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Conflict Management

Editor: Tammy J. Toney-Butler Updated: 7/3/2023 11:27:14 PM


Conflict is the disagreement or difference of opinions between or among individuals that can be potentially harmful to any organization. In the workplace setting, it often involves personal agendas, insights, or goals versus the agendas, insights, or goals of the group or team. Conflict management seeks to resolve the disagreement or conflict with positive outcomes that satisfy all individuals involved or is beneficial to the group. However, the perception of conflict is often negative.

Conflict can, in fact, be positive if it is managed properly. Conflict can promote team-building skills, critical thinking, new ideas, and alternative resolutions. Conflict management is a crucial competency that leaders must possess, for the success of the team, group, unit, or employees they lead.[1][2][3][4]


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Providing conflict management skills could help raise the emotional intelligence of future managers. Excellent communication skills allow the manager to resolve interpersonal situations and conflicts. Mentoring new leaders is vital in bridging generational gaps and shaping the culture of the organization. Mentoring can assist a new leader in navigating the organizational hierarchy and developing a style of leadership that fits well within the charted course.[5][6][7]

Leadership style has a role to play in conflict resolution and overall team dynamics. 

Leadership Styles[8][9][10]

To prevent or limit conflict, leadership should seek the proper and impartial implementation of a professional code of conduct, ground rules, and discipline.[11] Leadership is a process by which one person or a group sets the purpose or direction for others and helps them achieve goals. Leadership styles in healthcare were found to be strongly correlated with quality care and patient outcomes, such as 30-day mortality, safety, injuries, patient satisfaction, and pain. Leadership styles that proved more effective were those that emphasized a collaborative, multifaceted, and dynamic process.[12]

Servant Leader and Lean Leader

A servant-leader is where a person aspires to lead by servitude and ensures the needs of others are a priority. Servant leaders focus on the needs and growth of others, putting their well-being first, rather than their self-interests. This leadership style reflects a sharing of power, enabling others to perform at a higher level for personal growth. Servant leadership may provide the means to develop Lean leaders in the organization. The lean management style focuses on improving processes and eliminating waste. Lean and servant leadership could be combined to achieve high-quality and cost-effective patient-centered care.[13]

Transformational Leader

Transformational leaders assist an individual in the process of transformation where their own beliefs and values support or align with the organizational values. A transformational leader fosters an environment of trust, relationship building to meet common goals, and sharing of innovative ideas or long-term vision for the organization.

Transformative leaders can develop a trusting, relationship with their followers or team members, thus influencing their actions. The effect is a trickle-down outcome of conflict resolution in an environment built on mutual trust and the ability to mold an individual's response to a conflict or stressor for the greater good of the organization and population served. An ability to manage conflict effectively is a quality of a transformative leader. This leadership style has been demonstrated as a positive contributor to safety climate.[14]

Laissez-Faire Leader

Laissez-Faire leaders leave the decision-making to their followers or team members, lacking real authority within their organization, but responsible for group decisions and actions. The leader trusts the individual members of the team to problem solve, create new projects, make and meet goals, and self-monitor. This leadership style requires no real feedback, oversight, direct leadership, discipline, or praise. Thus, productivity may be low amongst some members of the group and lead to a source of conflict. This style was shown to negatively contribute to unit socialization and a culture of blame.[14] 

Authoritarian Leader

Authoritarian leaders lead by dictating and controlling the actions and decision-making capacity of the group. This leadership style reflects choices made based on their ideas, judgments, and personal beliefs, not those of their employees. Authoritarian leaders lead by enforcement and welcome little input from their team members or followers. 

Expecting a job to be done, focused on tasks rather than individuals performing those tasks, and the inability to accept input and give positive feedback yields an environment lacking in trust. Team members are not trusted, nor empowered to resolve conflicts on their own. Thus, the team dynamic may suffer long-term. Turnover in staff directly related to the inability to manage disputes and promote an environment that enriches positive growth and resolves conflicts. Nevertheless, the autocratic style is considered ideal in emergencies when the leader makes all decisions without taking into account the opinion of the staff.[12]

Transactional Leader

A transactional leader primarily focused on workflow. This leadership style may focus on incentives for "getting the job done" in a timely, efficient manner. Rewards for completing work on time or ahead of schedule, or penalties (disciplinary action) if the job delayed are components of this leadership style. These leaders may fail to plan for the future of the organization, focused only on the demands of the present. This leadership style may fail to promote and implement creative and innovative ideas necessary in a rapidly evolving health care industry.

Visionary Leader

A visionary leader has a vision or long-term goal. These leaders possess insight, imagination, and passion related to an innovative goal or idea. They are always looking out for the best interest of the team, promoting the sharing of ideas, creative goals, and a sense of empowerment to go beyond what is expected to create something unexpected.

A visionary leader fosters a healthy relationship with their team. Promoting entrepreneurial ideas and visions for the future, thus fostering a strong team dynamic capable of managing conflicts through open communication in a positive, nonadversarial manner.

Issues of Concern

Conflict Management Styles (Thomas-Kilman Conflict Modes)

Conflict management styles take many forms and may reflect a particular style of leadership.


In this style of conflict management, some or all people involved in the conflict simply avoid the situation or ignore its existence. For the individuals involved, this is a losing situation in the long run. The conflict is unresolved. It continues to fester and build, creating more conflict. However, this style may be useful temporarily to de-escalate a very tense, non-emergency situation. 


In this style of conflict management, one party wins and one party loses. One opinion is accepted, and the other opinion is lost. The resolution will benefit one instead of all involved. For the person who manages the conflict, this becomes a sore spot and causes resentment. Although it may resolve the conflict, it may not satisfy all involved individuals. 


In this style of conflict management, one party will win, and one party will lose. It will resolve the situation, but will not promote a unified or team approach to solving problems.


In this style of conflict management, neither party will be fully satisfied. The result will harbor resentment between those involved. In the resolution, each party sacrifices a portion of his or her solution. A significant part of the resolution can be left out, and the best outcome may not prevail.


In this style of conflict management, all parties involved are brought together for a resolution. Active listening, respectful communication, and an open mind are incorporated into the solution process for the best outcome. All parties involved have a say, and all parties involved reach a solution. This solution is accepted as the best outcome for all involved.

Steps To Conflict Management

  • Before communication begins, set rules for respectful communication.
  • Ask all involved to set aside preconceived opinions about each other.
  • Ask all parties to engage in active listening without interruption.
  • Ask all parties to write down the problem. Then restate the problem out loud. This provides understanding and agreement about the problem causing the conflict.
  • Ask each party to come up with a solution. 
  • Discuss each solution and the positive and negative aspects of each proposed solution.

Clinical Significance

Resolution of conflicting views is of paramount importance in assuring that patients receive the best care possible. As such, it is important for healthcare providers to work together to achieve conflict resolution.

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Respectful communication among all health care staff is the anchor to preventing conflicts. An interprofessional team must never lose sight of the collective overarching goal of excellent patient care. When conflicts arise, team cohesion is enhanced by a collaborative and timely resolution of conflicts.



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