in personality among nurses. The second stage is cognation and personalization. In this stage, there is actualization of incompatibility due to the existence of conditions mentioned in stage one. However, the parties do not personalize their differences. Intentions are the third stage. These are the resolution to act in a certain way after inferring the intention of the opposing parties. The fourth stage involves behaviors. This is the stage in which conflicts are evident. This level includes the expressions, actions, and reactions of the conflicting individuals. The final stage is the outcome. The action-reaction interchange between the disagreeing parties results in consequences. The outcomes can be either functional or dysfunctional. Functional outcomes are beneficial to the team by improving the qualities of decisions made, stimulation of creativity and innovativeness, and promote a self-evaluating environment. Dysfunctional outcomes on the other hand, are destructive to the team and reduce effectiveness of the team leading to poor service delivery to the patients.

Preliminary Phase

This phase starts with unexpected events. The most common events that caused some form of disagreements include unfinished processes of the ward, neglecting the assignments allocated to an individual, carelessness, divergent opinions, changes made to the working schedule, when requests made by a team member is rejected, lack of cooperation among the nurses and their superiors. Issuance of authoritative and unpleasant statements, reporting of errors, accusation by other workmates, interference when delivery services, and favoring of the opposing parties and being criticized. These codes of events can be classified into two major subclasses – personal-based and organizational-based events. This means that, some events arises as a result of an individual nurse personal behaviors while others occurs because of organizational settings and functioning. Marginal issues rise from extra-organizational and intra-organizational basics with individual personality creates an environment for the above events, which eventually leads to interpersonal conflicts. Individual codes of events that cause conflicting conditions include difference in ages, gender, views, level of expertise, traits, and health conditions of involved parties. Some nurses experience unpleasant treatment at the start of their careers, which have a long time impact on them. Remembering such irritating memories can cause agitation of nurse (Bousari et al, 2009, p.240).

The organizational-based conditions can be extra related or intra. In intra subcategory, there are ward related issues and management related issues. Ward related conditions include scarce resources, condition of the patients, and scheduling of working hours. Managerial issues include leadership style, discriminating some nurses and favoring other parties, incorrect evaluation of nurses, job interference, lack of support to the nurses, tendency of doctors to dominate, and not giving attention to issues raised by nurses. Extra organizational conditions can be informed of economical or social-cultural.

Subjective Phase

In this phase, the negative perception occurs where involved parties express their sense of frustration, which is elevated in form of anger, stress, and aggravation. These characteristics can lead to team or individual conflict. However, most nurses adapt to these conditions and become part of their daily life (Bousari et al, 2009, p.241).

Objective Phase

In this phase, agitation of involved parties is manifested and conflict between them is no longer a personal issue. Parties express their differences both verbally and non-verbally. At this stage, conflict resolution is inevitable for smooth service delivery.

Possible Solutions

Goal of Interpersonal Nursing Team Conflict Resolutions

The interpersonal Nursing Team Conflicts needs to be resolved rather than being ignored (Padrutt, 2010, p.52). The differences among the nursing team affect quality delivery of services to patients and the overall image if the healthcare. One of the goals of conflict resolution is to enhance the relationship among nurses, between nurses and the management, and between nurses and patients. Improving the quality of services that a health care provides is another goal of resolving conflicts. To create a pleasant environment for nurses to carry out their duties this reduces chances of antagonism among them. Resolving conflicts amicably will increase creativity and innovativeness in the health facility, provide a foster for self-actualization, and promote competitiveness of nurses and the healthcare itself.

Outcomes of Interpersonal Nursing Team Conflict Resolutions

Resolutions of interpersonal nursing teams can have a number of outcomes. One of outcomes is the Win- Win situation where both nurses reach a mutual agreement that works for both of them. In this case, both the conflicting parties benefits from the resolution. Resolving a conflict that exists between nurses and the management will promote the relationship between the two parties. From the nurses’ perspective, their well-being will be put into consideration with improved working conditions. When conflict resolution leads to the understanding and acceptance of each other’s perspectives, believes, and values, it is a win-win situation for both conflicting parties (Shetach, 2012, p.28).

Another outcome is a win- lose situation where one of the nurses in the conflict compromises in order to reach an agreement. In this case, the conflicting parties will analyze the causes of their differences and weigh their weight. If some of the interests from one party will lead to more and pronounced conflicts, the interest are dropped for the sake of relevance and the concerned party has to accept the situation and let go. Another possible outcome for interpersonal Conflict is the Lose- Lose situation where both members agree to let go of their differences in order to reach an agreement. In case where interest of both parties will affect the other, it is advisable for the parties to drop their demands and agree to move on for the benefits of their relationship.

Models for Interpersonal Nursing Team Conflict Resolutions

Collaboration: Collaboration is the process in which each of the conflicting parties attempts to reach a dual agreement and to satisfy each other needs by jointly facing the conflicts, recognizing the issues raised by each party, and solving them amicably. Both parties define the problem together, analyze the situation, synthesize solutions of the raised issues, and come up with the best solution to follow. The process happens in a private setting and informally between the two parties. This process gives an opportunity to the individuals to correct themselves without a formalized disciplinary action. Nurses should collaborate with their fellows to realize the course of conflict and if it goes beyond their capacity, services of a mediator may be sought.

Competition: In this case, one of the conflicting parties seeks to please his/her own wellbeing without considering the effect on the other party involved. This means that one party overpowers the other opposing party and promotion of concerns of one party at the expense of the other. One way to achieve this outcome is by resorting to command in order to satisfy the issues of one party. This strategy may leave the loser with frustrations.

Compromise to reach a mutual agreement: This is the process by which both the conflicting parties search for partial satisfaction of their interests. Both parties have to exchange and sacrifice some of their interests and take some that are not appealing to them in order to resolve the conflict. Both parties settle for what is acceptable between them rather than an optimum solution. The problem with method is that either or both parties have the perception that they have given more than the other has.

Avoidance to prevent further deterioration of the problem: This is the process by which conflicting parties are not willing to meet and resolve their differences or one of the parties refusing to participate in conflict resolution process with a hope that the issue will be forgotten. Avoidance may be used in inconsequential disagreements, in cases where the cost of resolving the conflict exceeds the benefits of the resolution, when one party has more power than the other does. Nurses should address their differences directly rather than avoiding reaching a resolution (Simpao, 2013, p 56). The central weakness of using avoidance is that the disagreements still exists only to recur later in an escalated form.

Accommodation of each other’s different opinions: Accommodation is the process by which one of the conflicting parties overlooks its own wellbeing in order to satisfy the requirements of the opposing party. One party satisfies their interests at the expense of the other though under mutual agreement. There is a win-loss situation and resolution of the actual problem is not reached. Accommodation leaves a state of I –owe- You form the other party and this can be utilized later.

Implementation Strategies for the Proposed Solutions

For effective functioning of the team, nurses are required to establish a cordial relationship amongst them. Positive collegial relationship occurs from excellent communication, mutual recognition and understanding, and balancing emotional effects when working with colleagues. Various strategies can be implemented to resolve conflicts. These strategies include:

  1. Nurses should be encouraged to promote a reverent working environment by modeling professional etiquettes. Experienced nurses should mentor, offer support and offer integrated orientation to the new nursing members.
  2. Nurses should consider their personal attitudes and beliefs that affect relationship with fellow workmates. They should recognize their areas that require perfection and change their attitude and behaviors that previously led to conflicts.
  3. Nurses in the leadership positions should help other nurse to build up conflict resolution and management skills. This empowers nurses to be in a position to resolve their differences among themselves.
  4. Alignment of core processes: nurses should meet and discuss mode of heir operation. Discussion on the process of making decision, roles, and responsibilities of each member, and mode of assigning duties should be addressed and outlined clearly. Furthermore, a conflict resolution procedure is necessary and should be discussed openly.


Any conflict management efforts have to acknowledge the complex interplay between various levels of interpersonal conflict, which suggests human aggression is results from a number of factors. These factors include personal instincts, individual background, environmental conditions, and social issues. In hospital setting, interpersonal conflicts can arise due to the demanding nature of the work that nurses do. Interpersonal conflicts between nurses can have an adverse effect on service delivery and can tarnish the image of the profession if they are not resolved. If not addressed properly, interpersonal conflict in nursing teams can lead to low-esteem, lack of confidence, and so many efforts can be used to focus on the conflict rather than delivering of services to clients. However, interpersonal conflicts can be used positively to improve the relationship of team members by understanding each other’s needs and interests. When resolving interpersonal conflict, deep understanding of the root cause is necessary and so is the choosing of the right model of resolution. Amongst the various models of resolving interpersonal conflict, collaboration of both parties is critical and the best way of reaching an agreement.

With respect to interpersonal nursing team conflicts, the research has focused on the nature, causes, impact and has offered possible resolutions and the best strategies for their implementation. The best goal of addressing conflict is to develop a win-win resolution for the involved parties. This outcome may not be possible in all situations and the best way for mediators is to manage conflict in a way that minimizes the continuous differences between the involved parties. This is possible when the conflicts are curbed at an early stage compared to when it has escalated. Good management and empowering nurses on the various ways of handling conflict is the way to go.



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