Handling Conflict on Virtual Teams

How should you approach a difficult conversation with a remote employee?


Conflict exists in all organizations. Virtual leaders will also have to deal with difficult conversations as they lead remote employees. Pamela McClinton, director of IT at Freedom Mortgage, shares that leaders must be prepared to handle conflict on virtual teams the same way they do on traditional teams.

In this video, Pamela talks about several ways to approach a difficult conversation with a virtual employee. From trying to meet with the individual in person to detailed language to begin a difficult conversation, Pamela shows virtual leaders that while conflict and difficult conversations exist, they do not have to be avoided.

In virtual teams, just like any team, you're going to have conflict and you may even have to have difficult conversations. So virtual leaders who need to address issues or who may need to have a difficult conversation, I would definitely ask them to first, if you have the ability to have that conversation in person, to make that your first priority. But with some virtual teams, you don't have that option.

For those virtual leaders who don't have the option of meeting personally for a difficult conversation, I would say to pull the individual into a conference room. Make sure that you have a video conference set up so that they can see your face. But then, I would also make sure that you, in your first few sentences of the conversation, state, "Hi, how are you? I want to let you know we're going to have a difficult conversation and so I want you to prepare for that."

And that gives that individual the opportunity to understand what's about to happen. That you're going to share some things that may not be pleasant. And that gives them and disarms them just a little bit so that they're able to accept what you're saying and to take the instruction that you have moving forward.

Even with traditional teams, you want to make sure that when you're addressing a difficult conversation that you keep to the conversation that's needed. You don't want to linger into other topics very long because you want to make sure that that person hears what you have to say and at the end, responds to what you have to say. And sometimes, if you get distracted and you go into other conversations, it will lessen the impact of what you're trying to communicate to your employee.

So even in traditional environments and in virtual environments, you want to make sure that if you have to have a difficult conversation with a team member that you address what needs to be addressed. You make it as simple as possible and you give that other that individual an opportunity to respond.

I think that you want to make sure that you speak with your HR representative first before you take any drastic measures in conversations that may be difficult. And the reason I mean that is because you want to make sure that you're not breaking any laws. You want to make sure that you're upholding all of the things that you're supposed to as a leader.

The second thing that I think is really important is you don't want to use email. Not for a difficult conversation. I think those conversations, if you don't have video conference technology, definitely use the phone. But never deliver difficult conversation through email. I think that is very impersonal and it may be . . . it may leave that employee to fill in the gaps of things that aren't said in the email.

Pamela McClinton

Having served in various leadership roles, Pamela McClinton, Ed.D., advocates for transformational and servant leadership above and beyond managerial duties. With her Doctor of Education degree in Organizational Leadership at Argosy U...

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