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Teleworking & Conflicts: An In-Depth Guide For Resolving Remote Disputes

July 23, 2021, 5-min. read
How To Resolve Remote Conflicts

Conflicts have been and still are a reality in every workplace. Sometimes more common, sometimes less so, and sometimes even concealed. This also applies to teams working remotely. Over the last year, with more people working remotely than ever before due to the pandemic, we’ve seen how the online environment can be very fertile ground for conflict.

On one hand, the online environment can lead people to act as if there were no conflict at all and not to solve it until it grows into a serious problem, while on the other hand, the absence of in-person meetings is risky in and of itself. Why? A host of reasons, from the irritability of such situations (health concerns, frustration from limitations, discomfort when working from home), to misinterpretation of emails and conjecture of an emotional context which isn’t there or is different than interpreted, to a lack of information or rather an inconsistency of information, or less inhibitions in the way things are formulated, which then sound harsh and conflicting.

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What to do about this?

The ideal way to resolve conflicts is, naturally, by preventing them. However, it is also good to realize that not every conflict is harmful. On the contrary, many conflicts are useful and purposeful. They help to move topics that have otherwise "rotted" for a long time, bringing solutions and innovations.

But for a conflict to be useful, it is important to have clear boundaries, rules, and procedures for resolving it so that it does not lead to harm or "injury" of any of the parties involved. It is also essential to resolve any such conflicts as soon as possible; before they grow into much bigger problems or trench warfare.

If we resolve a conflict when it begins, we don’t even have to fight with all the emotions or feelings of injustice. Everything is clearer and simpler.

With remote work ongoing, our social networks and contacts are narrowing, gradually being limited to our closest colleagues. We thus lose support, the opportunity to share ideas and thoughts outside our team and consequently move them further. The space for brainstorming is dwindling, new ideas and a strong vision of where the company is headed are disappearing. People don’t develop their contacts further, they benefit from those already created, and even they gradually decline. This has a greater impact on people who have been in the company for a short time and have nothing to build on. They then adapt less, don’t feel like a part of the company, and are missing a whole range of things.

Despite people realizing that working from home offers a number of interesting benefits, due to the aforementioned aspects, only a few of them are likely to continue working completely from home - so the future is clearly moving towards a hybrid mode of working.

When resolving "purposeful" conflicts, it’ll be enough to follow a few basic rules and steps:

In the context of a hybrid mode of work, it seems that in the future offices won’t be a place where people work side by side, but rather a place where they work together and where they can meet.

At the same time, for the long-term prosperity of companies and their further growth, it will be very important to focus on renewing and building new social ties, contacts and networks.

Resolving Conflicts Remotely
  1. Solve conflicts as soon as possible with one exception, and that is the situation when you are captivated by emotions - in this case it’s better to postpone the solution, for example, until the next day, cool off and get a little insight, 
  2. Name the subject of the conflict - describe the situation and the topic, state the context or the impacts… Explain how you see things from your point of view, 
  3. Name the feelings and emotions that it evokes in you ("it annoys me…")… Offer others a chance to understand you and at the same time try to gain control over your emotions,
  4. Formulate your needs (“I need to solve this because…”)… Establish an outline of what the solution should look like, what requirements it should meet, what it is that you expect,
  5. Formulate what should happen in the future when reviewing… Suggest possibilities, steps, procedures, activities,
  6. Listen and respect the input and views of others, ask, verify… the more you know, the better you can understand the other side and the better your chances are of finding a common solution,
  7. With all participants together, look for a solution everyone will be satisfied with… Know it’s not good, or it’s not a sustainable long-term solution when one party or another, or both, make concessions,
  8. Define a joint plan, implement it, evaluate the parts of the steps and, update the plan if necessary.

It’s one thing to know the steps leading to a solution and the ideal procedure. It’s another to know what to avoid and what to watch out for. If you want to be good at resolving conflicts, try to avoid the following things in particular:

  • Deliberately overstating and exaggerating to gain a stronger position
  • In contrast, downplaying what others see as a problem ("it's nothing", “it will get taken care of”, “you’re overreacting”)
  • Assuming, speculating on reasons, motives, thoughts of others
  • Taking things personally, as an attack ("he/she doesn’t like me…, he/she does it on purpose")
  • Using personal formulations and attacks on others ("you are unreliable, lazy…")
  • Instead of a solution, searching for the culprit (who is to blame)
  • Returning to the past, bringing up previous conflicts, wrongdoings, mistakes

All these things block the resolution of the conflict and instead guarantee that it will grow to a much larger scale.


As mentioned before, it’s not only good to be able to resolve conflicts effectively, but also to prevent them.

In remote work mode this means, above all, setting up rules for remote collaboration and planning communication and interaction so that it’s regular, plentiful and creates enough safe opportunities for sharing and exchanging information.

This will prevent background noise and ambiguity, and avoid situations where some people feel circumvented, uninformed or unheard.

In the context of prevention, therefore:

- Set rules for what, how, where and with whom to share, who and how to inform, where to collect information on progress and finished things, define a common workspace for monitoring work and activities

- Stick to your rules and established procedures yourself and lead by example through them

- Map out and respect the conditions of others (their location, which time zone they’re in, how advanced in the topic they are and what their needs, expectations and specifics are)

- Proactively chart the atmosphere and be there for potentially conflicting meetings - this doesn’t mean that you have to be everywhere, but try to be at key meetings, such as the start of or, opposite, evaluation of a project.

- Celebrate and reward success, strengthen the awareness that you are one team (in good times and bad)

- Support an informal atmosphere within the team, use humor, and leave room for non-work topics that strengthen cohesion

- Offer help and open doors whenever anyone needs them, set up regular one-on-one meetings

Communication and presumptions

Experience shows that one of the most common causes of conflict is clumsy or insufficient communication combined with presumptions. "I don't know, I don't understand, I don't see what's happening on the other side, I don't see the amount of work or effort spent by a partner on a given area, I don't know the context or what preceded it. Therefore, I assume and draw conclusions based on the information available to me. If the same thing happens on the other side, conflict soon arises."

So if you want to minimize space for conflict, focus on your communication. Not only on the ability to communicate your thoughts clearly, intelligibly, objectively and concretely, but also to listen, ask questions and get as much information as possible from others.

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  • Be curious, ask questions, desire to understand.
  • Be patient, listen to stories.
  • Be open and tolerant, be interested in different views and opinions.
  • Make an effort to understand and comprehend (this doesn’t mean accept) - remember that different doesn’t mean bad.
  • Encourage others to share diverse views and appreciate and celebrate situations where, thanks to this, you’ve been successful.
  • Name your expectations and ask about the expectations of others.
  • Name and clarify your roles to one another.
  • Be polite and tactful, don't be tempted by a virtual environment to use a harsh expression that you would never say face to face.
  • Address important things in person; when you have feedback on how the other party perceives things, you can adjust communication accordingly.
  • Actively use clarifying communication elements: verifying questions, paraphrases, summaries.
  • Make the most of your feedback opportunities.
  • Find out as much information as possible before getting involved in a conflict ("You look upset, is something wrong? You didn’t send the report on time, what happened?").

And if you can, invest in your development or the development of your people, both in terms of communication and conflict resolution. It is money and time well spent that will come back to you quickly.

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