Managing Conflict in Care Settings

Conflict is something that happens in almost any person’s career, and the nature of care work can make conflicts more frequent and difficult than those in many other types of work.

A broad scope of potential conflicts can arise within the healthcare setting. These might be everyday disagreements which should be easily resolvable, through to major issues which can even give rise to physical violence or legal proceedings. The stressful nature of the healthcare environment means that many different possible points of disagreement or conflict exist- for example, between doctors and care staff, between staff members, or between care staff and the family ofthe patient- or in some cases, the patient themselves.

Sometimes conflict can arise because of wrong assumptions being made by one party or another (and often both), which can lead not only to further conflictsituations with other parties but also poor choices being made. This can clearly impact patient care negatively.

Clearly any conflict of this nature has the potential to have a knock-on effect on the quality of care received, as they can lead to poor morale due to the stress ofbeing involved in a conflict situation, miscommunication between the parties involved, and further down the line, even a higher staff turnover which further increases the overall level of uncertainty in the setting.

It's important for any organisation involved in healthcare to recognise conflict atan early stage and successfully manage it before it becomes a far more difficult problem to deal with.

It goes without saying that everyone involved in the care setting reacts to situations slightly differently, and it may be that certain words or actions from others may trigger a strong or emotional response. To avoid problems arising from these situations, the organisation can take time to learn from staff members about what these are- even if it’s as simple as asking “What are the things that annoy you most or make you angry?”

Related to this should be the recognition that care staff, like everyone else, are human beings and are not perfect. Personal problems do find their way into the workplace sometimes despite everyone’s best intentions, and it’s worth the organisation recognising this and working with it, particularly as such issues adversely affect staff members’ mood, level of motivation and their overall performance.

Making assumptions about this kind of situation can cause further issues down the line including additional conflict scenarios, so being armed with knowledge about staff members in combination with the known facts is a better starting point.

Conflict cannot be realistically avoided, only minimised and managed- but it’s perfectly possible for it to be managed well. Arguments andfriction are an inevitable part of the modern workplace, where people have wildly different styles of working, different personalities, different values and different methods of communication. Dealing with conflict situations in care homes is additionally difficult in many cases due to further time and budget pressures.

So how can conflict situations be minimised and managed assmoothly as possible?

The answer in many cases is training in conflict resolution.

This can help care staff and other employees develop important conflict resolution skills they need in their careers. In fact, due to the very nature of conflict situations, this is an area where high quality training can have a huge impact- positively affecting not only a person’s knowledge abouthow to deal with a given situation, but also their confidence, which can be just as important. A confident and motivated staff member will be much more likely to succeed in successfully resolving a conflict situation. Furthermore,that confidence will empower the staff member to work on resolving the situation before it develops into a far worse problem which would be trickier to resolve.

Conflict resolution is closely related to good communication skills, because by bringing clarity to a situation and working to understanding the points of view of all parties involved, resolving the issues becomes an easier task. Good communication skills can also help to “defuse” a conflict situation. Poor communication within an organisation, on the other hand, is one of the major drivers of conflict between staff members, or between staff members and managers.

We at ACI provide training courses in conflict resolution and communication, and we recognise the vitally important role good skills in this area play in developing and keeping a harmonious care setting.