CanMEDs Collaborator
Conflict Management

Conflict Management



It is normal and desirable to work in an environment devoid of conflict - true or false?


Conflict is normal, and how we deal with it is important, there are skills and approaches that make conflict less daunting.

It is NOT TRUE that conflict is wrong!


Conflict is preventable but possible whenever human interactions occur. The health care setting is no different and it is important that residents be aware of what causes and aggravates conflict, and how to deal with conflict in order to promote a positive outcome.



Conflict can be due to differences in:

  • ideas

  • perspectives

  • priorities

  • preferences

  • beliefs

  • values

  • goals


In the health care setting, many individuals contribute to the care of patients. This group of individuals often includes members of different health care professions. In residency especially, there are individuals at different levels of their training often on the same team, and there is  a hierarchy arranged as a result. These factors can contribute to conflict. An excellent article discussing the issue of conflict for physicians in training is outlined below. [1]




How is conflict handled?

Conflict is often handled in one of four ways:

  • avoidance

  • accommodation

  • competition

  • collaboration



There are many  factors which can accelerate conflict, and associated strategies to help manage conflict.




Try the following activity and match the conflict with a coping strategy.




Conflict cannot always be prevented. However, it is possible to work towards a positive outcome by trying to minimize the damaging effects of conflict.



Conflict and the resident physician



The hospital can be a stressful environment for staff and patients. Dealing with illness, shortages of resources and conflict can take  a toll on a resident’s well-being.  Finding one’s place in a hectic workplace can be even more difficult for those coming from a different environment (for example: International Medical Graduates). It is helpful to have a strong support network and strategies for dealing with the stresses of working so closely in a team environment.



Describe an incident in the setting of health care where a conflict occurred.


What do you think the cause of the conflict was?


What were the contributing factors?


How did you deal with this conflict? In retrospect, do you wish you had done something differently?


Working with difficult people




The following are some strategies to consider using when working with challenging individuals. [2]

Don’t take anything too personally. Try to see where the other person is coming from or why they might be reacting the way that they are. Stress can cause a person to lash out, even if it really doesn’t have anything to do with you personally.

Let the person vent.  Sometimes people just need to get things "off of their chest." Detaching yourself from their frustrations and staying calm will usually defuse a person in a short period of time. They may need to express their emotions or stress, and treating them with patience and understanding will go a long way toward calming them down and getting to the real friction.

Try to see it from their point of view. This doesn’t mean abandoning your own, but rather, a stepping into another person’s "shoes" for the moment and trying to see it from their angle. This goes a long way toward "seeking first to understand" before forcing another point of view on someone.

Step away from the person and the situation - if you feel that it might be getting physical or you are in any danger. Alert someone about what had occurred and why you felt this way. Don’t get involved in a physical confrontation.



Describe some other strategies for dealing with difficult people that you have used or seen others use?






1. Conflict management: a primer for doctors in training Postgrad Med J 2006;82:9-12 2005

2. Wayne County Coalition for Conflict Resolution-used with permission accessed April 9, 2008

All references for this section