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• To identify the different leadership and conflict management styles that individuals may use
• To understand which leadership and conflict management styles are correlated
• To recognise the importance of nurse educators, managers and employers ensuring that nurses have the necessary skills in conflict management and leadership
Background Leadership and conflict management are essential skills that nursing students need to acquire and practise. There is a gap in the existing literature on conflict management strategies, the role of leadership styles in conflict management and the relationship between leadership and conflict management styles among nursing students.
Aim To investigate nursing students’ leadership and conflict management styles and determine the relationship between their leadership and conflict management styles.
Method A descriptive correlational study was conducted with 250 third-year and fourth-year students at a nursing college in Saudi Arabia. Participants completed the Leadership Styles Questionnaire and Rahim Organizational Conflict Inventory-II. Descriptive statistics were used, and correlation and regression analyses were conducted.
Results Overall, the democratic style of leadership and the integrating style of conflict management were the most favoured by participants, while the laissez-faire leadership style and the dominating style of conflict management were the least favoured. Significant positive correlations were established between the leadership styles of participants and their conflict management styles. The regression analysis showed a significant predictive power of leadership styles, specifically the democratic and autocratic styles, on 30% of the variance in conflict management styles.
Conclusion Leadership skills are essential for clinical decision-making, while leadership style can affect the choice of conflict management style. Nurse educators have a crucial role in teaching and modelling effective leadership and conflict management for students.
Nursing Management. doi: 10.7748/nm.2022.e2023Peer review
This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software
Alnajjar H, Abou Hashish E (2022) Exploring the relationship between leadership and conflict management styles among nursing students. Nursing Management. doi: 10.7748/nm.2022.e2023
Published online: 19 January 2022
Conflict management is an essential skill that nursing students need to acquire and practise, since conflict is inevitable, whether in learning environments or clinical settings (Chan et al 2014, Rubio and Picardo 2017). In medical and nurse education, conflict management skills are valued for promoting teamwork and collaboration between healthcare professionals (Fakhry and El Hassan 2011). A person’s conflict management skills are one component of achieving effective leadership, while leadership skills and styles are likely to affect the outcomes of conflicts (Sehrawat and Sharma 2014). The relationship between leadership styles and conflict management styles has been found to affect nursing and other professions (Khan et al 2015). The Institute of Medicine (2010) proposed that nursing students should discuss leadership issues and exercise their potential for leadership before graduating.
Several studies have shown that students adopt different conflict management styles (Kantek and Gezer 2009, Fakhry and El Hassan 2011, Pines et al 2012, Chan et al 2014, Hartman and Crume 2014, Waite and McKinney 2014, Abou Hashish et al 2015). The relationship between leadership and conﬂict management styles is one of the variables that needs to be investigated to better understand the dynamics of conﬂict management (Oredein and Eigbe 2014, Saeed et al 2014). Garza (2018) observed that there is a gap in the existing literature on conflict management strategies and the role of the leadership style in conflict management.
In Saudi Arabia, Baddar et al (2016) and Alshammari and Dayrit (2017) conducted research into hospital nurses’ conflict management and leadership. They concluded that the ability of nurses to practise professionally may be influenced by the level of development of their conflict management and leadership skills. To the best of the knowledge of this article’s authors, no study has investigated the relationship between leadership and conflict management styles among Saudi nursing students. Therefore, the authors decided to address that gap in the existing literature by conducting a new study. The results of this study may be of interest to nurse academics, educators, students, managers and researchers globally. In particular, it may guide nurse educators in preparing students to manage conflict effectively and select the appropriate leadership style, both during their studies and in their future nursing careers.
Conflict is a natural occurrence in human interactions and the product of actual or perceived differences in objectives, values, ideas, attitudes, opinions, feelings, expectations and/or behaviours between two parties (Rahim 2011, Chan et al 2014). Conflict can also be internal to one person, but in the learning context conflict is understood as occurring between two parties. In learning environments, conflict may occur among students, between students and teachers and/or between students and the institution (Fakhry and El Hassan 2011). A nursing student’s inability to manage conflicts with their peers and/or teachers can be one reason why they may experience issues academically (Abou Hashish et al 2015). Students who cannot manage conflict effectively may experience increased levels of tension and absenteeism, interpersonal relationship issues and decreased academic performance, while unresolved conflict can also adversely affect the learning environment, teachers and peers (Kantek and Gezer 2009).
A person’s conflict management style encompasses their attitudes, reactions and behaviours when faced with a conflict (Fakhry and El Hassan 2011). Rahim (1983) developed one of the most commonly used conceptualisations of conflict management styles, outlining five styles:
• Avoiding – those who use this style tend to sidestep or ignore conflict.
• Obliging – those who use this style tend to react to conflict passively and accommodate the other party’s decisions.
• Compromising – those who use this style manage conflict by ‘giving in’ and letting the other party have their way.
• Integrating – those who use this style manage conflict actively and collaborate constructively with the other party to find a solution that is acceptable to both parties.
• Dominating – those who use this style attempt to impose their will on the other party and win the argument irrespective of the potential consequences.
According to Rahim (2011), conflict management can be supported by effective leadership. Adopting the appropriate leadership style can inspire others and encourage critical and innovative thinking, which is fundamental to overcome obstacles and manage conflict (Rahim 2011). Leadership style has a significant role in influencing other people’s perceptions, attitudes and behaviours to achieve a common goal (Kaimenyi 2014). The classic leadership style framework that is commonly referred to is that of Lewin et al (1939), which encompasses three styles:
• Autocratic (authoritarian) – this leadership style precludes autonomy and compels staff to follow the leader’s decisions, leading to a sense of powerlessness among staff.
• Democratic (participative) – this leadership style is participatory and encourages staff to engage in decision-making.
• Nurse education should develop students’ leadership and conflict management skills and support them to adopt the most appropriate styles
• There needs to be an increased focus on leadership practices and styles in nurse education curricula so that students are adequately prepared for conflict management and future leadership roles
• Nurse educators need to promote a healthy and supportive learning environment that respects the individual characteristics of students
• Nurse managers and employers need to ensure nurses have access to appropriate training to strengthen their leadership and conflict management skills
To investigate nursing students’ leadership and conflict management styles and determine the relationship between their leadership and conflict management styles.
A descriptive correlational study was conducted at the College of Nursing-Jeddah, which is affiliated to King Saud bin Abdul-Aziz University for Health Sciences, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
A convenience sample of 316 third-year and fourth-year nursing students in the 2019-2020 academic year was used. This exceeded the minimum sample size of 169 generated by the Raosoft sample size calculator. Third-year students are in the fifth or sixth academic level and fourth-year students are in the seventh or eighth academic level. First-year and second-year students were not invited to participate since they have no clinical placement experience. Of the 316 students approached, 266 agreed to participate, yielding a response rate of 84%. Among those 266 students, 16 participated in a pre-testing of the data collection tools and the remaining 250 completed the study questionnaire.
Data were collected using a questionnaire composed of three parts:
The first part of the questionnaire included questions regarding participants’ age, academic level, whether they had previously experienced conflict with teachers and/or peers, the environment where they had previously experienced conflict (classroom, clinical setting or both) and how successful they felt in managing conflict.
The LSQ is designed to measure the autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire leadership styles. It contains 18 items, with six items for each style. Each item is rated on a five-point Likert scale (ranging from 1 for ‘strongly disagree’ to 5 for ‘strongly agree’) and a mean score is calculated for each item, following which a mean score out of 5 is calculated for each leadership style. In this study, the authors determined which leadership styles were the most prevalent and least prevalent among participants by comparing the mean scores for each leadership style. The LSQ has been shown to be valid and reliable, with a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.80 (Dorgham and Al Mahmoud 2013). For the present study, internal consistency analysis yielded a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.89.
The ROCI-II (Rahim 1983, 2011) is designed to measure Rahim’s (1983) five conflict management styles. It comprises 28 items that are distributed as follows: six items on the avoiding style; six items on the obliging style; four items on the compromising style; seven items on the integrating style; and five items on the dominating style. Each item is rated on a five-point Likert scale (ranging from 1 for ‘strongly disagree’ to 5 for ‘strongly agree’) and a mean score is calculated for each item, following which a mean score out of 5 is calculated for each conflict management style. The conflict management style with the highest score is considered to be the most prevalent. The ROCI-II has been tested in nursing studies for validity and internal reliability and has been shown to be reliable, with a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.852 (Abou Hashish et al 2015). For the present study, internal consistency analysis yielded a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.90.
A pre-testing of the data collection tools was performed with 16 of the 266 students who had agreed to participate. No changes were made to the data collection tools following the pre-testing.
The questionnaire was distributed on paper to the 250 students and all of them completed and returned it. Students had to complete the questionnaire in their free time. Completion took approximately 25 minutes. Data collection took place within a period of four weeks in the spring semester of the academic year 2019-2020.
The data were analysed using SPSS version 22 and tested for normal distribution using the Shapiro-Wilk test. Descriptive statistics were used to summarise the results, a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to compare means and Pearson’s correlation and regression analysis were used to assess the relationship between variables. The level of P-value significance was ≤0.05.
The study received approval from the university’s institutional review board and from the college’s administrators. The authors explained the purpose of the study to potential participants and informed them that participation was voluntary, with no negative consequences in terms of their academic achievements or grades if they decided not to participate or to withdrew from the study. The authors obtained participants’ informed consent and ensured their confidentiality was preserved by using codes rather than names. All data were securely stored and could only be accessed by the research team.
The mean age of the 250 participants who completed the questionnaire was 22 years (range=19-26 years, standard deviation (SD) 1.40). Among the participants, 42 (17%) were in the fifth academic level, 52 (21%) were in the sixth academic level, 56 (22%) were in the seventh academic level and 100 (40%) were in the eighth academic level.
Almost 60% of participants (n=147, 59%) had previously experienced conflict with teachers and/or peers. Of the 147 participants who had previously experienced conflict, all (n=147, 100%) had experienced conflict in the classroom, 33 (22%) had experienced conflict in the clinical setting and 70 (48%) had experienced conflict in both settings.
Of the 147 participants who had previously experienced conflict, 52 (35%) felt successful, 74 (50%) felt partially successful and 21 (14%) felt unsuccessful in managing conflict.
The overall mean score for leadership styles was 3.49 out of 5 (SD 0.42). The leadership style with the highest mean score was the democratic style (3.75, SD 0.61), followed by the autocratic style (3.41, SD 0.54) then the laissez-faire style (3.29, SD 0.49).
For conflict management styles, the overall mean score was 3.47 out of 5 (SD 0.37). Of the five conflict management styles, the integrating style had the highest mean score (3.74, SD 0.52) followed by the compromising style (3.50, SD 0.65), the avoiding style (3.45, SD 0.54), then the dominating and obliging styles with 3.30 each (SD 0.58 and 0.39 respectively).
Table 1 shows significant positive correlations between the leadership styles and conflict management styles (r=0.473, P<0.001) of participants. The autocratic leadership style had significant correlations with all five conflict management styles (P<0.007 for the dominating style and P<0.001 for the integrating, obliging, compromising and avoiding styles). The democratic leadership style had significant correlations with all conflict management styles (P<0.001) except the dominating style (P=.981). The laissez-faire leadership style had significant correlations with the avoiding (P<0.001) and obliging (P<0.007) conflict management styles.
|Conflict management style||Leadership style|
|Autocratic||Democratic||Laissez-faire||Overall leadership styles|
|Overall conflict management styles||r=0.382||r=0.502||r=0.173||r=0.473|
The regression analysis showed that leadership styles as independent variables could significantly predict 30% of the variance in conflict management styles. Both the democratic and the autocratic leadership style had a significant effect on this prediction value. Table 2 shows the multivariate linear regression for overall conflict management styles in relation to leadership styles.
A significant relationship was found between participants’ academic level and their leadership and conflict management styles. Senior students (eighth academic level) had the highest mean score for the autocratic leadership style (F=6.51, P=0.001). Conversely, junior students (fifth academic level) had the highest mean score for the democratic leadership style (F=37.73, P<0.001). The integrating conflict management style had the highest mean among junior students (F=16.96, P<0.001) while the compromising conflict management style had the highest mean among senior students (F=6.42, P<0.001).
A significant relationship was also found between participants’ conflict environment (that is, the setting where they had experienced conflict) and their leadership and conflict management styles, as well as between how successful participants felt in managing conflict and their leadership and conflict management styles:
• Among participants who had experienced conflict in both classroom and clinical setting, the highest mean scores were for the democratic leadership style (F=2.750, P=0.066) and the integrating conflict management style (F=5.49, P=0.005).
• Among participants who felt successful in managing conflict, the highest mean scores were for the democratic leadership style (F=20.29, P<0.001) and the integrating conflict management style (F=11.75, P<0.001).
• Among participants who felt unsuccessful in managing conflict, the highest mean scores were for the autocratic or laissez-faire leadership styles (F=4.40, P=0.013) and the obliging or avoiding conflict management styles (F=11.75, 7.69, P<0.001).
Participants in this study appeared to favour the democratic leadership style, followed by the autocratic and laissez-faire styles. This may be because valuing relationships with others and sharing decision-making among the team are taught as core values in nurse education. This is supported by Azaare and Gross (2011), who stated that nursing is a people-oriented profession that emphasises humanism, which is likely to influence leadership style. Similarly, Al Amiri et al (2019) noted that nursing students tended to adopt the democratic leadership style more often than the laissez-faire and autocratic leadership styles. Furthermore, Strong et al (2013) found that university students tended to favour relationship-oriented leadership rather than task-oriented leadership. Mathew (2014) concluded that improving the quality of nurse education may improve students’ leadership skills and prepare them to select a suitable leadership style and to become effective nurse leaders. Therefore, the acquisition of leadership skills and styles should begin during undergraduate nurse education (Fuster Linares et al 2020).
In terms of conflict management styles, the integrating style was the most common among the participants, followed by the compromising, avoiding, dominating and obliging styles. This may be because nursing students tend to address issues honestly and openly, often seeking collaborative approaches that benefit all those involved. This assertion is supported by Labrague and McEnroe-Petitte (2017), who noted that when faced with conflict, nursing students tended to collaborate with the other party to achieve a solution. Similarly, Kantek and Gezer (2009) and Chan et al (2014) reported the integrating style of conflict management was the most used by nursing students, while the dominating and avoiding styles were the least used. In Fakhry and El Hassan’s (2011) study, nursing students most valued the collaborative (integrating) strategy. Few studies have reported that nursing students tend to use negative conflict management styles such as the avoiding (Pines et al 2012, Hartman and Crume 2014) and dominating (Waite and McKinney 2014) styles.
In this study, participants’ leadership styles were significantly correlated with their conflict management styles. The autocratic leadership style had a significant correlation with all five conflict management styles. The democratic leadership style had a significant correlation with all conflict management styles except the dominating style. The laissez-faire leadership style had a significant correlation with the avoiding and obliging conflict management styles. The regression analysis supported these correlations by showing a significant predictive power of leadership styles, specifically the democratic and autocratic styles, on 30% of the variance in conflict management styles.
It may be that nursing students who favour the democratic or autocratic leadership styles tend to use all the different conflict management styles. In contrast, nursing students who favour a laissez-faire leadership style may be more likely to wish to evade conflict and therefore tend to adopt the avoiding or obliging conflict management styles.
The results of this study confirm that leadership and conflict management are linked, and that an individual’s leadership style can affect their choice of conflict management style (Rahim 2011). According to Erzen and Armağan (2015), leadership has a significant effect on conflict management. Farhangian (2014) found that the laissez-faire leadership style had a positive correlation with the avoiding conflict management style and a negative correlation with the integrating conflict management style. Kaimenyi (2014) identified that the dominating conflict management style appeared closely related to the autocratic leadership style. However, Garza (2018) and Rubio and Picardo (2017) found no significant association between leadership and conflict management styles.
In this study, participants’ academic level, conflict environment and how successful they felt in managing conflict had significant relationships with their leadership and conflict management styles.
Senior students tended to favour the autocratic leadership style and compromising conflict management style, while junior students tended to favour the democratic leadership style and integrating conflict management style. This may be because junior students might be concerned that conflict with their teachers and/or peers could affect their academic achievements. Another possible explanation could be that students may be confused about, or not adequately prepared to decide, which styles to use. At the College of Nursing-Jeddah, students only undergo a leadership and management course and shadow nurse managers at the eighth academic level, so senior students may be better equipped to understand the different styles and decide which ones to adopt.
Many authors support the idea that selecting the most suitable conflict management style depends on a variety of factors, such as: the conflict situation itself; its severity and urgency; the power and position of the conflicting parties; and the maturity and experience of the people involved (Kantek and Gezer 2009, Rahim 2011, Sehrawat and Sharma 2014, Labrague and McEnroe-Petitte 2017).
Not all researchers have found similar relationships between participants’ characteristics and their conflict management style. In a correlational study of 166 US baccalaureate nursing students, Pines et al (2012) found no difference between conflict management styles based on students’ experience of conflict. Pines et al (2014) also conducted a quasi-experimental study of 60 senior nursing students in the US enrolled in two upper-division courses, psychiatric-mental health nursing and leadership/management. They found no significant relationship between age and experience of conflict. Furthermore, Abou Hashish et al (2015) conducted a descriptive study of 475 nursing students in four academic years in Egypt and found no significant relationship between the conflict environment and the students’ conflict management styles.
In their future careers as nurses and nurse leaders, nursing students will be in a position to positively influence clinical decision-making and therefore potentially improve patient outcomes. However, Fuster Linares et al (2020) highlighted that, although leadership skills are essential for clinical decision-making and conflict management, there is little evidence that nursing students and novice nurses have the necessary leadership skills.
Chan et al (2014) emphasised the need to use the leadership style appropriate to manage conflict in each situation. Effective leadership skills and constructive conflict management skills can be developed among nursing students through strategies such as role modelling, professional communication, expressing respect, effective listening, interactive and virtual learning, problem-based learning, team dynamics, open communication, shared problem-solving, debriefing and cultivating a sense of community (Chan et al 2014, Abou Hashish et al 2015, Abd-El Aliem and Abou Hashish 2021).
Communication, assertiveness and resilience-building are essential skills that need to be emphasised in nurse education (Abd-El Aliem and Abou Hashish 2021, Abou Hashish and Farghaly 2021, Alnajjar and Abou Hashish 2021). Awareness of conflict and learning how to manage conflict in the clinical setting can enhance nurse-patient relationships, improve nurses’ satisfaction at work and enhance the quality of patient care (Hartman and Crume 2014, Alnajjar and Abou Hashish 2021). Nurse educators have a crucial role in teaching and role modelling effective leadership and constructive conflict management skills for students.
The questionnaire was self-completed by participants, which could have resulted in bias, since students may have expressed how they think they should behave as opposed to how they actually behave. The study was conducted in one nursing college in Saudi Arabia, which limits the generalisability of the results. In addition, the results could not be discussed in relation to previous research on the relationship between leadership and conflict management styles among nursing students due to the lack of research on this topic.
Research using a more rigorous approach is necessary to identify interventions that could enhance nursing students’ leadership and conflict management skills. In addition, larger sample sizes and multiple settings may yield more generalisable results. Observational and longitudinal studies could monitor students’ leadership and conflict management styles from enrolment to graduation. It could be interesting to investigate the influence of variables such as culture, learning environment, teachers’ leadership and conflict management styles, as well as students’ learning styles, personality and emotional or social intelligence.
Conflict is unavoidable, whether in nurse education or nursing practice, so it is important that nursing students have the necessary leadership and conflict management skills to support them in their studies and future nursing careers. Leadership and conflict management are linked, and an individual’s leadership style can affect their choice of conflict management style. Selecting the most appropriate styles of leadership and conflict management can positively influence clinical decision-making and therefore potentially improve patient outcomes.
This study found that students’ leadership styles were significantly correlated with their conflict management styles. Students tended to favour the democratic leadership style and the integrating conflict management style. Although leadership skills are essential for clinical decision-making and conflict management, there is little evidence that nursing students and novice nurses have the necessary leadership skills. Therefore, nurse educators have a crucial role in teaching and role modelling effective leadership and conflict management for students.
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