Remote work has become increasingly popular over the past few years, and the pandemic has ensured that this trend will continue. While working from home has many benefits, it can also present some challenges when it comes to communication and collaboration. One of the most significant challenges of remote work is how to handle disagreements with remote coworkers. It was hard when we were all in the office, but now it can be even harder. Let’s be honest, hitting the mute button is easier than forcing yourself to be respectful in person ;).
This post discusses effective communication techniques, conflict resolution strategies, and ways to maintain a positive working relationship even when you disagree.
Communicate Clearly and Directly
Clear and direct communication is essential when it comes to having a healthy argument with a remote coworker. Without clear communication, misunderstandings can easily arise, and conflicts can escalate. To communicate effectively, it’s important to use clear and concise language that leaves no room for ambiguity. This means avoiding jargon or technical terms that your coworker may not understand, and instead using plain language that is easy to follow.
In addition to using clear language, it’s important to be direct and specific about the issue at hand. Avoid beating around the bush or using passive-aggressive behavior, as this can only make the situation worse. Instead, state the problem clearly and explain why it’s important to address it. This helps to ensure that both you and your coworker are on the same page and working towards the same goal.
Another important aspect of clear communication is using technology to your advantage. When communicating remotely, it’s essential to use tools such as video conferencing, instant messaging, and email to stay connected and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Make sure you are familiar with the tools available to you and use them to communicate in the most effective way possible. By communicating clearly and directly, you can avoid misunderstandings and ensure that conflicts are resolved in a healthy and productive manner.
Choose the Right Time and Place
Timing and location are crucial here. It’s the difference between a productive and respectful disagreement and a full yell-a-thon. The first step is to schedule a time to talk with your coworker. This helps to ensure that both of you are available and focused on the conversation.
When choosing a location, it’s important to choose a private and quiet space where you can talk without distractions or interruptions like family members or pets. This might mean finding a quiet corner in your home or office, or using a virtual meeting room to have a private conversation. Be mindful of time zones if you are working with someone in a different part of the world, and try to choose a time that is convenient for both of you.
Also, make sure you turn off notifications on your computer and/or phone to minimize distractions.
Keep an Open Mind and Listen
Keeping an open mind and practicing active listening is key to having a healthy argument with a remote coworker. It’s important to approach the conversation with a willingness to hear your coworker’s perspectives and understand their point of view. This means setting aside your own biases and assumptions and give way to being curious and open-minded.
Active listening is super important, and a big piece of keeping an open mind. A few ways to do this are:
- Paying attention to what your coworker is saying
- Ask clarifying questions
- Show that you understand their perspective
- Avoid interrupting or talking over your coworker
It’s also important to avoid making assumptions about your coworker’s intentions or motivations. Instead, seek to understand their perspective and ask questions, even if you think you’re sure about your position. This helps to build trust and cooperation and can lead to a more productive conversation overall.
Focus on the Problem, Not the Person
When having an argument with a remote coworker, it’s important to focus on the problem, not the person. This means avoiding personal attacks or criticisms and instead focusing on finding a solution to the issue at hand. Personal attacks can quickly escalate the conversation and damage the working relationship, so it’s important to stay focused on the problem and work together to find a solution.
Separating the person from the problem is another important aspect of focusing on the problem. Instead of blaming or accusing your coworker, focus on the issue itself and how you can work together to address it. This helps to maintain a positive working relationship and prevent the conversation from becoming confrontational.
In addition to focusing on the problem, it’s important to avoid letting emotions cloud your judgment. If you find yourself becoming angry or frustrated, take a break to cool down before continuing the conversation. This can help you approach the conversation with a clearer head and prevent the conversation from becoming too emotional.
Use “I” Statements Instead of “You” Statements
This is probably the most effective tactic on this list. Using “I” statements instead of “you” statements is a powerful communication technique that can help prevent conflicts from escalating. “I” statements express how you feel or what you need, without blaming or accusing the other person. For example, instead of saying “You never respond to my emails on time,” you might say “I feel frustrated when I don’t receive a response to my emails within a reasonable timeframe.”
Using “I” statements helps to take ownership of your feelings and needs, and prevents the other person from becoming defensive. When you use “you” statements, it can feel like an attack and cause the other person to become defensive or reactive. This can quickly escalate the conversation and prevent productive communication.
In addition to using “I” statements, it’s important to take responsibility for your own actions and avoid blaming the other person. This will make it much more likely that the other person will take ownership of some of their own shortcomings as well.
Seek to Understand, Not to Win
I received this advice years ago (during an argument) and it has always stuck out to me as very beneficial. If the goal is to find a resolution, then you need to understand the disconnect between you and your coworker. This means approaching the conversation with humility and a willingness to learn, rather than simply trying to prove your point or “win” the argument.
Being curious and open-minded is key to seeking to understand. Try to see the situation from your coworker’s perspective and ask questions to learn more about their point of view. This can help you find common ground and work together to find a solution that works for both of you.
The common ground you’re looking for includes finding areas of agreement and building on them. This can help build trust and cooperation, and lead to a more productive conversation overall.
Take a Break If Necessary
Sometimes emotions can run high during an argument with a remote coworker, and even though it may just be over Zoom or Slack, it might still be necessary to take a break to cool down. Recognizing when emotions are getting out of control and taking a break can prevent the conversation from becoming too emotional or confrontational. And remember, sometimes it’s a very short window between when you know things are getting out of control and when you actually have the self-control to initiate the break.
When taking a break, it’s important to communicate this to your coworker and set a time to reconvene. This shows respect for their time and ensures that you can continue the conversation at a later time. During the break, take some time to reflect on your own feelings and thoughts, and consider how you can approach the conversation in a more productive way.
It’s also important to use the break to manage your own emotions. This might mean going for a walk, doing some deep breathing exercises, or talking to a trusted friend or family member. Whatever helps you to calm down and approach the conversation with a clearer head can be helpful.
To ensure that this is a true break and not a conclusion of the conversation, make sure you set a time limit on when you two come back together and discuss. It could be 5 minutes, or a whole day.
Find Common Ground
As mentioned in the “Seek to Understand, Not to Win” section above, finding common ground is an important aspect of resolving conflicts with remote coworkers.
One way to find common ground is to look for areas of agreement. Even if you disagree on certain points, there are definitely other areas where you both agree. By focusing on these areas of agreement, you can build momentum and work together to find a solution that works for everyone.
Another way to find common ground is to identify shared goals and objectives. This might mean setting aside personal differences and focusing on the bigger picture, such as the success of the project or the success of the company as a whole.
By focusing on shared goals and objectives, you can find common ground and work together to achieve your shared vision. Remember to look for areas of agreement, and work together to find a win-win solution.
Follow Up and Follow Through
It’s important to follow up and follow through on any agreements that were made. This helps to ensure that the conversation was productive and that any issues were resolved in a way that works for both of you.
Following up might mean sending a follow-up email summarizing the conversation and any agreements that were made. It might also mean scheduling a follow-up meeting to check in on progress and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Whatever the follow-up method, it’s important to communicate clearly and make sure that everyone is aware of any next steps.
Following through is another important aspect of resolving conflicts. This means actually doing what you said you would do and following through on any agreements or commitments that were made. This shows that you are reliable and trustworthy, and can help build trust and cooperation with your remote coworker.
How can I avoid escalating an argument with a remote coworker?
Avoid getting defensive or reactive. Take a step back, breathe, and try to approach the conversation with an open and curious mind. Don’t focus on being right, but from a perspective of wanting to understand their position.
What if my remote coworker is not willing to listen or cooperate?
To be honest, there’s not a lot you can do about that. It may be helpful to involve a mediator or a neutral third party in this situation. However, remember that you can’t make an irrational person think rationally.
What if the argument is about a sensitive or personal issue?
It’s important to approach sensitive issues with empathy and sensitivity. Be respectful and avoid making personal attacks. Try to focus on finding a solution that works for everyone.
How can I prevent arguments with remote coworkers in the first place?
THIS. Being proactive with clear communication and expectations can help prevent misunderstandings and disagreements altogether. Establish guidelines and protocols for communication and collaboration, and regularly check in to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Having a healthy argument with a remote coworker can be challenging, but it’s very possible with the right approach, temperament, and tools. Remember to maintain a positive working relationship even when you disagree, and seek outside help if necessary. With these strategies, you can navigate disagreements with remote coworkers in a healthy and effective manner.
Jared has worked remotely for 15 years in various marketing capacities, and has managed hundreds of marketing campaigns along the way. He has held freelance, agency, and in-house positions for companies large and small.