With people working remotely the opportunity for miscommunication, misunderstanding, and conflict is greater. Avoiding these types of conflicts and addressing these types of conflicts appropriately and timely is key to promote alignment and collaboration. What follows explores the situation and provides some insights to help you in these situations.
People normally do not explode and lose it at work. Our amygdala at the top of the brainstem is the area of the brain that causes us to flood with adrenaline and cortisol. This is called flooding. When we are triggered, it only takes six to ten seconds before we can lose it. We all have lost it at one time or another. Rarely do we do lose it at work. Why? We look for food, water, shelter, and sex. We want to enhance these areas and not negatively impact these areas. If we lose it at work, we could jeopardize our job, a bonus, a promotion, good work assignments, and more. For that reason, we normally do not lose it at work. Our prefrontal cortex kicks in and overrides the amygdala to keep us under control at work to help us maximize reward and minimize pain.
Elements of communication
When we can see the words, hear the tone, see the face, see the body language, and take in everything, we can make more informed judgments. These are interactions face to face with others in the same location. With remote conflicts we may lose various attributes associated with these elements of communication. For example, with a text or email we only have the words. If you pick up the phone you have not only the words, but you can hear the tone too. This helps. If you can be in a virtual conversation for example with zoom, go to meeting, Microsoft teams, or others there is a visual presence too. That visual presence only provides a window of information and not the full view. You cannot see the entire person and how that person is reacting to or presenting self in that person’s entirety.
Implication of these elements
Studies have shown that the attitude in communication on average is communicated 7% by the words, 38% by the tone, and 55% by the facial expressions and body language. With that as background it easy to see why there is a much greater probability for miscommunication in a remote work environment.
Remote communications implications
With remote communications the probability of miscommunication is enhanced. With that it is possible to perceive negatively and have that fester. The implications are frustration, apprehension, greater stress, lower morale, and potentially anger. As this continues to fester, this can escalate and cause serious misgivings leading to a serious melt down and an explosion of anger at work. With Covid-19, children studying virtually at home, and other stressors remote misunderstandings can be a problem.
What can you do to prevent flooding?
Realizing this, wise managers work to build connecting relationships and listen to their people. They check in regularly. They find out what is going on in the lives of others. By relating to each other as human beings this helps with understanding. Be there for them. Empathize with them. Demonstrate that you feel their pain.
Actions you can take
The following ideas are being offered for your consideration. Keep in mind if you explore these with your team, you may come up with different and better ideas that may work for your specific circumstances.
- When you can, coming off of Covid-19 bring your people together. Load these meetings with activities to allow your team to interact. It has been a long time since you have been able to do this. Bring on board a dynamic, interactive, educational, and fun speaker that will allow your people to really feel engaged with one another. This will help them connect again and see team members as more than team members. It is important to connect with team players on values.
- Practice direct, timely, positive communication. Catch others doing something right and reinforce how much you appreciate something specific they did on a regular basis.
- Identify, address, and resolve conflicts quickly to not let them get out of hand. As you know an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but applying the cure quickly prevents complications.
- Bring on board a facilitator or mediator as a neutral to help the team address complex and difficult issues. Often times a neutral third party can help the parties see things more broadly.
- Develop your peoples’ communication and conflict resolution skills with appropriate training. These are the new critical skills of the future.
- Set up norm rules with your team that you develop together. For example, if after two texts or two emails back and forth on some issue has not addressed the issue, require the parties to have a call or virtual meeting to discuss the situation. Or if you cannot resolve an issue with others within 48 hours schedule a virtual meeting. You as a team come up with what works for you and your team.
- Address passive aggressive “niceness” behavior directly. Confront the situation head on to bring it out into the open. Being nice while not addressing the underlying issue only exacerbates the situation. Think about how, when, where, and your motives. Keep objective.
- Scheduling regular meetings with specific objectives, agendas, with time for open discussions on issues and concerns. Have some fun too, Consider an icebreaker. The key is to do the right thing, do what it takes, and have fun. Do not waste others’ time. Make sure when people leave, they feel like that meeting met its objectives and address emotional concerns.
Some final thoughts
If something does blow up, schedule a meeting with the participants privately and focus on what the parties see as the facts, the issues, the feelings behind those issues, and their underlying interests. Consider bringing in a mediator. Listening actively goes a long way towards understanding. You need to focus on being interested rather than being interesting. Check your own assumptions. Be curious about the other party and what they are saying. Suspend your own judgment.
Remember it is not about me.
It is all about we.
But it starts with me.
Be the positive catalyst for change. Keep your attitude positive and be there to help. By exploring your underlying motives and making sure you are truly there to resolve and not antagonize the situation, you can and will make a real difference. Good luck.
About the author
Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]