Conflict is inevitable in any workplace, so leaders need to develop their conflict management styles—especially when they’re overseeing a remote staff. Read on to learn all about conflict management styles and how you can best adapt them for your remote staff.
Adapting Conflict Management Styles for Remote Employees
What Is Conflict Management?
Before we dive into conflict management, it’s important to understand the nature of conflict in the workplace. Conflict occurs when there’s a disagreement between two or more parties.
In most workplaces, there are six common sources of conflict:
- Task-related issues
- Differences in ideas/strategies
- Workstyle differences
- Clashes in leadership styles
- Personality conflicts
- Harassment or discrimination
Even the smallest businesses have to deal with some level of conflict between employees or teams. That’s why leaders need to equip themselves with conflict management strategies.
Conflict management is the process of resolving disputes. Conflict management is effective when managers can:
- Prioritize positive outcomes
- Minimize negative consequences
In many scenarios, mediators try to look for the middle ground so they can propose a win-win solution.
Who Is Involved in Conflict Management?
The conflict management process should only involve the concerned parties and the mediator. This may involve individual employees or key team members.
Managers, bosses, or even team leaders can serve as the mediator. It’s important for mediators to be impartial and fair. They need to possess important mediation skills such as empathy, active listening, questioning skills, summarizing skills, and critical thinking skills.
Why Is Conflict Management Important?
The mismanagement of internal conflict can hurt businesses. Here are some outcomes linked to poor conflict management:
- Poorer job performance
- Lowers employees’ job satisfaction
- Increase in absences
- Higher turnover
- Legal issues
On the flip side, here are some benefits of effective conflict management:
- Reduces uncertainty and promotes clarity
- Encourages tolerance and empathy
- Clarifies training needs
- Creates stronger bonds between coworkers
Small business or start-up owners need to maximize their resources and avoid the expense associated with these outcomes.
What Are the Different Conflict Management Styles?
One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to conflict resolution. Each workplace, so managers need to figure out which strategies are most appropriate for the issue at hand and the parties involved.
However, research shows that conflict management strategies generally fall under five conflict management styles:
- Accommodating Style. When leaders use this style, they try to put the needs of other parties before their own. It’s usually used when issues are minor or when they want to choose their battles. Although, when managers over-use this style, they may seem too easygoing and lose some of their authority.
- Avoiding Style. This style tries to avoid the whole conflict management process by simply ignoring issues or removing the source of the conflict. The conflict is swept under the rug which can sometimes make things worse. It may be helpful if an employee can benefit from taking a break from certain projects or tasks.
- Compromising Style. When managers use this style, all of the parties need to make some degree of concessions. The outcome is rarely what either of the parties originally envisioned, but all parties benefit in one way or another.
- Competing Style. This conflict management style relies on choosing the “right” decision. There is no give or take in this style. Managers take the lead and choose a specific course of action without much consultation. If there are time constraints, this can help solve issues quickly. However, it may lead to resentment if employees start to feel unvalued.
- Collaborating Style. Compared to the other styles, this one is more time-consuming because it involves potentially lengthy negotiations and discussions. The goal of this style is to reach a mutually beneficial solution where both parties are satisfied.
Managers can use these different styles to help them navigate through conflict situations. Some managers even use a combination of styles.
For example, in the interest of time, they may use the competing style to arrive at a temporary solution. If they sense that it’s a recurring problem, they may transition to the collaborating style to come up with a long-term solution.
These different strategies and styles of conflict management are common in most workplaces, but their applications may be different if you’re working with remote staff.
How Is Conflict Management Different with a Remote Staff?
Conflict management can be different with remote staff because the nature of their conflict is different. Remote working environments face conflicts that may not be as common in regular work environments.
Here are some common conflicts that can arise among your remote staff:
- Miscommunication – Tone doesn’t translate as well on emails or instant messaging (especially if you’re dealing with someone new). Some people can come across as rude even if they don’t mean to be.
- Lack of information – Each communication channel has inherent limitations. So even if you’re constantly emailing and instant messaging, details can still fall through the cracks. In a remote working environment, communicating takes more effort. You can’t just drop by someone’s office to informally clarify something.
- Conflict Avoidance – It may require more effort to discuss issues and challenges in a remote working environment. It may not seem worth it to send an email about a minor issue. People don’t want to rock the boat. Unfortunately, minor issues can pile up.
- Higher levels of uncertainty – When feedback isn’t provided on time, employees may feel insecure about their performance.
- Decrease in inhibition – This can be a problem for remote workers who don’t see their coworkers regularly. The lack of real-time interaction can make them feel more anonymous and, therefore, bolder towards their coworkers. If they can accomplish their tasks independently, group harmony isn’t prioritized as much.
Which Conflict Management Style Should You Use for Your Remote Staff?
Just like other workplaces, managers need to decide on the best conflict management style to use with each conflict. The accommodating, compromising, and collaboration styles can work well in a remote working environment.
There may be situations where the competing style is necessary. If you do use the competing style, make sure to communicate the rationale behind the decision.
Since remote working environments are already at risk for communication and information issues, try to steer clear of the avoiding style. It can foster more uncertainty amongst your remote employees which isn’t good for their morale.
How Do You Prevent Conflict in the Remote Workplace?
Here are some tips and strategies you can use to prevent conflict in a remote working environment:
- Communicate in a clear and timely manner. Leaders need to model good communication to their employees. Communication from the leaders should always bring a sense of clarity. Remember, it’s usually better to err on the side of overcommunication rather than under-communication.
- Schedule regular team meetings. It’s important to touch base with your team. Regular team meetings allow your staff to bring up issues they normally wouldn’t over email or instant messaging. Make sure you allow some time for your team to ask you questions. Meetings are also a great opportunity to establish a good rapport with your team.
- Make time for one-on-ones. It’s important to schedule one-on-ones on top of your regular team meetings. This allows you to know the strengths and weaknesses of your team members. Having this information will help you prevent and better manage conflict.
- Address issues right away. Don’t let the elephant in the room linger. If you sense that there’s an issue arising, make sure you discuss it with the parties involved. It’s easier to manage a conflict in its early stages.
- Balance out your feedback. Timely and constructive feedback can help prevent conflict, but try to balance out your feedback. It’s easy to feel demotivated and burnt out if you only receive negative feedback. So try to point out the positive and celebrate wins.
- Encourage proper documentation. Miscommunication happens when decisions are made on informal messaging platforms. Set a communication policy where documentation is a norm. It’s also good practice to require employees to send in confirmations to emails or instant messages.
- Be accessible. Your team should know when and how to best reach you. It’s also important to welcome feedback.
- Set guidelines. Many conflicts arise from uncertainty. You can eliminate a lot of this uncertainty if you have guidelines in place. That way, your employees understand how they’re expected to behave in your company.
The mismanagement of conflict can have a significant impact on your employee’s morale and, ultimately, your bottom line. Challenges and disagreements are inevitable in any workplace, but the right conflict management strategy can help elevate your team to the next level.
Are you interested in building your remote team? Make an appointment with the Virtual Hub today.
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