Teaching Conflict Resolution in Medicine: Lessons From Business, Diplomacy, and Theatre

MedEdPORTAL. 2018 Jan 25;14:10672. doi: 10.15766/mep_2374-8265.10672.


Introduction: Disagreement and conflict are inevitable among members of clinical teams, as well as with patients and families during the course of medical care. Despite the importance of physicians needing to negotiate and resolve conflicts, best practices for teaching these skills have not been established in a clinical setting.

Methods: We developed teaching tools based on a conflict resolution model from the business world, emphasizing team dynamics and employing a structured, hierarchical approach to conflict resolution that preserves interpersonal relationships. We employed lessons from diplomacy and improvisational theatre to underscore nonverbal cues that improve communication during conflict. We prepared instructions for teaching conflict management and conflict resolution styles, small-group negotiations, case-based clinical scenarios, personal reflection, and facilitated debrief. The tools are customizable based on audience and available instructional time.

Results: We implemented this resource for over 2 years with 20 pediatric residents and over 150 educators and fellows at national meetings. Participants reported that the topic was timely and important and identified the conflict resolution hierarchy, attention to conflict resolution styles, use of case-based discussion, and focus on nonverbal communication as effective and valuable elements.

Discussion: This resource has been refined over five cycles of presentation and feedback with learners and educators. Our participants identified themes of conflicts in clinical settings that informed the case scenarios presented here, including interdisciplinary conflicts, ethical conflicts, and conflicts among members of the educational hierarchy. These tools are designed to meet established national educational priorities related to communication and professionalism across the educational continuum.

Keywords: Conflict Resolution; Milestones; Negotiation; Nonverbal Communication; Professionalism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Education / methods
  • Humans
  • Negotiating / methods*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Teaching