Handling Workplace Conflict Resolution while Working Remotely

While most people are familiar with the concept of workplace conflict, it may not be at the top of mind for many of us due to the fact that more people have been working remotely over the past six months. As of June 2020, 42% of workers across many sectors have made the switch to working at home. This massive change to how many organizations work is bound to create some workplace conflict.    What we do know is that as businesses have been continually adjusting to all the changes in the workplace, conflict continues to be an issue. Effective conflict resolution can help create a positive environment and allow companies to grow. However, with so many people working from home, settling disputes may look different than it used to. How can businesses effectively resolve conflict in the digital age? 

What is Workplace Conflict? 

As the name suggests, workplace conflict is any conflict that disrupts the flow of work. Some disruptions are considered healthy conflict for an organization. When communicating disagreements or concerns in a supportive environment, employees can brainstorm to come up with new ideas and solutions. Unhealthy conflict on the other hand, such as name calling, bullying, gossip, office politics, and employees withdrawing or becoming afraid to speak up will absolutely hurt organizations. An overall lack of mutual respect can create a psychologically unsafe work environment. If left unresolved, workplace conflicts can lead to significant financial and legal costs, including: 
  • Organizations will lose an average of $359 billion in work hours a year 
  • High turnover rate 
  • An average of $125 thousand in legal fees 

What is Conflict Management? 

Conflict management is the practice of identifying disagreements and proactively resolving them in a rational and effective manner. Conflict management is a critical leadership skill yet very few managers and leaders are ever trained or coached on how to resolve conflict. The good news is there are multiple methods to resolving conflict depending on the type of issue and the people involved. We teach the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument where you can resolve conflict by Competing, Collaborating, Compromising, Accommodating or Avoiding. Effectively managing conflicts helps to build stronger relationships, prevents conflict from escalating to personal conflict, and allows room for creativity and innovation. While Senior Leaders and the HR department often act as the ultimate conflict managers, it is necessary for all employees to be equipped in conflict resolution. 

Tips for Effective Conflict Resolution 

Resolving conflict is not always easy or straightforward. It is often very nuanced which is why it is important to be effective in all the different methods of conflict resolution. Here are some helpful pointers of what you should do in times of conflict: 
  • Be open to solutions- there could be multiple ways of handling the issue
  • Actively listen- don’t interrupt or think about your response while the person is speaking
  • Be ready to address conflict quickly- if you delay or stall, the conflict usually gets worse, not better. 
  • Acknowledge how the other side is feeling- don’t diminish or dismiss feelings and concerns. 
During times of conflict, the last thing you want to do is make matters worse. Some examples of what you should not do are: 
  • Interrupt or cut people off- let them finish their thoughts even if you disagree with what they are saying.
  • Ignore the conflict- conflicts don’t get better with time.
  • Let emotions take over- if either party is too emotionally charged to have a professional conversation, allow time to cool down first. 
  • Attack others- name-calling, personal attacks or low blows are never acceptable workplace behavior. Keep it professional.

Managing Conflict Remotely  

While many of us are not around our coworkers for eight or more hours a day, this does not mean that workplace conflict and even workplace bullying can’t occur. Here are some forms of disruptive workplace behavior that will inherently lead to workplace conflicts:
  1. Aggressive emails or texts
  2. Monopolizing supplies and other resources
  3. Constant and unfair criticism
  4. Insults and put downs
  5. Malicious gossiping 
  6. Isolating employees from opportunities or information
  7. Giving impossible deadlines
  8. Setting coworkers up for failure
  9. Creating undue pressure and stress
  10. Work interference or sabotage which prevents work from getting done 
  11. Verbal abuse
If you notice or hear about any of the above issues in your organization, you must act quickly to effectively resolve these conflicts. You will still choose from one of the five methods for resolving conflict but how you go about implementing your strategy will most likely change. This is why it is important to be able to navigate the digital space so that you can manage these types of conflict before they damage your organization.   If you decide to choose the collaboration method to resolve an issue, you will want to make sure that each person involved gets an opportunity to speak. Once you have decided on the technology you will be using to communicate, go into the settings to see what will help the discussion. For example, there are settings that enable everyone’s video to be on at the same time, which is helpful for you to watch the vocal and visual cues of others. Apps like Zoom also have a breakout room feature which is a good way to divide members of the group up into more private discussions. Maybe you decide to have a larger group break into two smaller groups to brainstorm solutions to a growing problem and then you bring everyone back together to share key findings. Obviously, you can also create private calls to control who is allowed to be in the discussion.  You may want to use technology to your benefit given that so many of us are behind computers nowadays. One idea may be to create an online survey or assessment to better understand what is causing the conflict. Employees may be more willing to speak freely and share their concerns anonymously which can give leaders better information to work with to prevent conflict from escalating. If you would like more information on effective conflict resolution, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. In addition, there are online courses, books and articles that can help with effective strategies. 

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