Relationship conflict – disagreement that arises not about the work at hand, but rather from the relationships between the parties – is rarely productive. This type of conflict is inherently emotionally laden and perhaps the most difficult to manage. At work, relationship conflict may arise from prior task or process conflicts taken to extremes or left unaddressed. A key step in managing relationship conflict is recognizing which type of conflict you are encountering. In reality, most conflicts involve some component of all three types of conflict (task, process, relationship); determining which type is the main driver of the conflict helps inform your approach to management. Christiana has already given practical suggestions for how to approach task and process conflict. In contrast to the in-the-moment approach to task and process conflict, relationship conflict often requires allowing some period of time to pass to allow tensions to ease and ensure an appropriately private environment for discussion. It can be helpful to frame the discussion with common goals (“We both want to provide excellent care to our mutual patients...”) and acknowledgement that prior experiences are affecting your ability to meet those goals (“I think our time working together in the ICU could have gone better, and I worry that it is affecting how we work together now...”) before discussing what went well, what didn’t go well, how each party contributed, and one or two specific points that each party could improve upon going forward.
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