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This paper explores two theoretical perspectives that may help nurse managers understand why staff tolerate suboptimal standards of care.Standards of care have been questioned in relation to adverse events and errors for some years in health care across the western world. More recently, the focus has shifted to inadequate nursing standards with regard to care and compassion, and a culture of tolerance by staff to these inadequate standards.The theories of conformity and cognitive dissonance are analysed to investigate their potential for helping nurse managers to understand why staff tolerate suboptimal standards of care.The literature suggests that nurses appear to adopt behaviours consistent with the theory of conformity and that they may accept suboptimal care to reduce their cognitive dissonance.Nurses may conform to be accepted by the team. This may be confounded by nurses rationalising their care to reduce the cognitive dissonance they feel.The investigation into the Mid Staffordshire National Health Service called for a change in culture towards transparency, candidness and openness. Providing insights as to why some nursing staff tolerate suboptimal care may provide a springboard to allow nurse managers to consider the complexities surrounding this required transformation.