Virtual Team Dynamics - The Ulfire Podcast

Virtual Team Dynamics - The Ulfire Podcast

Virtual teams during viral separation part 4 – conflict

March 25, 2020

Conflict in any social environment is inevitable. Whether it occurs within a family, between friends, over sporting events or in the workplace, disagreements and the resulting tension are simply part of who we are and how we function socially. In a conventional social or workplace setting, where personnel are co-located and able to discuss their differences, or are even forced to do so by proximity, conflicts will generally be resolved quickly and with the minimum of ongoing tension.

However, once individuals are separated, particularly in situations such as we are currently navigating, with personnel sequestered in their homes, with minimal social contact outside of their immediate family, with the background tensions of health concerns and long term employment viability, the smallest tension, misstep or disagreement can quickly escalate into major a falling out.

Conflict in work from home situations

As organisations are increasingly moving from co-located to work from home situations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, staff are suddenly finding themselves in unusual and challenging situations. They are physically isolated from their social groups, closed away in whatever room in their home they have been able to convert into a home office, potentially finding themselves working alongside partners, with children home from school and supporting relatives. All of these additional tensions will build up in their minds, leading to internal stress that will make them highly susceptible to mental triggers that otherwise would have not registered.

“In virtual team environments, perception really is reality”

A glib comment on a phone call, a poorly expressed email or even the absence of a message can all suddenly take on a much greater perceived meaning in the mind, and in a situation where perception is frequently reality, these little events result in sudden conflict between co-workers. Sadly the triggers for these things are the part that is hardest to control. As individuals it is not within our power to control the things that can trigger our reactions, it is, though, completely in our power to control two other things.

* We can control how we react to things that may trigger conflict* We can also control how we behave relative to others where our actions may initiate conflict with them.

Reacting to triggers

In the second part of this series of pieces I discussed the need to assume no wrong on the part of your colleagues when they are communicating with you. To enter into every discussion, whatever the topic and whatever the medium, with the belief that they intend what they are saying and how they are expressing it in an innocent and non confrontational manner.

This “assume no wrong” stance is hard to maintain when you are under stress from many different directions, but it is essential to maintain a relatively conflict free working environment. If, on a call of any kind, someone says something that you disagree with or that feels like it is directed at something you have done, try not to react in a negative manner, ask for clarification rather than attacking, or pause before responding. Even a short pause can deescalate the need to react in your mind and asking for clarification will generally result in a much clearer picture of the intent from the other party.

If the potential conflict comes from written correspondence, you have much more latitude over how and when you respond. Your gut reaction may be react immediately with a response that will escalate whatever you believed was being said and turn an innocent comment into a full co...