Communication That Builds Teams: Assessing a Nursing Conflict Intervention

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Abstract

Quality communication is essential for building strong nursing teams. Structurational divergence (SD) theory explains how institutional factors can result in poor communication and conflict cycles; the theory has been developed in nursing context, although it is applicable to all organizational settings. We describe the design, implementation, and evaluation of an intervention to reduce SD and improve nurses' work life and team-member relationships. An intensive 9-hour course provided training in conflict/SD analysis and dialogic conflict/SD management to 36 working nurses from a variety of settings. Quantitative pre- and posttests were administered, with a comparison sample. The course reduced measures of negative conflict attitudes and behaviors: direct personalization, persecution feelings, negative relational effects, ambiguity intolerance, and triangulation (gossiping and complaining to uninvolved third parties). The course also increased important attitudes necessary for productive dialogue and conflict management: perceptions of positive relational effects, conflict liking, and positive beliefs about arguing. As compared with nonparticipants, participant posttests showed lower conflict persecution; higher recognition of positive relational effects; lower perceptions of negative relational effects; higher conflict liking; lower ambiguity intolerance; and lower tendency to triangulate. Qualitatively, participants perceived better understanding of, and felt more empowered to manage, workplace conflicts and to sustain healthier workplace relationships. This intervention can help nurses develop tools to improve system-level function and build productive team relationships.

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