Promoting Constructive Conflict In A Remote Working Environment

Avoiding conflicts in the workplace is something a lot of corporate leaders and management executives have been striving for quite some time. 

Conflict is often perceived as a negative occurrence destroying teamwork. Each company desires cohesive teams working in unity.

However, not all conflict at workplaces is bad because there are two kinds of conflicts namely constructive and destructive. There are tools to help use constructive conflict for constructive and beneficial purposes.

What is constructive conflict?

Managerial experts and management sciences scholars explain that constructive conflict is one which companies encourage to raise their productivity by inspiring employees to think beyond conventional means. It is not about anyone being either right or wrong (or who led the discussion).

Its aim is to help improve understanding and makes decisions on a consensus after taking feedback. Here are some good things about a constructive conflict:

  • It helps improve focus on numerous issues.
  • Fosters a cooperative spirit.
  • A commitment to resolve conflicts is done.
  • It promotes open communication and honesty.
  • Respect for all employees is maintained when they listen to each other and think differently.
  • Any team member affected by conflict can speak up.
  • Promotes self awareness.

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Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Conflict

Conflict happens when people disagree or have differing points of views regarding various topics. Destructive conflicts are bad for workplaces as they overturn work performance, and even hurts employee collaboration because they refuse to speak to each other. Moreover, a lack of civilized conversation is also a problem.

Destructive conflicts are bad as they destroy teamwork and team morale. It reduces productivity, harmony and efficiency, even if two employees are having a fight.

On the other hand, constructive conflict embraces differences in viewpoints, outlooks and ideas. It is an effort to help move an organization towards achieving its objectives and mission. Such a conflict can raise productivity instead of hampering it.

Numerous research scholars suggest when a conflict helps clarify issues, helps people learn about each other and even helps them consider new ideas with zeal, then such conflict is indeed positive.

Conflict can stem from either an action, a conversation or another event. Each day across various organizations, destructive conflict is actually observed.

Minor conflicts are something regarding an employee stealing another employee’s lunch, parking space or possession from the desk. More issues can involve discrimination, harassment or other disciplinary violations.

Any conflict that is positive and includes team spirit equates to brainstorming sessions where people can agree and also disagree but with manners. Another example is challenging norms and normal protocols at companies as people see a much better way of doing things.

How to Embrace Constructive Conflict?

Both management sciences scholars and corporate executives have been exploring ways to help leaders make ideal conditions for constructive conflicts in hybrid and remote work environments. 

Challenges do exist in embracing constructive conflict. But here are some tips that help in fostering a spirit of constructive behavior and conflict.

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Point out unique things employees bring in and assigning roles for a constructive conflict

Employees support other employees when they are treated in a fair manner. This prevents them from forming rivalries.

Applying this to both a hybrid and remote job can be made possible. When connecting to employees by virtual means.

When connecting to employees remotely, their roles and responsibilities are quite important. Each employee should be kept in the loop so they can give feedback at the right time. This helps them be in the loop.

If one employee is a designated facilitator, they can make sure everyone has a chance to share what they think, speak their minds, and positively challenge perspectives of other employees. A round robin format can work where the facilitator takes input from each employee one by one, and then is able to summarize the findings to take the conversation forward.

As an alternate option, breakout rooms can be used. Employees grouping in small numbers can discuss complicated topics together. Then they can come back to the facilitator for sharing insights with a wider group. This can help reduce group thinking, provide a ground for inclusion and ensure a variety of perspectives are easily brought forward.

Determining best ways to utilize humor

Companies can make conditions where team members can have a laugh, can have fun and engage with each other in light hearted ways, either in a virtual context or another one. They are parts in helping create a safe psychological environment.

When people feel safe they do not have to react in a defensive manner, and they obviously do not feel intimidated or threatened. This minimizes the chances of people questioning everything and of an aggressive debate too. Hence the tenets of a constructive conflict.

It should be understood that 70% of communication is non-verbal, and it can be quite hard to understand non-verbal cues in a virtual environment. How can a person understand humor in lightning the environment in a virtual context? 

It would be wise to ask employees to use video conferencing, keeping team meetings brief and being more careful regarding what to share and how to share it.

Conversation starters must always take candid feedback. This helps maintain discipline when humorous content is being shared.

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Identification and continuously reinforcing a shared group objective

When employees connect with each other over a shared top-level objective, it helps each individual team member identify with the team. Each team member still has their own responsibilities to fulfill. 

Team members rewarded collectively and being praised for that plus receiving feedback can help employees keep their focus on shared objectives.

Being rewarded as part of a great team, receiving praises and needed feedback help employees remain focused on shared responsibilities.

When encouraging constructive conflict, employees should be reminded that they are all together in this.

As they are working on shared outcomes, it is upon them to challenge each other to make sure they’re making the best decisions. 

The same modus operandi can be applied for hybrid and remote working roles. Sharing, reinforcing and rewarding team goals works if done consistently.

Balancing distribution of power

The whole team shares decision making power instead of one. It has its own benefits. Shared accountability for decisions helps all voices to be heard especially if there is a conflict (even if it’s a task involving python app development). This helps the process of looking for solutions more open and transparent.

In hybrid and remote jobs, roles for meetings can be rotated. Additionally, sending pre-work documents helps provide context for the team’s conversations. This helps empower people to own outcomes and be ready for discussion and engagement. This helps encourage conditions for a healthy debate and for constructive conflict.

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