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How to Deal with Conflict While Remote Working

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When there is a difference of opinion that’s causing conflict with a colleague, the easiest step to take is to arrange a meeting in person.

Talking in person allows both parties to access visual cues i.e. body language. The combination of visual and auditory messages speeds up the process of dissolving misunderstandings and resolve issues that could trigger further conflicts.

However remote working puts you at a disadvantage. There is no having it out with your colleague in person.

What actions can remote workers take to get on with their colleagues in times of disagreement?

In this article, we look at what can you do to diffuse tension with colleagues, and foster productivity without personality clashes getting in the way.

What’s Going On?

Indeed says you can use STAR to work through coworker conflict.

Situation – What Happened

The’s’ is for being specific in how you describe what occurred, just like reporting on witnessing an accident, in writing on the event you give your account from an objective viewpoint of what happened. There is no room for any emotion.

Task – Who was involved, Your role

Explaining who was party to the argument, i.e. was it just your coworker, or were more colleagues involved and were there any witnesses. Where customers or clients present? Plus this is the time you say what role you had in the event.

Action – What happened next?

In communication, there are actions and reactions. Your action may have triggered an inadequate response from your colleague or vice versa, you’ve reacted to something said to you. Therefore it’s helpful to get clarity around who said or did what and in the right order.

Ideally, you’d be presenting the actions taken to resolve the situation however if you’re teleworking you might not have worked it through, and further steps are required to get you and your coworker back on great working terms.

Result – what have you learned?

There is always something to learn from conflicts. You’re not going to get on well with everyone, but you can learn skills to help you manage how you communicate with colleagues with less emotion.

While it’s easier to communicate in person, you can train yourself to get more information from your auditory cues. When we are with people we use our eyes more than our ears, i.e. we watch what’s going on more than we listen.

Remote Working Challenge

Remote working has taken away the workplace dynamic. You’re no longer looking at your colleagues, and they’re not watching you. Therefore to improve the way we communicate we must listen more thoroughly.

Listening is not hearing. You can hear but are you listening?

Everything takes longer when you’re not listening. However, working remotely is an opportunity to improve your listening skills and not get distracted by visual cues.

It’s interesting to me that we have considered so many facets of communication in the company, but have inadvertently overlooked listening. I’ve about decided that it’s the most important link in the company’s communications, and it’s obviously also the weakest one.

HBR quote from 1957 edition

Relying only on our voices to solve conflict situations will take longer than it would if we also had visual cues from body language so be prepared to go through STAR a few times to reach the right outcome.

Improve Your Listening Skills

Here are a few tips to becoming a better listener.

  • Paraphrase what you’ve heard. This is a quick summary of what you’ve heard the speaker say. It’s a great way to ensure you’ve understood what’s been said to you.
  • Remain Eye contact when you can. Remote working does make this step challenging unless you’re using video chat. When you look at the person taking you’re less easily distracted and can remain focused on listening.
  • Create visual pictures of what’s been said. A picture speaks a thousand words so listen and then create a memory with a visual image.
  • Provide feedback. Commenting on what’s been said, confirms you’re actively listening and present.

Summary

Resolving conflict with coworkers is never easy or straightforward, and it’s all the more challenging with you’re remote working. Use the STAR methodology to problem solve through to a workable conclusion and give yourself a headstart with better listening skills.

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