Conflict Resolution for the Licensed Practical Nurse

The role of the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), or Licensed Vocation Nurse in some states, is challenging on many levels of nursing care. Caught between the level of Registered Nurse (RN), and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), the LPN’s role can be seen as the “middle management” of nursing. In other words, a lot of responsibility with little to no organizational influence or power. Licensed nurses who learn to effectively resolve conflict will empower themselves to create a peaceful working environment.

Skills in conflict resolution positively translate into every realm of a nurse’s life. Being able to cut through the myriad of emotions to determine facts or points of view during a conflict is an asset for the professional nurse. Knowing one’s own conflict resolution style can aid the nurse when addressing disagreements within a department.

Five common conflict resolution styles are:

  • Competing (or forcing)
  • Collaborating
  • Compromising
  • Avoiding (or withdrawing)
  • Accommodating

There can be situations in which any of these styles are appropriate. For example, the forcing style is needed when a quick resolution is needed, such as stopping aggression, but would be divisive to use for everyday challenges. Nurses may call upon a ‘forcing’ conflict resolution style in the case of a patient being verbally or physically abusive to a staff member. The nurse would come into the situation with a strong and forceful authority to stop the behavior and end the conflict, then move to another style to address the actual incident.

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Collaborating is often a win-win approach and is typically the natural style of nurses where opponents can find middle ground in their dispute. This style relies upon a high-trust environment but can be a lengthy process. This could be used for daily disputes such as a disagreement between CNAs on the lunch break schedule. The nurse can collaborate with the involved aids to come to an agreeable schedule for everyone.

The compromising style is best used as a temporary settlement and, although quick, does not result in building trust if the nurse does not circle back to the root of the issue. For example, a CNA requests not to be assigned to a particular wing because the patients require heavier care and her back is sore. You compromise for that shift but set the expectation with the aid that she must be able to perform all the duties of her job by the next shift or she will need to follow the organization’s policy for medical accommodations.

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Withdrawing is a way to avoid the known conflict, which can provide time to fully assess a situation from a different angle but also can discredit the nurse if this is the only style called into use. Avoiding conflict can also be a tactic when other styles have already been attempted but failed or there is a risk of hostility. There are times when members of the team, such as a physician or RN, are making requests of the LPN that are beyond the nurse’s scope of practice. The nurse can verbalize the concern of the inappropriate request, and then withdraw from the ensuing conflict in order to consult with a manager or supervisor. Knowing when and where to address conflict is a big part of being a professional nurse.

The accommodating conflict resolution style can be used when there is a menial issue at hand, or the nurse simply has no choice, such as a regulatory mandate from the organization. Nurses are trained to accommodate to many people and processes in the field of medicine. Knowing when to speak up for oneself in a respectful manner is a skill that must be reinforced in the nursing culture. Accommodating, or giving in, to all conflict is detrimental to the confidence of the nurse. That said, nurses must also know when to accept decisions, orders or mandates that need to be followed.

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Conflict can arise in situations where interests, needs, goals or values are incongruent between two or more people. Workplace controversy is a common occurrence and can cause unnecessary stress, dissatisfaction, and turnover of quality nurses and staff. LPNs can use varying styles of conflict resolution to resolve disagreements and facilitate a happy and trusting work environment.