Effective Communication Conflict/Resolution in the Operating Room

Conflicts can occur at any time within an organization. The Operating Room is an area where there can be a high stress level and breakdowns in communication frequently causing conflict. According to Finkelman, "Conflicts may take place between individual staff, within a unit, or within a department" (2016, pg. 323). If left ignored conflicts can lead to a disruptive and unsafe environment. As a Nurse Leader, the situation of poor communication amongst staff cannot be ignored. When people feel they are not being heard it can and will affect the moral of the group with increased call ins, safety issues and lack or respect. "In addition to impacting quality care verbal abuse affects turnover rates and contributes to the nursing shortage, so it has serious consequence" (Finkelman, 2016, pg. 331).

Individual Conflict

Individual conflict is the most common type of conflict, within a work place. "When staff do not understand the roles of other staff, this can be very stressful for the individual and affects work" (Finkelman, 2016, pg. 323). Many times there is a miss understanding that can be settle peacefully by knowing each other's roles within a department or a facility. Sometimes staff may be upset because they assumed someone was avoiding a task, when in reality it was not that persons task to complete. A good open line of communication can help avoid this type of conflict or at least decease it. There has to be a level of respect with surgeons, anesthesia, surgical techs, and nurses. Each role is very important during an case and a lack of communication and support of management can lead to preventable errors.

The sooner a resolution to the problem is developed the sooner the Operating Room can perform more efficiently. "Unresolved conflicts can harm the relationship but when handled in a positive way it provides an opportunity for growth and ultimately strengthening the bond between two people" (Attri, Sandhu, Mohan, Bala, Sandhu, & Bansal, 2015, pg. 461). Each person needs to know they are being heard so a meeting with each person individually needs to be held as soon as possible and then as a group. Meetings need to be held in a quiet, private setting. Be aware of body language and be an active listener. "As people perceive that others don't respect them, the conversation immediately becomes unsafe and dialogue comes to a screeching halt" (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, & Switzler, 2012, pg. 79). When each person is heard, stop and think what you will say in order to maintain self-control. Overreacting can cause further conflict, which will end in disastrous results. Conversations should be lead with "we" versus "you" which can show a team approach.

"A critical step is to gain better understanding of each professions viewpoint and demonstrate less automatic acceptance of inappropriate behavior" (Finkelman, 2016, pg. 331). Each person needs to be receptive to criticism in order to get to the root of the problem. There has to be self awareness in order to start resolving conflicts. Everyone needs to understand while their role is important the most important person is the patient. There needs to be a culture of open communication and no one should feel they are powerless while performing their job. Each person should feel free to speak up in the Operating Room, which further promotes a culture of safety. Ephesians 4:32 states "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (ESV). Treating others with kindness increases the chance that they will do the same.

"The time to decide how to deal with disruptive behavior by a physician or healthcare professional must start well in advance of the event itself" (Hall & Tobias, 2016, pg. 5). Education needs to be provided upon hire about process of disruptive behavior and reinforced as needed. Knowing the consequences of disruptive behavior informs the staff member of the possible when further action is needed to be taken. "Taking conflict in a stride and learning the skills to resolve it in ways that increases understanding, builds trust and strengthens relationship will go a long way in creating a professional relationship healthy and strong which is an important component of good patient care" (Attri, Sandhu, Mohan, Bala, Sandhu, & Bansal, 2015, pg. 461).


Attri, J., Sandhu, G., Mohan, B., Bala, N., Sandhu, K., & Bansal, L. (2015). Conflicts in operating room: Focus on causes and resolution. Saudi Journal of Anaesthesia, 9(4), 457-463. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.4103/1658-354X.159476

Finkelman, A. W. (2016). Leadership and management for nurses: Core competencies for quality care (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Hall, J., & Tobias, J. (2016). Operating room conflict resolution: Time to figure it out. Saudi Journal of Anaesthesia, 10(1) doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.4103/1658-354X.169442

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., Switzler, A. (2012). Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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