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Dealing with conflict

Working together

Methods for handling conflict

10 steps to help manage conflict:

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  • Reflection in mirror
    1. Know thyself (biases, triggers, etc) and be aware that conflict is a normal occurrence
  • Green "Do It!"  button on keyboard
    2. Be proactive in trying to prevent and resolve conflict
  • Holding hands
    3. Create a safe environment in which to address conflict
  • Strategy and plan
    4. Clarify needs and identify desired outcomes on all sides of the conflict
  • Man speaking with megaphone
    5. Communicate effectively
  • Slinky®
    6. Be flexible in assessing the options and in problem solving
  • Rock on smooth sand
    7. Manage the impasse with calm, patience and respect, focusing on underlying needs, interests and concerns
  • Female doctor on phone
    8. Know when to ask for help
  • Doctor with options
    9. Encourage creative problem solving designed to reach a solution that meets at least some of the needs and interests of all involved
  • Doctor in reflection
    10. Reflect on the situation, process, and outcomes
(Adapted from various sources)

Communication and manner are paramount to handling conflict. It is important to address the problem while respecting the individuals involved. Physicians involved in conflict should pay special attention to the use of non-confrontational, non-blaming language and attend to non-verbal cues.

Active listening is a key skill in de-escalating conflict. Individuals involved in conflict may see issues differently or want different things, but through good communication, one should be able to identify the underlying common interests. When in a conflict situation, physicians should focus on these interests rather than the stand that the conflicting parties are taking.

The physician should focus both on their own needs and on the needs of the other individual and should use these to explore options to which the conflicting parties can agree. Finding common ground validates the individuals involved and is quite beneficial in finding a solution. It is often helpful to seek the help of a neutral party to mediate the conflict.

6 communication skills to use in de-escalating conflict:

Speaking and listening
Active listening
Lady with hands clasped
Attending to non-verbal cues
Two people shaking hands
Hands clasping
Acknowledging the other individual's feelings helps demonstrate empathy
Apologizing may be helpful in certain situations
Four hands clasping
Acting as a team and working together without blame or judgment

Managing conflict is particularly challenging when the other individual is angry, aggressive, intimidating, or threatening. Anger is always a secondary emotion. By understanding what is underlying an individual's anger, physicians can learn to confidently negotiate many of these situations. When the other individual is agitated and confrontational, remaining calm and speaking politely in a soft voice often helps to defuse emotions. The physician should ensure that the discussion is non-judgmental and is taking place in a safe environment.