Conflicts in Nursing and Leaders as Change Agents

It is essential for nurses to maintain collaborative relations with every individual they have to deal with at work, including both their colleagues and patients. Admittedly, it is not always easy to deal with conflicts, especially because those arise not only among individuals but even at the team and organizational levels as well. However, conflict is just a conflict; it is “neither good nor bad – it just is”, and a good leader who is aware of different types of conflicts and ways to resolve them can always find a solution (Junarso, 2009, p. 201).

Conflict Theories, Types, and Levels

Numerous conflict theories exist, and many of them can be applied to nursing practice. For example, the theory proposed by Simmel assumes that conflicts are caused because of hate, envy, desire, and need (Chaska, 2000, p. 725). Umiker adds several other reasons for conflicts to happen; those are poor communication, wrong expectations, divergences in characters, and conflicts of interests (Chaska, 2000, p. 725). All of those can be considered as the primary reasons for interpersonal conflict between nurses, nurses and colleagues, and nurses and patients.

Such types as inter-group or role conflicts can be explained with the help of Marx’s theory, probably the most popular one. According to it, conflicts occur because there always will be “a ruling class and a subject class”, those who have power and those who do not (Conflict Theories, 2015). Role conflicts are connected to people’s roles, not personalities (Feigenbaum, 2015, par. 4). For example, a manager tells a nurse not to run the tests on a patient since he can not pay for those and his insurance does not cover it. A nurse wants to fulfill her duty, but a manager has the power and she has to listen to him. The same can be seen between a person and a group, a person and an organization, a group and an organization, a group and a group, and so on. One of the sides is always “a subject class” and another one is always “a ruling class” (Conflict Theories, 2015). For instance, a nurse wants to develop her talents and abilities but she has no possibilities to do that and instead is required to do the same routine job every day. That causes the dissatisfaction with the place of work and, finally, with the organization, which gives us a classic example of a conflict between a person and an organization.

A Leader as a Change Agent: Resolution Techniques and Change Theories

Many conflicts can be solved by leaders if those are aware of different resolution techniques and change theories. There are five possible strategies to manage the conflict: collaborating, compromising, competing, avoiding, and accommodating (Dontigney, 2015). A leader can choose one of them, considering such factors as a situation, the players, their personalities and maturity, the urgency of decision-making, and so on. For example, avoiding is a strategy when the parties of a conflict ignore their disagreement and move on. It should only be used if a conflict is minor. Accommodating is a technique that means giving the opposite party what it wants. I think that this strategy should be used more often in the conflicts between people and organizations, for example, by providing additional days off for nurses who work overtime. Besides, nurses should also use it in conflicts with their patients. Compromising and collaborating are two strategies that require a mutually beneficial solution. That is a win-win, and such techniques are the best ones to use in serious conflicts or at the team and organizational levels. Competing always gives us a winner and a loser, and that is probably the worst strategy to use in nursing since such an outcome most commonly causes further conflicts.

When it comes to large conflicts at a team or an organizational level, management strategies are not enough. For instance, a nurse manager sees that there is an ethical issue in his or her unit, the employees have arguments regularly, and that affects the productivity of their work. What should she do? In that case, various change theories can be implemented. One of the most famous and useful in practice is the theory proposed by Lippitt (Mitchell, 2013, p. 33). It includes four stages: an assessment of the problem, planning of the change, change implementation and evaluation of the results (Mitchell, 2013, p. 33). I consider it as the most useful since it is easy to implement and efficient. With its help, it is possible to assess the situation from the very beginning and then do it again at the end of an intervention, which will show if any progress has been made.

With this in mind, I think that I will be a good leader in the health care environment since I am aware of both the types of conflicts that can occur and the ways to solve them. Moreover, when I realize that I have a conflict I usually try to forget about the emotions and use management techniques to control it. For example, when I face minor conflicts I always make an attempt to distract people from it by changing the subject or joking, and that is how I use the avoiding strategy. When I am involved in more serious conflicts, I always try to end them by finding a win-win solution. In nursing practice, these skills can be useful since they will help me to build collaborative relations with my colleagues and avoid conflicts in the workplace, which will affect my productivity of work.


Chaska, N. L. (2000). The Nursing Profession: Tomorrow and Beyond. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Conflict Theories. (2015). Web.

Dontigney, E. (2015). 5 Conflict Management Strategies. Web.

Feigenbaum, E. (2015). Organizational Conflict Theory. Web.

Junarso, T. (2009). How to Become a Highly Effective Leader: Ten Skills a Leader Must Possess. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.

Mitchell, G. (2013). Selecting the best theory to implement planned change. Nursing Management, 20(1), 32-37.