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Section 11  Strategies to Resolve Team Conflict

         Conflicts are often considered the very source of creative breakthroughs and not every conflict need intervention! The presence of conflict is usually a strong indicator for the need for change or problem solving. In order to have effective conflict resolution, their needs to be trust and rationality.

            Conflict resolution creates an environment that fosters motivation, retention and success. This approach welcomes the uniqueness of all staff members and is potentially growth enhancing for not only the individual members but also the teams themselves.

            The term “conflict’ itself represents the entire spectrum of differences that teams can encounter from simple differing of opinions, debate, argument, to unresolved conflict. In other words, whenever there is less than total understanding and agreement, then there is some degree of conflict. 

Conflict Myths  

          There are numerous myths related to conflict, especially in the work arena. Below are some of the more common ones: 

·        Conflict is a dysfunctional situation  

·        If avoided, it will go away  

·        Always results in a winner/loser  

·        Should be avoided at all costs  

·        Peace is a natural state of affairs            

Three Kinds of Conflict

                Getting the best solutions from available resources may involve managing three different kinds of conflict: 

·        Interpersonal (between you and someone else) 

·        Team (between two other team members or peers) 

·        Inter-group (between two departments or groups) 

               Since conflicts are inevitable human events, you can only hope to manage them productively rather than to waste time trying to eliminate them completely. The following will signal the need for a constructive approach to conflict: 

·        Staff members whispering to their “allies” in the hall after a meeting about disagreements they failed to bring up in the meeting.  

·        Staff members on one team “hating” the members on another team.  

·        Staff members getting locked into rigid positions over a patient or departmental issue.  

·        Seniority of job status driving a wedge between staff members who may need to solve problems together.  

·        One staff member not wanting to work with another one even when conditions or patient circumstances call for them to

·        Personality conflicts stemming from unresolved jealousy and mistrust.  

Strategies for Interpersonal Conflicts:

·        Show respect for the other staff or team member.

Because emotions dominate in unconstructive conflict, the quickest way to help another team member shift to a more logical frame of mind. This is accomplished by body language, voice and words.

By completing the above action, you are then showing that you value their right to have their particular viewpoint and that you intend to listen and learn more about their view. This may even relieve some of the other person’s need to rigidly defend a position.  

·        Listen for understanding.  

What is it that the other person is really saying? Paraphrase their words and test out your own comprehension of “where they’re really coming from.” Conflicts often remain unsolved because staff members stop short of learning and being able to represent what it is the other person wants and needs.

·        State your views clearly and non-defensively.  

Without anger or impatience, state your thoughts openly. Confirm and clarify any questions that the other person may have. Give them additional time, if needed fur further questions.  Provide adequate reasons for your conclusions.

·        Focus on common goals, not positions.  

As quickly as possible, discover your common goals and refer to them often. Search for creative ways to address the common issue. Particularly useful are new solutions that arise during the discussion rather than giving in to another staff members’ demand or position. Try and continue to refer to the common goal and your desire to accomplish it.

Strategies for Conflict between Other Team Members or Peers 

·        Bring in the “other” person when someone complains about another team member.  

When one staff member has a problem with another person, the 2 individuals involved should confront one another. This habit reinforces the idea of the involved parties solving their own problems. After this method is reinforced, team members will usually begin going directly to the person. Just as “third party” gossiping and complaining becomes part of the culture, speaking directly to the person involved can become a new culture of effective conflict management.

·        State the workplace impact of the conflict.  

When 2 or more staff members are involved in a conflict, time could be wasted, morale lowered, or patients affected. This certainly provides a strong organizational reason for getting the problem solved. Sometimes a written log of these impacts could be shared with staff members.

·        Finding common goals.  

Staff members focusing on understanding the other person’s point of view or taking turns slowly explaining their thinking will assist the effort of finding a common goal. If one person attacks or acts defensively they need to be reminded to stick to their own views and feelings. 

Strategies for Inter-Group Conflict

·        Bring together several members from each department or team for joint problem solving.  

Because attitudes held by staff members on one team toward those on another team are made and changed in the group setting, it’s important that problem solving between the two teams involve several people from each team. If several from each “side” have been involved in the joint solutions, there is a core of committed staff members ready to take productive actions in each home base.

·        Set up follow-up plans for how the teams can track joint accomplishments.

Common goals can be used for checking the progress of each team. An example could be the following:

Example: Reducing the overall number of late surgical start times may be a joint goal of both teams. 

All team members will win if it is realistic to expect changes in the way staff members in both departments relate to one another. 

Tips for Managers in Handling Conflicts 

·        Know that conflict is inevitable and not all conflict is destructive.  

·        Encourage team members solving the differences themselves.  

·        Support harmony and resolution, be objective and do not take sides.  

·        Listen with understanding, not judgment.  

·        Clarify the issue only when necessary.  

·        Do not criticize or deny team members feelings such as anger or fear.  

·        Focus on maintaining the relationship between two parties or teams.  

·        Create a problem-solving atmosphere.  

·        Be able to identify a chronically complaining staff member. This is important because such behavior can contribute to a depressing 
   tone for the entire work environment.

·        When resolving complaints it is a good idea to listen to the complaint but set limits. Ask for recommended solutions to the listed 
   complaint and work on the development of problem solving skills for all team members.

Conflict Conclusions 

             When approached with strategies, an entirely different perspective of conflict is available. Conflict is not undesirable, and the resolution of conflict is possible. The needs of the organization and the needs of the team member’s can both are met and when they are integrated, it is much more likely that the fullest potential of both can be reached.

            How the various conflicts within team situations are approached and handled may indeed be one of the major keys in determining the quality and nature of human interaction. At this point creative decision making is possible as team members direct their energies to finding the best solutions to problems.

            There may also be the opportunity at this time to provide in service training or a staff development workshop on the benefits of conflict resolution, especially as the team is beginning to form. A counselor or nursing educator within the organization may be considered appropriate resources to involve in the educational aspect of this endeavor.