Empathy is a central component of nurse–consumer relationships. In the present study, we investigated how empathy is developed and maintained when there is conflict between nurses and consumers, and the ways in which empathy can be used to achieve positive outcomes. Through semistructured interviews, mental health nurses (n = 13) and consumers in recovery (n = 7) reflected on a specific conflict situation where they had experienced empathy, as well as how empathy contributed more generally to working with nurses/consumers. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data, utilizing a framework that conceptualizes empathy experiences as involving antecedents, processes, and outcomes. The central theme identified was ‘my role as a nurse – the role of my nurse’. Within this theme, nurses focussed on how their role in managing risk and safety determined empathy experienced towards consumers; consumers saw the importance of nurse empathy both in conflict situations and for their general hospitalization experience. Empathy involved nurses trying to understand the consumer's perspective and feeling for the consumer, and was perceived by consumers to involve nurses ‘being there’. Empathic relationships built on trust and rapport could withstand a conflict situation, with empathy a core component in consumer satisfaction regarding conflict resolution and care. Empathy allows the maintenance of therapeutic relationships during conflict, and influences the satisfaction of nurses and consumers, even in problematic situations. Nurse education and mentoring should focus on nurse self-reflection and building empathy skills in managing conflict.