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The Healing Process: Ten Conflict Resolution Tips for Health Care Leaders

The National Conflict Resolution Center's Steven Dinkin Offers Advice on How To Resolve Conflict At Your Health Care Facility

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 22, 2013 /PRNewswire/ Health care has always been a stressful profession. Think high-stakes work, too many patients, overwhelmed employees. It all adds up to lots of potential conflict, and that's bad news for patient care, safety, and satisfaction. Now, throw health reform changes linking reimbursement to quality and patient perception of care metrics into the mix and the implications are clear: Managers must help employees handle conflicts productively. If not, the organization may not survive.

"In times of rapid change, stress levels escalate, conflicts rise, and people's ability to collaborate breaks down," says Steven Dinkin, coauthor along with Barbara Filner and Lisa Maxwell of The Exchange Strategy for Managing Conflict in Health Care: How to Defuse Emotions and Create Solutions When the Stakes Are High (McGraw-Hill, 2012, ISBN:978-0-0718019-6-6, $22.00,

"Right now we need employees to be fully engaged and zeroed in on working together to get patients well and keep them happy," he adds. "We simply can't afford a culture of conflict."

The Exchange Strategy for Managing Conflict in Health Care details the four-stage conflict resolution process also known as The Exchange®, which combines a proactive, step-by-step process with unique communication skills that produce positive results.

Read on for ten tips on resolving conflict at your health care facility.

Respond—don't react. You may not like the way a person approached you, but if you can remain curious about the content and not be thrown by the delivery, it will help you utilize The Exchange skills.

Depersonalize the situation. Conflict often arises out of an attacker's needs rather than a shortcoming in the affected party. If you react in your body and appear defensive or hostile, it will only escalate emotions.

Choose the right leader. The leader chosen to lead disputing parties through The Exchange needs to be respected by both parties. Ideally, the leader should also hold a slightly higher position but work within their department or area.

Choose the right time. The convener should be someone who is close to both parties and who knows the individuals' schedules. This will make expediting the process much easier.

Start with an icebreaker. It's a way to non-confrontationally initiate a conversation about difficult issues. An ideal icebreaker asks for a person's own take on something that's work-related and positive.

Listen. Sometimes what a person isn't saying is more important than what they are saying. Being an active listener sends the message that you are genuinely concerned about the other person and the dispute.

Use and encourage positive language. Always think before speaking. Use positive, easy-to-understand language. Don't repeat, verbatim, paragraphs from the HR manual. Whoever you're addressing will likely mirror what you're doing.

Build trust. In The Exchange, the convener will meet individually with each of the parties involved to help build trust. He or she will work to discover two key things: how the individual involved is being affected by the conflict, and what that person really needs or wants from the other for there to be a resolution.

Use the 5 Ds to find solutions. The 5 Ds provide a convenient guide to help everyone participate: Define, Discuss, Determine Interests, Decide, and Document. Many managers write an email after a session. But whatever the format, everyone should be clear about the documentation and know where it will be kept and who will have access to it.

End on a positive note. Once the parties have had a chance to joint problem-solve, and a plan has been made, put a positive spin on the next steps. This will set expectations and encourage more collaboration going forward. Keep in mind that conflict doesn't have to disappear for better results to occur.

"Disputes are bound to pop up even in the most cordial of work environments," says Dinkin. "When you're armed with the tools you need to work toward productive resolutions, you, your doctors, nurses, and other medical and non-medical staff members can use them to strengthen your organization rather than harm it. The Exchange can help."

About the Authors:

Steven P. Dinkin, Barbara Filner, and Lisa Maxwell are coauthors of The Exchange Strategy for Managing Conflict in Health Care: How to Defuse Emotions and Create Solutions When the Stakes Are High (McGraw-Hill, 2012, ISBN:978-0-0718019-6-6, $22.00, and The Exchange: A Bold and Proven Approach to Resolving Workplace Conflict (CRC Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-4398529-8-9, $39.95,

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