Tips to help Nurses resolve patient conflicts

Stories - Boxing NurseHandling and resolving conflict is one of the unwritten responsibilities of an RN. If you want to be successful in patient and family care, having conflict resolution skills is a must.

What are some situations which may require conflict resolution? First of all you must realize that as an RN you will encounter all kinds of patients, from all walks of life, with all kinds of issues and ways of handling anger and frustration.

One of the first things any nurse can do to help resolve conflict is to listen. If a family member or patient is starting to complain or get angry about medications, or the condition of their loved one, communication with the doctors, or lost belongings – instead of becoming angry or defensive, the best thing to do is to listen… Listen to the patient or family members concerns, listen to their frustrations, listen to their hurt, anger, grief… whatever it is. It can be surprising that once a family member or patient feels listened to, the conflict diffuses.

One tool for effective listening can be writing down the complaints or concerns one-at-a-time as the family member says them and then repeating them back to make sure the meaning has been understood. This is a good way to put the problem into perspective, break it into bite-size chunks, and create a more manageable scenario for everyone involved.

Once the patient or family member feels listened to, the next step is to apologize.

“I am sorry you feel this way.” “I am sorry you were treated that way.” “I apologize that no one returned your call, you lost your belongings, you’ve been waiting for three days” or whatever the case may be. And mean it sincerely. Admit mistakes honestly. Honesty goes a long way.

Most patients or family members will accept an apology – especially if they feel a reasonable solution is close at hand.

You have listened. You have apologized. And now you must solve. Or at least put forth your best efforts to find a solution.

“You haven’t talked to the doctor in three days?’ “Let me page him right now.” And If the doctor can’t come right away, make an appointment… set up a time, write it down and follow through. “You can’t find your belongings?” “Let me call security to see if anyone turned them in.” “You haven’t been restarted on your medications?” “Let’s talk to the pharmacist to see if she can do that for you right away.”

Sometimes simple interventions aren’t enough. You may need to have the Manager or assistant manager step in to offer solutions. Calling a social worker or chaplain may help. Solving conflict requires patience and ingenuity.

If at any time you feel threatened or verbally abused, don’t hesitate to get support from your coworkers, manager or security. You have a right and responsibility to set up boundaries to keep yourselves and those around you safe.

After you have listened, apologized, and hopefully solved the issue, the last step is to thank the patient and family member. Thank them for bringing the issue to your attention. Thank them for allowing you to help. Thank them for being patient while a solution is found. Be genuine and sincere. Part of nursing is caring. And we should care enough to help solve conflict and deliver solutions.

Once the conflict is resolved and the patient and family member feels satisfied, you can pat yourself on the back and say, “job well done”.

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