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The stressful nature of a healthcare environment can result in difficult behaviours and may lead to workplace conflict.

By approaching challenging behaviours in the workplace with some tools, as well as a positive attitude and assertiveness you can reduce the risk of conflict occurring.

Nurse & Midwife Support Stakeholder Engagement Officer Mark Aitken says when you drill it down, workplace conflict is often related to stress.

“Workloads, lack of staffing or adequate staffing such as the use of agency or grads who are hitting the ground running.”

Sadly but not surprising bullying and harassment in the workplace, which we have long known about, are major issues, says Aitken.

“We have heard on masse for a profession that at its core is caring, nurses and midwives are often not very good at caring for each other or even caring for themselves.”

“There may be an element of not feeling cared for or asking why should I care about anyone else? With burnout there is an element of compassion fatigue which is multifaceted.”

There is also frustration for some people who have worked in an area for too long or for those who are no longer functioning in their job, says Aitken.

There are tools to equip nurses and midwives, in particular students and early career nurses to deal with challenging behaviours, he says.

“We have an opportunity to empower our younger, newer nurses, by providing student and graduate nurses with the tools, for example to have assertive conversations and negotiation skills in interactions with difficult people whether that be a patient, patient’s relative or work colleague.”

Educating nurses and midwives on how to call out inappropriate behaviour and to know its ok to do so, is a start.

“To call people on their behaviour, put it out there ‘let’s discuss it’,” says Aitken.

‘I’m not sure if you know it but you are talking to me in a way that’s not in line with our organisation’s vision’ or simply ‘stop talking to me this way’. Most bullies when confronted will back down. It’s often when you call it they realise the gravitos of the situation.”

Some other tips on dealing with challenging behaviours include:

  • Be respectful when approaching people with challenging behaviours.
  • Be assertive and honest – ask the person if they are ok (they are probably not).
  • Talk to your manager or team leader.
  • Contact Nurse & Midwife Support or the employee assistance program if this behaviour is affecting you.
  • Do not use personal attacks, instead describe how the behaviour makes you feel.
  • Don’t raise your voice or use closed body language – this may escalate conflict.

Nurse & Midwife Support provides free and confidential support 24/7 to nurses, midwives and students Australia wide. If you’re struggling with conflict and need some support you can call the NMSupport confidential support line 24/7 on 1800 667 877 or visit

Although it sounds “preachy”, Aitken also suggests to try to eat and sleep well and maintain a work/life balance.

“It’s important to focus on your health and wellbeing before you reach the point where you are phoning in with a crisis. That’s often hard when nurses and midwives are often juggling work, family and other responsibilities.”