For teams, creative conflict is essential to high performance. It helps them find solutions that no team member could have developed alone. But not all conflict is creative. Some is destructive, or toxic.
In creative conflict, people might contend about each other's ideas, but they do so respectfully, often with humor and fun. In toxic conflict, they contend with each other about each other, disrespectfully. Even when they're discussing each other's ideas, they do so, in part, to attack each other. And some attacks are purely personal.
Any team can fall into toxic conflict, but virtual teams are most at risk, and they have more difficulty healing. Here are some tips and insights for virtual team leaders who want to avoid or deal with toxic conflict.
- Our communication channels put us at risk
- Virtual teams use communication channels such as email, video, telephone, and instant messaging. All are psychologically "half-duplex" channels — they let us focus on sending or receiving, but not both at once. Face-to-face communication, by contrast, is psychologically full duplex. We can and do make adjustments as we're speaking, according to our reading of the receiver's response. Since we can't do this in half-duplex communication, we send longer messages, often offending, ignoring, or hurting our partners.
- Keeping messages short lets you find out how you're doing in time to make adjustments.
- We underestimate the toxicity of virtual conflict
- Because we see only those elements that can squeeze through our communication channels, toxic virtual conflict is less visible than is toxic local conflict. If toxicity is evident even from a distance, it's probably worse than an equally obtrusive toxic local conflict.
- Recalibrate your If you wait before intervening
to be as certain in a virtual
conflict as you would be in
a local conflict, you're
probably acting too lateperceptions. What can safely be ignored in a local conflict might not be ignorable in a virtual conflict.
- Act prematurely
- If you wait before intervening to be as certain in a virtual conflict as you would be in a local conflict, you're probably acting too late.
- If you suspect a toxic conflict, don't wait passively for more information. Do whatever is necessary, including traveling to the remote site, to resolve the ambiguity between toxic conflict and creative conflict.
- Meet frequently face-to-face
- When people know each other, they can make corrections for the deficiencies of their communication channels, because they have a reservoir of trust, and because they can take account of the effects of the medium.
- To trust each other, people must know each other. Face-to-face meetings are the only effective way to help them establish and maintain relationships. When we decide not to pay for face-to-face meetings, we're deciding to pay instead for the effects of toxic conflict.
If a toxic conflict is underway in your team, estimate its true cost — including the cost of being late to market — and compare it to the cost of bringing everyone together. After you recover from the shock, schedule that face-to-face meeting. Top Next Issue
Is your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Some Costs of COTS
- As a way of managing risk, we sometimes steer our organizations towards commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)
components, methodologies, designs, and processes. But to gain a competitive edge, we need creative
- Decisions, Decisions: I
- Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but
it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions? How do we choose the right
process for the job?
- My Boss Is Driving Me Nuts
- When things go badly, many of us experience stress, and we might indulge various appetites in harmful
ways. Some of us say things like "My boss is driving me nuts," or "She made me so angry."
These explanations are rarely legitimate.
- Discussion Distractions: II
- Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most
common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
- Wacky Words of Wisdom
- Words of wisdom are so often helpful that many of them have solidified into easily remembered capsules.
We do tend to over-generalize them, though, and when we do, trouble follows. Here are a few of the more
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.