Managing Conflict is Essential to Safe and Effective Correctional Nursing

picket fenceI live in a neighborhood of 36 houses that are built very close to one another. The neighborhood is surrounded by a beautiful landscape. The peacefulness and beauty of the setting was the reason I chose to live here. Last week the moving truck used by a new homeowner blocked the neighbor’s driveway for most of the day.  The neighbor raised such a ruckus that the whole community heard about it and the homeowner’s association had to get involved. The incident made me appreciate how important it is to a “healthy” community that conflict be addressed well by each of the members.

These skills are even more important in health care because they contribute to patient safety and retention of nurses.  Unrecognized or unresolved conflict in the health care setting causes a decrease in nurses’ morale, increases physical and emotional stress, as well as the likelihood that conflict will escalate (Longo, J., 2010; Almost, J., Doran, D., Hall, L., Laschinger, H., 2010; Johansen, M., 2012). “…conflict management skills have been identified as an essential competency for the professional RN to provide safe, quality care to patients…” (Johansen, M., 2012 p. 50).

Conflict is an inherent aspect of correctional nursing practice. Sources of conflicts that are unique to correctional nursing are detailed throughout the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. The American Nurses Association draft of the Correctional Nursing: Scope & Standards of Practice, which has been out for public comments the last month, also discusses conflicts experienced by correctional nurses. Two of the proposed standards explicitly address expectations of correctional nurses to assess and improve their skills in conflict management.

What are the sources of conflict in your day to day nursing practice? How often are these conflicts resolved satisfactorily? Do you wonder what you can do to better address conflict in the practice setting?  The following are some steps to assess and improve conflict management skills.

1. Explore your own emotional triggers and reactions. Nurses who have good self- esteem, perceive themselves as successful, feel they are in control of their life and are optimistic are also more constructive in managing conflict.

2. Identify and review the organization’s written directives related to conflict management. These may be in the code of ethics, rules for professional behavior, bylaws of the governing body or in the collective bargaining agreement. Know what is expected of staff, the methods to identify and resolve conflict as well as avenues for redress when conflict is not satisfactorily resolved.

3. Address conflict quickly, fairly and respectfully. Sometimes people are not aware that their behavior contributes to conflict at the workplace. Communicating in a way that increases understanding and resolves conflict among participants is not an easy task. It should always be done in private. Chapter 17 of the “Essentials” book provides resources and suggests that nurses build their repertoire of conflict management styles, especially those of collaboration.

4. Take care of yourself. Stress can contribute to increased emotions, particularly anger. Nurses who understand how emotions affect their behavior have less risk of burnout associated with conflict in the workplace. Take appropriate breaks; attend to personal needs for nourishment, relaxation and other self-care habits. Reflective journaling has been suggested as way to process negative personal feelings after a conflict. In addition to reliving the negative effects of a conflict situation, reflection can be used to build skills and competencies in conflict management.  We will take a closer look at this technique in a future post on this site.

5. Report abusive or disruptive behaviors through your chain of command. Many nurses opt to ignore or avoid conflict without knowing that if left unattended, it contributes to an escalation in conflict. Avoiding conflict at the worksite only reinforces disruptive, dysfunctional and unprofessional behavior. Knowing your organization’s policies regarding workplace conflict is an important first step.

This post was written from the perspective of the individual registered nurse. Nursing supervisors, managers and executives have an exceedingly important role in creating a workplace that supports the professional practice of nurses and safe environments for patient care. Going back to the example of conflict in my neighborhood, our community works best when individual homeowners address conflict quickly and well.  The same goes for the workplace; it is the everyday acts of individual nurses managing conflict that does the most to keep staff and patients safe.

To read more about conflict management order your copy of the Essentials of Correctional Nursing directly from the publisher. Use promotional code AF1209 for $15 off and free shipping.


Almost, J., Doran, D., Hall, L., Laschinger, H. (2010). Antecedents and consequences of intra-group conflict among nurses. Journal of Nursing Management, 18, 981-992.

Dombrowsky, T. (2012). Responding to verbal abuse. Nursing 2012, November, 58-61.

Hocking, B. (2006). Using reflection to resolve conflict. Association of Operating Room Nurses Journal, 84 (2) 249-259.

Johansen, M. (2012). Keeping the peace: conflict management strategies for nurse managers. Nursing Management, February 50-54.

Kupperschmidt, B. (2008). Conflicts at work? Try carefronting. Journal of Christian Nursing, January-March, 10-17.

Longo, J. (2010). Combating disruptive behaviors: strategies to promote a healthy work environment. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 15 (1) 3.

Siu, H., Laschinger, H., Finegan, J. (2008). Nursing professional practice environments: setting the stage for constructive conflict resolution and work effectiveness. Journal of Nursing Administration, 38 (5) 250-257.

Thomas, C. (2010). Teaching student nurses and newly registered nurses strategies to deal with violent behaviors in the professional practice environment. The Journal of Continuing Education, 41 (7) 299-308.

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One thought on “Managing Conflict is Essential to Safe and Effective Correctional Nursing

  1. We never get enough reminders about the importants of relationships and the tools to deal with difficult situations. Thanks for the reminders and tools. Gayle


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