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? rbrenqmPvtMfFBAnsfphWner@ChacUoBRLeuMmYlepSsBoCanyon.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:
- Become a Tugboat Captain
- If your job responsibilities sometimes require that you tell powerful people that they must do something
differently, you could find yourself in danger from time to time. You can learn a lot from tugboat captains.
- Who Would You Take With You to Mars?
- What makes a great team? What traits do you value in teammates? Project teams can learn a lot from the
latest thinking about designing teams for extended space exploration.
- When the job market eases for job seekers, we often see increases in job shifting, as people who've
been biding their time make the jump. Typically, they're the people we most want to keep. How can we
reduce this source of turnover?
- Some Limits of Root Cause Analysis
- Root Cause Analysis uses powerful tools for finding the sources of process problems. The approach has
been so successful that it has become a way of thinking about organizational patterns. Yet, resolving
organizational problems this way sometimes works — and sometimes fails. Why?
- Why Don't They Believe Me?
- When we want people to believe us, and they don't, it just might be a result of our own actions or demeanor.
How does this happen?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenPUxakIXQNtYcYBdTner@ChacsXOyWQiICffewbhDoCanyon.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, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
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.