May 28, 2020

Remote Conflict Management

The term “conflict” generally carries a negative connotation, but it is an essential part of driving innovation in the workplace. Properly managed, disagreement can make teams stronger and encourage superior problem-solving. Creating a space where everyone feels safe to express dissent and varying ideas—even if those ideas prove unsuccessful—should be one of your goals if you want to prioritize growth in your team. Below are three approaches for remote conflict management that may help your team feel comfortable voicing dissent even when working from home.

Use Phone and Video, Avoid Email

The lack of face-to-face conversation means we lose the advantage of nonverbal cues, one of the most important ways we communicate with one another. A long pause before speaking, a change in tone of voice, or even a simple hesitancy can signal discomfort or dissent. It’s important to keep as many of these cues in your meetings as possible, especially if the goal of your meeting is to discuss ideas and potential problems. This means utilizing phone and video, methods of remote communication that allow teammates to hear and see each other.

Phone and video are also recommended if employees need to address a conflict with a coworker one-on-one, particularly if there is confusion or irritation involved. Avoid using email or instant messaging to tackle any issues, as such communications are more likely to escalate a conflict rather than resolve it.

Ask Questions

If your employees are reluctant to speak up in group or one-to-one meetings, asking direct questions like “What do you think the best option is?” or “I’m sensing some uncertainty from you. Do you believe there is a better way to proceed?” can help draw them out. If they remain hesitant, try giving an example of an employee who disagreed with you: “I wanted to go forward with Strategy A, but your teammate told me they thought Strategy B would be more successful. They made some good points. What are your thoughts?” This kind of question shows you welcome differences of opinion, and your employee may be more willing to share their thoughts.

Encourage Frequent Disagreement

Although it seems counterintuitive, easily expressed disagreement within teams is usually a sign of good communication. Conflicts are brought up and resolved with ease and efficiency, the chance of buried resentment is low, and team members will usually know where each of them stands on important issues. Whether conversations are held over the phone, through a video, or in a group text message, your team should feel comfortable frequently voicing dissent. Addressing conflict and disagreement on a daily basis means you’re less likely to encounter larger problems down the road, because your team started managing those issues the moment they came up.

Remote conflict management does not mean avoiding conflict altogether. Rather, it’s about fostering good communication habits among your employees and encouraging an atmosphere that allows conflict and disagreement to happen naturally. With much of the workforce working from home, utilizing phone and video calls is crucial to helping employees remain open and honest in group discussions. Practicing conflict management now, when our work situations are particularly challenging, will help make your team stronger when everyone returns to the office.

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