5 ways to deal with workplace conflict

The challenging and stressful nature of nursing and midwifery can often trigger workplace conflict.

“It can happen on wards and it usually emerges in a really intensified way because nurses and midwives are working closely, regularly and physically alongside each other,” explains ANMF Senior Federal Professional Officer Julianne Bryce.

“It typically occurs as part of teamwork and in nursing and midwifery you’re largely working in teams.

“Although we have individual nursing and midwifery practice, you are working across not only the nursing or midwifery team but together with multidisciplinary teams, and that can sometimes lead to workplace conflict.”

Julianne says workplace conflict typically falls into two categories, above the line obvious and challenging conflict, such as a senior member of staff yelling at a new graduate on the ward, and below the line, which is less explicit and noticeable but may involve bullying behaviour and be equally damaging.

It’s why positive workplace cultures are essential, she says.

“The key to positive practice environments is good communication, inclusivity, respect for one another, professional behaviour, accountability and responsibility, hard work and trust,” Julianne says.

“But sometimes, cliques can form in teams where people are excluded and it’s just the same as a schoolyard, it’s important to call out that behaviour and say ‘that’s not ok’.”

Conflict in the workplace occurs for many reasons, including personality clashes, opposing views, performance issues, jealousy and power differentials.

In nursing and midwifery, Julianne says it is important conflict is addressed early so people can continue to work together in a productive and professional way for the benefit of the people receiving care.

She suggests workplace conflict is often tied in with power differentials which can manifest in clinical settings between senior staff and early career nurses or midwives or different levels of healthcare staff.

“Some of the busiest wards have really productive, positive teams that are working really well together respectfully and communicating well, responding to pressure, while other wards have really underlying covert issues related to culture, conflict and differences. The key to developing those positive teams is calling it out when conflict arises and ensuring that you are modelling the behaviour you want everyone else to be showing.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re the nurse unit manager or a new graduate nurse or midwife, you can model those behaviours, and you can be inclusive, communicate well with others, speak to others respectfully and professionally, come prepared to work and always be ready to learn and take on board constructive feedback, both giving it and receiving it.”

Julianne shared her 5 top tips for dealing with workplace conflict with the ANMJ.


Julianne says there is a significant difference between conflict and healthy and important professional debates and discussions which take place in the workplace.

Nurses and midwives should work hard to engage with one another and give everyone a voice.

“Respectful and professional communication of information in the right forum can help ease the number and severity of conflicts that happen.”

Be the change you want to see

“All nurses and midwives have a responsibility to set the right workplace standards and nobody should underestimate the role they have to play in setting examples for professional, respectful practice. Engage with other members of your team and provide care for one another. It starts with you.”

Document the conflict and get help

If it’s above the line behaviour and serious and unacceptable conflict, Julianne encourages nurses and midwives to document the conflict, report it and seek support sooner rather than later.

“If it’s a senior nurse or midwife that’s screaming at you then you can go to management higher than them. If it’s a colleague, a nurse or midwife on the same level as you, then there’s a role to play for senior staff in assisting with mediation in order to ensure that you can work together effectively in a team environment. Sometimes that involves giving people an opportunity to reflect on the conflict and giving them constructive feedback about what’s occurred and how to make progress.”

Julianne adds that support can come from many sources, including family,  friends and your ANMF Branch, as well as confidential services such as Nurse and Midwife Support.

Call out bad behaviour

Julianne says defining acceptable behaviour is a positive step in avoiding conflict and creates a framework to be able to call out poor behaviour.

“It’s the responsibility of nurses and midwives to deal with unacceptable behaviour in the workplace, no matter what level of nurse or midwife you might be. We’re responsible and accountable for our practice so we cannot be bystanders when it happens, we need to make it clearly known that it won’t be tolerated.”

Be resilient

If you work in a team environment then you will likely witness and experience conflict first-hand.

Julianne says it’s important for nurses and midwives to develop the resilience and professionalism to be able to process workplace conflict and acknowledge what role they may have played in it occurring.

“Did you escalate the conflict? Was your response passive or aggressive? Did your response occur in the wrong place and should you have actually said ‘can we take this elsewhere, this is not the time or place for it’.”

Julianne says remaining resilient and developing an effective conflict resolution skill-set is critical to being able to deal with workplace conflict.

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