The Art of Balance: Navigating Role Conflict & Role Ambiguity

Navigating role conflict and role ambiguity is like steering a ship through turbulent waters.


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Interprofessional environments have rich perspectives from different disciplines. On one hand, this helps the team function well and creates the space to facilitate communication. However, problems could arise when team members have different needs or when the communication is unclear. EMPOWER, a project funded by the European Union to improve the working environment, highlights that role conflict occurs when there are conflicting expectations of the work from different team members.1 Additionally, if team members have insufficient information to perform their tasks, they may perceive role ambiguity. Role conflict and role ambiguity could potentially impair the workflow and disrupt team relationships. Studies support that role conflict and role ambiguity could result in lower performance, lower work satisfaction, and lower commitment. In this blog post, you will find out why it is important to address role conflict and role ambiguity specifically for interprofessional collaboration, as well as helpful ways to navigate them.

Role Conflict

Role conflict is important to be mindful of and to address within interprofessional teams as it can have significant negative impacts not only on healthcare workers’ physical, mental, and emotional health, but also on how they perform their jobs and on patient outcomes.2 The first step in addressing this issue is to identify the cause of the conflict. In a scoping review, Kim et al. found that “Interpersonal dynamics were hampered by colleagues’ uncivil behaviors, such as low degree of support, to more destructive behaviors including bullying or humiliation.”2 After addressing these underlying causes, leaders within the team will need to discuss and determine how they will be addressed. This may look like enacting new policies within the organization or simply scheduling a meeting to discuss the issue. When discussing the conflict, it is important that a neutral leader helps keep the team focused on the facts around the issue rather than their emotions. Staying mindful of the impact that role conflict can have and following the steps to address it, will foster collaborative relationships among healthcare teams, resulting in quality care for their patients.3

Role Ambiguity

Like role conflict, role ambiguity can lead to increased workplace challenges rooted in emotional exhaustion, reduced workplace engagement, and increased stress.4 From an organizational standpoint, these factors are important to be mindful of because they can lead to burnout and increased workplace turnover. To mitigate such impacts, researchers advocate for team leaders and HR professionals to establish well-defined professional expectations for a particular role so that employees are clear on what’s expected of them and can engage with more focus and effectiveness.1 Doing so can help employees define their role, effectively complete it, and also be confident they’re meeting workplace and supervisory expectations.


  1. EMPOWER. (2020). Role ambiguity and role conflict.
  2. Kim, S., Bochatay, N., Relyea-Chew, A., Buttrick, E., Amdahl, C., Kim, L., Frans, E., Mossanen, M., Khandekar, A., Fehr, R., & Lee, Y.-M. (2017). Individual, interpersonal, and organizational factors of healthcare conflict: A scoping review. Journal of Interprofessional Care31(3), 282–290. 
  3. Almost, J., Wolff, A. C., Stewart‐Pyne, A., McCormick, L. G., Strachan, D., & D’Souza, C. (2016). Managing and mitigating conflict in healthcare teams: An integrative review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 72(7), 1490–1505. 
  4. Chiara, P., Luca, C., Annalisa, P., & Chiara, R. (2019). Emotional exhaustion among healthcare professionals: the effects of role ambiguity, work engagement and professional commitment. Acta Bio Medica : Atenei Parmensis, 90(Suppl 6), 60–67. 
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