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Navigating Conflict in Virtual Teams: The How-To Guide

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Navigating Conflict in Virtual Teams: The How-To Guide
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Navigating Conflict in Virtual Teams: The How-To Guide

If you’re a business leader, you’re likely no stranger to the challenges that come with managing a team. After-all you do work with people, and people are prone to conflict.

Now imagine you’re a leader responsible for managing a team that’s not just in the same building, but in different states or even countries. The challenges of managing a team are suddenly magnified because you can’t just walk down the hall to have a conversation or clear the air.

Virtual teams are becoming increasingly more common as technology makes it easier for us to connect with people around the globe. And while there are some advantages to working with a team that’s not physically in the same place, there are also some unique challenges that come with managing conflict.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the different types of conflict that can arise in virtual remote teams. We’ll also talk about how to identify these conflicts and how to manage them effectively.

By the end of this post, you’ll have a better understanding of how to keep your team functioning smoothly, even when everyone is working from different corners of the world.

Inevitability of conflict

Inevitability of Conflict

Conflict is bound to happen in any team dynamic—but it can be especially challenging in a remote setting.

That’s because, when you’re not face-to-face with someone, it’s easy to misread their tone or intentions. And when team members are located in different time zones, it can be difficult to coordinate a resolution.

Common sources of Conflict

Misinterpreted Cues

Experts say, somewhere between 70-93% of communication is nonverbal.

When you take away the ability to see someone’s face or body language, it’s easy to misinterpret what they’re trying to say.

It’s super easy to assume the worst when you can’t see the person you’re talking to.

Especially if on that given day, you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or just generally not in the best mood.

The lack of context and the insecurity of the moment can quickly lead to a misunderstanding.

This is one of the most common sources of conflict in virtual teams.

Sometimes a delayed response can also be frustrating. If it takes someone a day or two to get back to you, it can feel like they’re not taking your issue seriously.

This can lead to even more miscommunication and conflict.

Unclear Roles and Responsibilities

When team members are unclear about their roles and responsibilities, it can lead to a feeling of being overwhelmed or unimportant.

This can be especially true in virtual teams, where there is often less clarity about who is responsible for what.

When team members feel like they are constantly being asked to do more than their fair share, it can lead to frustration and resentment.

And when team members feel like they’re not being given enough responsibility, it can lead to a feeling of being undervalued.

This lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities is a common source of conflict in virtual teams.

Time Zone Issue in Virtual Teams

Time Zone Issue

When you have team members working in different time zones, it can be difficult to find a balance that works for everyone.

Some team members may prefer to work early in the morning, while others may prefer to work late at night.

This can lead to conflict if team members are not respectful of each other’s preferences.

For example, if someone is constantly sending emails late at night, it can be disruptive for team members who are trying to wind down for the evening.

Or, if someone is regularly chiming into video calls during the early hours of the morning, it can be disruptive for team members who are just starting their day.

This time zone issue is a common source of conflict in virtual teams.

Personality Clashes

Just like in any team, there will always be some personality clashes. Some people are naturally more introverted, while others are more extroverted.

Some people prefer to communicate via email, while others prefer to communicate via chat.

These differences can lead to conflict if team members are not respectful of each other’s preferences.

Approaches to Conflict Resolution

Not-So-Great Approaches to Conflict Resolution

When it comes to conflict, there are generally two different approaches that people take:

The first is what’s known as the “avoidant” style. This is when someone tries to avoid the conflict altogether. They might do this by withholding information or by simply not engaging in the discussion.

The second approach is what’s known as the “confrontational” style.

This is when someone tries to address the conflict head-on. They might do this by being overly critical or by trying to dominate the conversation.

Neither of these approaches is ideal.

The avoidant style generally leads to more misunderstandings and resentment, while the confrontational style can often make the situation worse.

Poor Conflict Management Leads To More Conflict

If conflict is not managed properly, it can quickly escalate and lead to more conflict.

For example, if someone takes an avoidant approach to conflict and tries to withhold information, it might just make the other person more frustrated.

Or, if someone takes a confrontational approach to conflict and tries to dominate the conversation, it might just make the other person more defensive.

Neither of these approaches is ideal. The best way to manage conflict is to take a collaborative approach.

This means that both parties work together to find a resolution that works for everyone.

It’s also important to remember that conflict is not necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, conflict can often be a healthy part of a team dynamic. It can lead to new ideas and solutions that wouldn’t have been thought of otherwise.

The key is to manage conflict in a way that is constructive and respectful.

Managing Conflict In Virtual Teams

6 Tips For Managing Conflict In Virtual Teams

1. Address conflict early and directly.

The first step to effectively managing conflict is to address it early and directly.

Don’t let small disagreements fester; nip them in the bud before they have a chance to turn into full-blown arguments.

And don’t shy away from difficult conversations; the sooner you have them, the better.

Just be sure to approach these conversations with a collaborative mindset.

2. Reframe Goal Of All Conflict

Try to reframe the goal of conflict from “winning” to “finding a solution.”

When you approach conflict with the goal of finding a solution, it’s much easier to stay calm and constructive.

It’s kind of like when you’re trying to solve a puzzle.

If your only goal is to win, then you’re likely to get frustrated and give up easily.

But if your goal is simply to find the solution, then you’re much more likely to stay calm and keep working until you find it.

The same is true for conflict.

If your only goal is to “win,” then you’re likely to get defensive and escalate the situation.

But if your goal is to find a solution, then you’re much more likely to stay calm and collaborative.

3. Set Ground Rules For Your Team

Conflict resolution works best when there are established ground rules everyone agrees to follow.

These rules should be specific and relevant to your team’s situation; they might include things like “All disagreements must be addressed within 24 hours” or “All decisions will be made by consensus.”

Whatever rules you choose, make sure everyone understands and agrees to them before moving forward.

Some categories you might want to consider include:

  • How and when disagreements will be addressed
  • What kind of language is and is not acceptable
  • How decision-making will work

Encourage Open Communication

4. Encourage Open Communication

Open communication is essential for managing conflict effectively.

Encourage your team to share their thoughts and feelings openly, without fear of judgement or reprisal.

This doesn’t mean that team members should say whatever they want, whenever they want.

There still need to be ground rules in place (see tip 3).

But as long as those ground rules are respected, team members should feel free to share their thoughts and feelings openly.

5. Be Aware Of Cultural Differences

The online universe has made the world a bit smaller, but cultural differences still exist.

When managing conflict in a virtual team, it’s important to be aware of these differences and how they might affect the way team members communicate with each other.

For example, some cultures are more direct than others. This can lead to misunderstandings if not everyone is on the same page.

It’s also important to be aware of time differences. If team members are in different time zones, they might not be able to communicate as often as you’d like.

Keep these cultural differences in mind when managing conflict in a virtual team; they can help you avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication.

6. Seek Outside Help If Necessary

If you’ve tried everything and you’re still not sure how to resolve a particular conflict, don’t hesitate to seek outside help.

There are plenty of books, articles, and blog posts on the topic of conflict resolution. Do some research and see what advice other experts have to offer.

You can also talk to a trusted colleague or friend who might be able to offer some helpful insights. And if all else fails, you can always hire a professional mediator to help resolve the conflict.

Conflict is inevitable in any team, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

By following these tips, you can turn conflict into an opportunity for growth and collaboration.

Virtual Team

Summary

While it’s impossible to avoid conflict altogether, following these tips should help you manage tension and disagreements in a virtual remote team.

By addressing issues early and directly, reframing the goal of conflict, setting ground rules, encouraging open communication, being aware of cultural differences, and seeking outside help when necessary, you can create a safe and productive work environment for everyone on your team.

We hope you’ve found this guide helpful. Be sure to come back and visit the Teamly blog for more great content like this. Thanks for reading!

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