Conflict Management in Hospitals
- By Bachchu Kailash Kain1i
Hospital remains highly individualistic in its function as a complex organisation
because of the intensely personal and critical nature of its work. The individual
patient and his or her care remains the elemental reason for the existence of the
hospital and health care professionals. People with different skills, level of
knowledge and social status work in hospital. Highly skilled and technical
personnel to unskilled and illiterate personnel also work in hospital set up. Every
staff member in hospital has his/her own importance for the efficient and effective
functioning of any hospital. Hospital management has to face many conflicting
situations in the hospital between its staff members and various units.
Conflict is an inevitable experience in health care professionals’ life, and all
members in the hospital feel the effects of conflict. Indeed, in a sense health care
professionals’ life consists of a carefully orchestrated conflict, so mush so that
one of the classic functions of a hospital management is to ensure coordination,
which includes promoting cooperation and minimizing conflict.
Health care professionals must understand the phenomenon of conflict within
organisation so that they can make it acceptable, predictable, and therefore
manageable. Conflict must be accepted as an inevitable part of all group effort.
The causes of conflict are located primarily in the organisational structure, with its
system of authority, roles, and specialization. The clash of personal styles of
interaction can be analyzed so as to deal more effectively with such clashes.
Conflict can be accepted as an element of change, a positive catalyst for
continual challenge to the organisation. Aggression may be accepted and
challenged to foster survival. If conflict is not channeled and controlled, it may
Bachchu Kailash Kaini, PhD Fellow, University of Greenwich and Clinical Governance Manager, Guy’s
and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London. Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
have negative effects that impede the growth of both the individual and the
In certain situations, conflict may clarify relationships, effect change, and define
organisational territories or jurisdictions. When there has been as integrative
solution, resulting from open review of all points of view, agreement is
organisation, forcing it to keep alert, to plan and anticipate change, and to serve
clients in more effective ways. If conflict is handled properly it can be a source of
energy and creativity, leading to generation of new ideas and effective evaluation
of existing ideas. Hence, it produces energy, but like nuclear fission conflict can
have both good and bad consequences. The keys to success are judgement and
style of doing the right things at the right time in the right way. It is possible to
learn better ways to manage conflicts. Effectiveness in managing the conflict
depends on how well people understand the underlying dynamics of the conflict.
The aim of creative conflict resolution is problem solving that allows both parties
to achieve their objectives. The basic goal is a win-win approach rather than a
win-lose approach. Effective relationships at work depend on people's behavior;
however it is the unseen baggage that governs whether that behavior is
constructive and positively helpful towards the relationship or whether it is
destructive both on a personal and organisational basis. Understanding some of
the reasons why people behave in the way that they do, as well as the impact of
the organisational environment and the culture on the way that individuals
behave in team, can provide a useful framework to allow conflict to be handled in
a positive and constructive way.
Conflict is not an objective, tangible phenomenon; rather, it exists in the minds of
the people who are party to it. Only its manifestations, such as brooding, arguing,
or fighting are objectively real. To manage conflict, therefore, one needs to
empathize, that is, to understand the situation as it is seen by the key actors
involved. It is the process of showing understanding for the other's experience.
Some people call this putting yourself in the other person's shoes. An important
element of conflict management is persuasion, which may well involve getting
participants to rethink their current views so their perspective on the situation will
facilitate reconciliation rather than divisiveness.
An interpersonal form of conflict occurs mostly due to personal dislikes or
personality differences. If the differences of opinion between individuals are only
about task related matters, the conflict can be constructed as technical rather
than in interpersonal conflict. It is not easy to demarcate whether the conflict
between two parties is based on manifest rational factors or the hidden personal
factors. One must know when to resolve conflict and when to stimulate it if one is
to avoids its potentially disruptive effects. When a potentially harmful conflict
situation exists, it is better to engage in conflict resolution. Conflicts needs to be
resolved when it causes major disruptions and absorbs time and effort that could
be used more productively.
Communication plays a vital role in managing interpersonal conflicts. Basic
communication goal in a crisis involves controlling aggressive and needscentered interaction patterns. It means moving away from a focus on satisfying
overwhelming personal needs for safety or respect toward a focus on personal
interests. Oral communication, however, is not the only source of conflict; nonverbal behavior is often a more potent indicator of how we truly feel. Several
communication strategies work well in focusing the discussion on substantive
issues. It is better to deal first with emotion and second with substance. Take
time, think and act gently to come into the desired result for the better resolution
Making the decision to confront generally proves productive and
worth the effort. Well-planned confrontations work out much better than
If you want to resolve the conflict, ask yourself following questions and it will help
to resolve conflicts. Do you have strategies for solving disputes? Do you sweep
problems under the carpet? Do you deny that there is any conflict? Are you too
'nice' to each other? Do you know how to negotiate skillfully? Do you ever bring
in a 'third party' to help settle differences or would that be seen as a sign of
The greater the perceived value of what may be lost, the harder it is to manage a
conflict. Both sides should come to a certain point to compromise while settling
the conflict. Win-win situation is desired in each and every situation.
Nevertheless, it is not practical in the real life.