Last summer, I had my clinical practicum in a rehabilitation center for patients suffering from drug addiction and mental disorders. The last day of each month was the official date for making the nursing duty roster which could outline responsibilities for each member of staff for the following month. The nursing leader was responsible for unveiling the roster and explaining respective duties to the staff. During one of these roster unveiling meetings, a serious incident happened which made me realize that nursing leaders have a big responsibility in solving conflicts. As the nurse leader presented the list, some nurse raised complaints that they were being assigned tasks that they had performed during the previous month and that some were being assigned night shifts without their consent.
The complaints were so serious that they plunged what was initially a peaceful meeting into chaos and disarray. I had worked at the facility for about two weeks and therefore did not have a complete picture regarding the gravity of the sentiments raised by my fellow nurses. But as I learned, duty rosters were a very sensitive issue at the facility, and its preparation often led to bitter exchanges and endless conflicts. At the core of this particular conflict was the claim that nurses who worked in some departments were overworked, discriminated or denied favors that other nurses got. Some nurses (especially mothers assigned to work during night shifts) decried the lack of work-life balance opportunities.
The quagmire that ensured set me thinking if an amicable solution would ever be found. In fact, it appeared that no one was willing to change their minds unless their concerns were addressed. The uproar lasted for about half an hour as the nurse leader made frantic efforts to explain to the staff the procedure followed in making the duty roster as well as the criterion used to assign staff night and day shifts. The nurse leader then asked for a committee to be set up to look into the matter. I was a member of the committee that deliberated on the divisive issue of duty roster. After speaking to all stakeholders and listening to their concerns, the committee developed a new duty roster which was accepted by all, thereby ending the conflict.
An important lesson I have learned from this conflict is that regardless of whether a conflict results from the actions of a leader or their followers, it can be turned into a positive and powerful experience for all parties (Bodtker and Jameson, 2001, p. 259; Makaroff, Storch, Pauly and Newton, 2014, p. 642). When I reflect back on how the committee handled the conflict, I realize that the nurse leader and the staff went through a dysfunctional conflict. As Doody and Doody (2012, p. 1213) state, dysfunctional conflicts are characterized by emotive feelings which are easily misperceived, leading to difficulties in ending the conflict (Huo, Molina, Sawahata and Deang, 2005, p. 237). Expressing concerns in emotional ways puts the other party in defensive ways, which only serves to complicate the conflict further (Church and Marks, 2001, p. 19). It was for this reason that the nurse leader preferred to form an ad hoc committee to pursue the matter amicably.
Another important lesson is that inclusivity is an important factor to consider when making decisions that may cause changes in the way employees perform their work (Conard and Pape, 2014, p. 87). The duty roster that the nursing leader prepared was meant to instill a culture of job rotation. Under this program, nurses could work in one department for a whole month and then be moved to another department during the following month (Rahim, 2002, p. 206; Kuhn and Poole, 2000, p. 558). However, the nurses were not involved when the decision to introduce the program was made. Under the circumstances, the program was likely to attract some resistance from the nurses (Chow and Suen, 2001, p. 350; Frankel, 2008, p. 23). Actually, the conflict that ensued was an expression of resistance because the people who could be impacted by the new program were not involved in its development.
Communication is critical in conflict management (Dreu and Weingart, 2003, p. 741). It can be noted that poor or ineffective communication can cause misunderstandings, which can lead to conflicts. Oftentimes, differences in peoples ideas and opinions are the main cause of conflicts (Rupp, Baldwin and Bashshur, 2006, p. 145). The nurse leader failed to communicate about the duty roster before and during the preparation process. While deliberating the issue at the committee stage, we made sure that all communications were handled clearly and precisely to avoid conflicts (Saarikoski and Leino-Kilpi, 2002, p. 259). Being clear and straight forward regarding what is expected from the other person helps them to have a clear understanding of the issue under consideration. In our case, we used several channels and modes of communication to keep each member in the loop (Thyer, 2003, p. 74; Porter-OGrady, 2003, p. 105). This ensured that the views and opinions of all nurses were taken into account when preparing the duty register. Most importantly, the committee ensured that nurses with pressing personal needs such as mothers with young children were assigned night shifts so that they could attend to family matters.
In order to minimize conflicts in the workplace (especially within the nursing profession), it is important to have a plan for involving all parties in any change process and as early as possible (Bondas, 2006, p. 332). Involvement makes people feel valued, which motivates them to support the change (Borbasi and Gaston, 2002, p. 31; Myers and Larson, 2005, p. 306). In addition, the involvement of concerned stakeholders leads to minimization of errors due to the diversity of opinions. Even in cases where junior employees cannot affect the final decision, it is essential for them to be involved if their work units will be affected (Alper, Tjosvold and Law, 2000, p. 625). This way, the likelihood of conflicts can be minimized significantly. It is important to take into consideration the fact that lack of willingness on the part of employees to support new change initiatives can be too costly to an organization.
An important factor that enabled the committee to resolve the conflict effectively was the spirit of teamwork that was displayed by all members. Most members including myself played the important role of generating original and robust ideas (Aritzeta, Senior & Swailes, 2005, p. 404). In Belbins team roles model, individuals who are capable of generating unorthodox and creative ideas fall under the category of plants. As a plant, I was able to offer innovative solutions to the problem at hand, leading to its swift resolution.
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