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Monday, June 13, 2016

Conflict Resolution Best Practices with Video Conferencing

One of the primary difficulties in working with widely distributed teams is the lack of face time. Communications via email, chat apps, telephone, and text are able to convey words. However, a lot of communication is lost without visual access to the person you’re speaking to. No matter how clearly you write, or how meticulously you craft your communications, somehow and somewhere down the line, you are going to tick somebody off. Little conflicts have a way of escalating in the vacuum of personal interaction. The next thing you know; you have a mutiny on your hands. Let’s talk about ways to stop conflicts and misunderstandings before they start.

Marquette University breaks it down and tells us what communication really entails:
  • 7 percent spoken words
  • 23 percent tone of voice and inflection
  • 70 percent facial expression and body language
As you can see, using a non-visual medium for collaborating across geographic distances is not optimum when so much is lost. While a lot of nonverbal communication is shaped by culture, personal comfort zones, and even by neurodevelopmental disorders, being able to see someone is a way to collect more information and context. For this reason, choosing Blue Jeans as a comprehensive video conferencing application is a key part of conflict management. Conflict resolution should become a part of your best video conferencing practices.

We Can Work It Out
Part of leading your teams is facilitating a bunch of disparate temperaments and talents to work together. Conflict is not a desirable disruption, so learning how to equitably and fairly adjudicate and resolve conflict is a desirable skill set. The three goals of conflict resolution are defined by the University of Kansas as follows:
  1. To find a solution that everyone can agree to.
  2. To find a solution quickly.
  3. To improve the relationship of the parties in conflict. 
Negotiation and compromise are required, as is entering into the discussion in good faith and effective inter-party communication. Effective communication de-escalates conflict and allows parties to communicate grievances and exchange important information. When you are working on conflict resolution via video conference, it helps to be able to follow a meeting format. For obvious reasons, you do not want this degenerating into a free for all. Moderation is key not only to maintaining order, but for making sure all sides are being heard.

Remember, conflict management is not about a top-down solution where peace is imposed or else. Nor is it about holding hands and pretending nothing happened. Conflict management is about managing the negative aspects of conflict while encouraging the positive aspects of conflict. Some people tend to experience conflict as an overwhelmingly negative state, while others seem to relish and manipulate it to their own ends. The negative aspects of even a short-term conflict can be long lasting and detrimental, causing resentments to fester. It may also lead to adoption of maladaptive coping mechanisms that eventually lead to a toxic workplace atmosphere. The positive aspects of conflict can foster innovations as well as open cultures that remain current and fresh. The process of conflict management can also cut down on so-called knee-jerk decisions, as well as decisions made under duress and pressure. Exploring the issues as a team can promote unity and cooperation between disparate teams, cause them to recognize more common ground, and help them build bridges. Conflict, in short, can be healthy and desirable when managed accordingly.

Best Practices
When setting up a video conference with parties in conflict, set an agenda with a given amount of time for the principals to speak without interruption, and then provide a period for question and answer or commentary afterward. Remember to distribute the agenda to participants ahead of time. Have them begin with their name, location, and position, and address their remarks to a specific person in a specific location, or to the moderator? You will be able to see documents in-app and have side conversations, but be courteous to the speaker by muting your microphone. Speakers should address the camera and speak clearly as if they were speaking to someone face to face.

It can take some practice, but with an application able to work with multiple devices from room-based systems to laptops, everyone should quickly become conversant with using it. Meetings do not have to be occasions of dread, but can be constructive, productive events that are enjoyed and looked forward to by all participants. Finally, there are some team members who will try to find ways to subvert conflict management, feeling that their personal power and position are at stake. This is when you might have to make the toughest call of all when it comes to promoting a healthy culture in your organization. Be firm, be fair, and hold your ground. Toxic people can’t thrive in healthy workplaces, and the problem will often see itself to the door.

*Read my Disclosure


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