What is Virtual Conflict?
Virtual conflict is conflict between two or more individuals that started or moved to a virtual platform such as email, online chat, video, and/or teleconference. The following are examples of how virtual conflict might materialize or begin:
- May start or lead to passive aggressive behavior
- Virtual messages tend to be bolder in nature
- “Chat” is miscommunicated or misunderstood
- HR/EE policies are often unknown or forgotten
Because body language, facial expressions, voice tone, and other cues normally experienced during in-person communication are often missing in a virtual setting, it’s easier for virtual conflict to occur.
What Triggers Virtual Conflict?
There are various actions that can trigger virtual conflict, but below are a few examples:
- Different remote workstyles and habits
- Interpersonal and communication style clashes
- Work-pace and schedule conflicts
- Technology gaps, network issues, system outages, or software breakdowns
- “Old grudges” brought back to life in a virtual setting
Why Address Virtual Conflict?
The focus of a workplace setting should be to achieve goals and deliverables. Virtual conflict moves individuals away from that focus and puts success at risk. To help mitigate that risk, a healthy conversation and collaboration is needed. However, this interaction requires a foundation of trust.
Recommendations for Addressing Virtual Conflict
Take an Empathetic Approach
There are various ways you can show empathy!
- Be the change!
- Reflect on how you would want others to respond if you were involved in virtual conflict.
- Listen by sipping your coffee (or beverage of choice).
- Create space for others to engage by stopping to take a sip of coffee, AND LISTEN!
- Don’t let issues fester.
- If you hear or see an issue, immediately take it offline to address it.
- Conduct check-ins.
- See how teammates and colleagues are doing. Ask about their day. Follow up from an issue.
- Encourage icebreakers and team-builders.
- Some can be conducted in less than five minutes!
Create Virtual Working Agreements
Consider the following for your virtual working agreements:
- Being honest about schedules, availability, and workstyles.
- Identifying “quiet hours," which means time for focus without interruption.
- Coming to a consensus on “no fly zones," which are topics not to be discussed or deliberated virtually.
- Establishing preferred communication styles and channels.
- Having trackability to action items with action takers and timelines.
- Agreeing upon and documented escalation path(s).
Explore Facilitation Techniques
There are two techniques we recommend:
- Start with context (or create space for context-setting).
- Clearly articulate the purpose of the discussion.
- Provide the desired outcome.
- Make a commitment to note-taking and action-item tracking.
- Set the tone (or course correct as needed).
- Be the first to greet everyone.
- Prepare and provide an icebreaker other form of intros.
- Create or review Working Agreements before engaging.
- Watch and listen for “no fly zones.”
Call to Action
Want to start growing your virtual conflict knowledge in your area? Try a few of the following recommendations!
- Embody the attitude you would want to experience.
- Don’t be afraid to address virtual conflict.
- Know the “no fly zones” and respect them.
- Provide an empathetic approach.