Like all perceived threats, our natural inclinations are to either flee or fight, neither of which is particularly useful in interpersonal conflict. However, they’re likely the only two responses you’ve ever learned.
Sure, you maybe got a “use your words” lesson in kindergarten, but a person can go through school and several jobs before they ever get any training on conflict resolution. And while there’s plenty of material on in-person conflict resolution, there aren’t as many resources for remote teams.
As the HR manager for a primarily remote company, my challenge has been to address this knowledge gap and find practical methods for my remote teammates to use. The following guide is the result of two years worth of experiments I’ve done with my own remote team, conveniently packaged to help jumpstart your own conflict resolution journey.
The core reason conflict is so emotionally charged is rooted in the fear of the unknown. Think about when you’re in a dark room and you can barely make out the objects around you. Your imagination starts to go in all kinds of directions as you’re trying to grasp some semblance of familiarity.
The same thing happens when you’re in conflict. There are so many unknowns when it comes to the other person: how they’ll respond, whether you’ll be ignored, or if you’ll be taken seriously. On a remote team, even more unknowns and roadblocks can pile onto already stressful situations: different time zones and work schedules, cultural differences, language barriers, and so on.
Because the feeling of uncertainty is so uncomfortable, the natural inclination is to try to relieve it in some way. Most of the time, these tactics seems like solutions, but they can actually make the situation worse.
These tactics provide temporary relief, but since the conflict itself was not resolved, the situation can sit and fester. The longer it goes on, the more the relationship erodes and the possibility of repair becomes more dismal. In general, poor working relationships tend to negatively influence other workplace problems, such as productivity, morale, and trust in leadership.
Unique remote communication challenges
Since remote work is the future, it’s crucial for these teams to understand the unique challenges remote communication channels present, especially when it comes to approaching conflict. Depending on which remote communication tools you’re using, you’re making trade-offs about what information you have available and what is lost.