By Amanda Anderson, a critical care nurse and graduate student in New York City currently doing a graduate placement at AJN.
This month, Debra Gerardi writes about initial steps to managing workplace conflict as nurses. The quotes below are from her article in the March issue of AJN, “Conflict Engagement: A New Model for Nurses” (free until April 30, the article is one in an ongoing series on conflict).
Just as with most medical errors, there is usually not a single cause of workplace conflict—instead, a number of interrelated variables lead up to an event.
Sure, I was new to nursing, but I wasn’t new to work. My life as the child of small business owners had ingrained in me a certain sense of duty that I felt my colleague lacked. When you grow up with parents who make you pick up cigarette butts in their business parking lots, no work is below you, and there’s no time to complain. Maya wasn’t new to nursing, but she seemed, to me, new to the idea that work was to be done without a fight.
In my first months on the unit, I saw her complain much more than I saw her put her head down and plod through the tasks before her. Our unit was full of really sick patients, to be sure, and glitches like overflowing trash or equipment holdups too often set us back, forcing us to tend to jobs meant for others. But instead of voicing my frustration, I bit my lip and took on every task I came upon, judging my colleague for her unwillingness to silently do the same.
Maya and I soon clashed, probably because she picked up on the disapproval that I wore on my face. While I never told her that I interpreted her opposition to our daily workplace setbacks as laziness, our mutual frustration with each other became palpable. It never occurred to me to try to tell her how I felt; I had no desire to engage Maya in finding a solution. To me, she was the problem.
Effectively addressing conflict in complex systems requires an understanding of how systems function, and ultimately a shift in thinking toward a systems view of organizations.
One day, after a lunch room volley that publicly exposed our simmering conflict, Maya angrily pulled me into an empty patient room. My words to the group eating with us had implied that Maya was to blame for a slip-up, and although the incident hadn’t affected patient care, I’d made my feelings about her work ethic evident to all.
What Maya said to me that day shifted my narrow view of our conflict into one that encompassed our entire system, and changed my view of nursing work forever:
“It is clear we don’t like each other. We don’t need to like each other. We do, for the sake of our patients, need to respect each other. It’s dangerous to them if we don’t.” Read the rest of this entry ?