Ever received an email in upper case? Ever delivered one?

Managing any conflict is not easy, managing it virtually can take things to the next level.

“Conflict in virtual teams is more likely to be negative for performance and is more likely to escalate,” says Lindred Greer, a professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford Graduate School of Business who researches conflict and power. 

The reason for this is two-fold. When you’re not standing in front of a person, it’s easier to let loose and express your anger because you can’t see the other person’s reaction. The person on the receiving end is unable to read body language or facial expressions that may otherwise help soften the situation by putting the issue into context.  

Greer says that when people are uncertain about why someone has disagreed with them, they are much more likely to take it personally. “This means they are going to be more emotional and their response is going to be more aggressive and more likely to escalate the conflict than what would happen with face-to-face teams.”

The risk is that task conflict, which in a positive environment can stimulate progress, becomes a threat that undermines confidence and performance, and can ultimately destroy the team.

If you’re bringing together a team that will be working virtually, Greer recommends an initial face-to-face meeting, over a few days, that enables people to establish a relationship and an understanding of each other.

There-on-in she recommends checking in with video conferencing, encouraging team members to rely on each other to achieve collective goals, and rewarding team success. 

Finally, she recommends managers remain alert for any signs of disagreement between team members warning that, “the dangers of not resolving conflicts are huge.”

You can learn more about managing conflict in virtual environments by listening to Linden Greer here.

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