Positive Conflict Resolution in Remote Work Environments
Conflict is something that every organization faces. When a variety of people are working on a project, they bring different perspectives and opinions. However, this conflict doesn’t always have to be negative. Positive conflict doesn’t mean that the conflict was good, but rather that the occurrence of that conflict led to something beneficial. It produces new ideas, solves continuous problems, provides an opportunity for people and teams to expand their skills, and fosters creativity. When opposing ideas are explored, a breakthrough in thinking can occur; without conflict, you have “groupthink,” which discourages innovation. In a remote environment, embracing conflict can seem especially daunting since employees aren’t physically together. As many organizations must work remote indefinitely, here are a few tips for managing and achieving positive conflict:
1. Prevent negative conflict
To keep conflict positive, leaders should set clear boundaries to procedures, response times and communication methods. Addressing these questions puts everyone on the same page. It may also be useful to create a team agreement to ensure everyone understands the goals and expectations set. Another preventative measure is training to grow and enhance their problem solving, conflict resolution, non-defensive communication, interpersonal communication skills and even diversity and inclusion training. The benefit is your employees’ comfortability in situations where conflict arises and working with people who have different styles. Training can also reduce the likelihood of conflict. If you detect that tension and negative conflict are affecting your workplace harmony, conflict resolution management and meetings can combat the negative impact it can have on your team.
2. Focus on culture
It’s important to foster a culture in which differences of opinion are encouraged, emphasizing the common goals among your team, employees, and departments. Many times, people place a focus on the differences in opinion, rather than focusing on goals that they have in common. Encourage your team to be inclusive of others and speak up when they disagree or have a different idea. As a leader, you must be willing to reward and thank those who are willing to take a stand and support their position. Celebrate wins and recognize employee achievements together as a team. Positive conflict and a culture that supports it go hand-in-hand.
However, remote employees can’t sit in the break room or grab coffee together as they would in the office, so they may only be asking work-related questions if they’re communicating at all. Without any social or non-work-related conversations, their relationships may become strained and more susceptible to conflict. One thing leaders can do is promote non-work interactions. This can be done by creating “fun” message threads, hosting virtual happy hours or activity sessions. When you can’t be together physically, it’s important to work on culture virtually.
3. Check your emotions, then call
Instead of sending another email, call the coworker you’re experiencing conflict with. When you can’t see their non-verbal cues or hear their tone of voice, you may be more likely to misinterpret their message. Additionally, your personal opinions about the person can lead to misinterpretation. When calling your coworker for clarity, set your emotions aside. If you’re feeling angry, take a few minutes to cool off before reaching out. If you’re giving constructive criticism, be considerate of their emotions when you deliver it. Assume every message has good intentions and ensure yours has them too.
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