Do you have a ‘difficult’ boss? As a nurse practitioner I’ve had bosses that are harsh, bosses that give little direction, bosses that are unfair and bosses that are simply amazing. It’s almost inevitable that working as an NP you’ll have supervisors of all demeanors and managerial skill levels. Some you’ll get along with swimmingly, others you won’t and most will fall somewhere in between. What do you do when you have conflict with your boss, or just plain don’t get along?

1. Take a step back 

There are two ways to respond to conflict with your boss – proactively and reactively. A reactive approach is one in which you respond on impulse. This is not recommended. Rather, take a step back for the proactive route. Ask questions like “Tell me more about that…” to understand your boss’ perspective on the issue at hand. Schedule a meeting to discuss any problems or frustrations. This keeps your emotions in check and prevents you from responding in a way you’ll later regret.

2. Decode the root of the problem

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Did you make a mistake? Do you feel you’re being mismanaged? Have the terms of your employment gone differently than expected? Are you going through a personal problem that’s affecting work? There are a number of reasons nurse practitioners might have beef with supervisors. If you get the feeling that your professional relationship is going sour, take stock. Determine the ‘why’ behind the problem. This is the first step toward open discussion and resolution. 

3. Recognize personality differences

Everyone gives and receives feedback differently. Some of us are softer and avoid conflict. Others of us are thick-skinned and appreciate direct, firm direction. If your personality and preferred feedback style varies significantly from that of your superior, it can make you feel like you’re failing in your nurse practitioner role. Or, it may strain the relationship you have with your boss. Assess your personality as well as that of your boss. Is your frustration simply a result of personality differences? If so, chances are you can recognize this and learn to get along.  

4. Address the issue

Don’t let problems fester. If you have a conflict to resolve, aren’t meeting expectations or otherwise feel frustrated as an NP, ask for a one-on-one meeting to tackle the tension head on. Breaking the ice when it comes to the issue is the only way to get things resolved (you might also check out an NP’s Guide to Setting Boundaries at Work). Do this sooner rather than later. Prepare an agenda and send it to your boss before the meeting. Avoid emotions and stick to the facts. Following these steps is essential to effectively fixing the problem. 

5. Have a solution in mind 

Not only should you request a meeting to resolve problems in your practice, you should also come prepared with a few solutions. Proposing a fix gives you a better chance of reaching a mutually agreeable resolution. 

6. Listen

Listening when you’re wound up about problems in your practice can be tough. But, hear what others have to say before weighing in. Understanding the issues from others’ perspectives gives you information necessary to solve the problem. And, who knows?! Understanding the problem in more detail just might clear up your frustration on its own. Listen with an open mind and avoid taking a defensive stance. 

7. Recap in writing

After you meet with your boss, memorialize the conversation in writing. Send an email recapping what was discussed in your conversation and the next steps for both parties. This way you have something to point back to if things don’t move forward as planned. Don’t forget to follow through on your end of the deal. 

What kinds of conflict have you had with your boss as a nurse practitioner?


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