Bonnie Miller, CPD presenter

Conflict is here to stay – let’s deal with it

In the female-dominated professions of nursing and midwifery, people tend to fall into two camps of conflict styles, says Bonnie Miller, presenter of the ANMF CPD seminar ‘Relationship management in the healthcare sector’.

Like 80 per cent of the broader population, nurses and midwives have a tendency to be conflict avoiders, Ms Miller said.

‘Often conflict avoiders feel that they’re not causing any fuss, so that’s a positive thing to do, so what we look at in the workshop is understanding that when you’re avoiding, nobody’s needs are met – not yours, not the other person who’s in the relationship,’ she said.

Or nurses and midwives tend to adopt another conflict style that is common among women – accommodating or yielding – otherwise known as ‘the disease to please’. Mention of this style often elicits an ‘Aha!’ moment for nurses and midwives in the seminar.

‘Accommodating or yielding is when you put a high emphasis on the other person’s needs but a really low emphasis on yours,’ Ms Miller said.

The ‘Relationship management in the healthcare sector’ seminar involves getting insight into your own conflict style and the styles of others, so you can think about what it is you want to keep doing and what it is you may want to stop doing.

In the seminar nurses and midwives consider their own conflict styles (and often those of their partners, children and parents!) and do role plays to practise managing conflict.

Having been a conciliator at the Health Services Commission and a special advisor at the Mental Health Complaints Commission, Ms Miller can provide many examples of conflicts involving nurses that she has resolved.

It is important to understand there is no way to prevent conflict occurring, Ms Miller said.

‘Conflict is an inevitable and unavoidable element of our personal and professional lives and in fact we don’t want to avoid it,’ Ms Miller added. ‘We want to leverage the benefits of conflict because there are so many.’

Destructive conflict behaviours can lead to disputes, damage to relationships and distrust, whereas constructive conflict can effect change, lead to creative options, be empowering and strengthen relationships. Apart from avoiding and yielding, destructive conflict behaviours include hiding emotions, ‘all or nothing’ thinking, winning at all costs and self-criticism.

By navigating a conflict successfully, one can deepen trust within a relationship, whereas poor conflict management can lead to a fracture in trust that can be impossible to repair.

 ‘Effective conflict management is about leveraging the benefits and reducing the harmful effects. I think the way you do that is by recognizing that you have a choice in how you respond to conflict.’

Building collaborative relationships involves putting your needs on the table while enquiring about the needs of others – whether individual or the broader group. Being transparent about your own needs and receptive to the needs of others creates a basis for a ‘win-win’ scenario.

Ms Miller will be presenting ‘Relationship management in the healthcare sector’ on 5 October at the ANMF (Vic Branch), 535 Elizabeth St, Melbourne. Register for courses online at anmfvic.asn.au/coursecalendar or contact the Education Centre on 9275 9363/education@anmfvic.asn.au.