Have you encountered any of these situations at work?
- For the third time this week, a co-worker has dodged answering call lights
- A group has started to exclude another team member and refuse to help her
- The holiday work schedule causes arguments among staff
- A charge nurse always gives the best assignments to her favorite CNA
Every workplace has conflicts. At some point, the combination of age, culture, gender, seniority, personal lives—and job stress—among co-workers make for inevitable clashes. Even when people usually get along well, different views and priorities can cause disagreements. Changes in schedules, managers, and policies can also disrupt the team.
Learning to handle disputes and miscommunications can help smooth things out quickly. Yet most healthcare professionals are uncomfortable with conflict. We tend to respond by doing one of the following five behaviors:
- Avoid: At first, it seems easier to just ignore the situation, hoping it will resolve on its own. Example: Rather than talk to rude co-workers, you stay out of the break room or eat alone. This is the most common response.
- Accommodate: By minimizing the problem and giving in, we choose not to address what’s going on, allowing it to continue. Example: In order to keep peace on the unit, you don’t say anything, even if it is not in your best interest.
- Compete: We decide we will be aggressive and “win” a disagreement for our own benefit. Example: When the holiday sign-up sheet is posted, you announce your choices, regardless of fairness.
- Compromise: At first this may seem like a good solution, but often no one gets what they need and the problem isn’t solved. Example: Due to understaffing, CNAs agree to take shorter meal breaks so that everyone can have time to eat.
- Collaborate: Equal effort to find a solution results in cooperation and agreement. Example: In order to implement the new schedule policy, everyone meets and offers ideas about how to make it successful.
As a CNA, you may feel that you don’t have the authority to deal with conflict, even with your own peers. But the sooner you recognize an unfair, angry, or awkward situation, the sooner it can be resolved. Problems that are ignored only grow bigger. Besides, you are probably already using conflict resolution in your personal life to solve disagreements and find solutions. Now you can bring those skills to the job.
8 Tips to Help You Deal Directly with Conflict with a Co-worker, Team Member, or Supervisor
Stop and Think
Never react or try to solve a problem when you’re upset. Take time to think about the issue. Plan what you want to say and how you will express yourself. It may help to talk to a trusted friend or family member to sort things out, create a list of points, and even rehearse how you’ll talk.
Arrange to Talk Face-to-face
This may seem scary, but it’s the best way. Say to your supervisor, “Do you have five minutes? I’d like to talk about our job assignments.” First, this shows that you are sincere. Second, it allows for open communication. Third, you clear up any possible misunderstandings on the spot. Don’t use emails for a “dialogue.” They are easily misinterpreted and can make matters worse.
Remember Your Manners
Be courteous during the conversation. Maintain eye contact. Pay attention when the other person speaks; avoid any distractions such as cell phones. Thank the person for meeting with you; acknowledge that it can be awkward to talk about situations. Use “I’ language; say “I feel angry when you say you’ll help but don’t” instead of “You never help when you say you will.” At the end, ask how you can move forward together.
A good way to understand a person or situation is to ask a simple question. Sometimes the answer is immediate and sensible. Use a calm voice to ask why he or she does something: “I don’t mind helping others, but can you tell me why I’ve been answering your call lights this week?” Or “I was wondering why Betty has had the last three Christmas Days off?” When you ask without blaming, the other person may suddenly be aware of the issue and make changes right away. There can also be a solid reason that you didn’t know.
Listen to the Response
Good communication requires active listening. This means really hearing what your co-worker or supervisor has to say, without interrupting or deciding how you will respond. It’s important to get the other’s viewpoint. They may have an explanation that makes sense or that you hadn’t thought of. After they have spoken, summarize your understanding. “You’re frustrated because your work load seems heavier than ours, and you can’t answer every call light.”
Find a Common Ground
Maybe you’re both worried that the residents aren’t getting proper care. Or perhaps the other person has a family member who is very ill and she has been staying up all night; your baby has colic and you’re also sleep-deprived. When you can say, “I agree” or “I understand” then you have a starting point.
Apologize for Your Part
As you talk, be prepared to accept responsibility for something you said or did that contributed to the conflict. Simply say you’re sorry. You aren’t taking the blame for everything, just your own behavior. People respect you when you own your actions.
Don’t Make It Public
You should always go to the other person first; sometimes a good talk is all that’s needed to straighten out a misunderstanding. If the conflict continues, go to your supervisor; follow your facility’s chain-of-command. Don’t gossip with co-workers; this can escalate the problem. And never share details on social media!
Conflicts can actually have positive outcomes because they provide opportunities to improve.
Reminding ourselves that our ultimate goal is to give the best possible care can lead to changes that benefit the entire team. When people use good communication skills and treat each other with respect, relationships can strengthen and future situations are easily handled. If you are honest, direct, and considerate, you are contributing to a healthy workplace. And when people have positive attitudes about their jobs and co-workers, everyone wins, especially those we care for.