Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 21, Issue 40;   October 6, 2021:

Disagreements in Virtual Meetings

by

Disagreements about substance can sometimes become unpleasant. And it seems that the likelihood of this happening is greater in virtual meetings. Six tactics can help keep things calm enough for groups to work better together.
Bull moose sparring in Grand Teton National Park

Bull moose antler-sparring in Grand Teton National Park to determine breeding rights. This is a common occurrence when the bull moose are in rut. The configurations of antlers vary from bull to bull, but most configurations are such that the bulls can easily disengage once locked. From time to time, though, two bulls can actually lock antlers in a way in which they cannot disengage, and that event can lead to the deaths of both. In this way, conflict — which does serve a purpose from the perspective of species fitness — can lead to losses that harm the species.

So it is with destructive conflict in organizations. Constructive conflict does serve a purpose, but when it changes from a constructive form to a destructive form, it harms the organization. Organizational culture and policies that elevate the likelihood of constructive conflict turning destructive are counter-effective.

Photo courtesy U.S. National Park Service.

Disagreement is a difference between facts, opinions, preferences, or ideas. For example, I might advocate splitting our team of 24 people into three teams — one of six, and two of nine. If you then advocate splitting our team into three teams of eight, we have a disagreement. When we encounter disagreements at work, we usually resolve them without weaponry or bloodshed. We can do this by employing an array of cultural tools and customs, many of which are so natural that they're outside our awareness.

Most of those tools and customs arose or were designed for face-to-face interactions. But in today's largely virtual work environments these cultural tools and customs don't work as well as they do in face-to-face contexts. Some of us — not all of us — have learned and adopted new ways that are effective in many situations that arise in virtual meetings.

But there are no guarantees. We can still get into trouble, even though everyone involved might be trying their best to make their points in a civil manner. There are some less-than-obvious ways to help groups reach resolutions even though strains have started to appear. Here are a few of the less-frequently mentioned techniques for virtual meetings.

Leave space for someone else to make that point
Leaving space for others to comment or raise questions can sometimes bring about the careful thought that leads to durable decisions. This technique is especially likely to produce welcome results when the issue at hand hasn't been as carefully studied as might be necessary.
Wait for others to express disagreement
When one person There are some less-than-obvious ways
to help groups reach resolutions even
though strains have started to appear
raises all the issues relative to the proposal under consideration, there is a risk that such dissent might appear to be motivated by a political agenda or personal animus. Allowing others to raise questions or concerns can sometimes mitigate that risk.
Don't assume that the disagreement has a firm foundation
When parties engage in a debate about an issue, they tend to assume that they themselves understand the issue well. And they attribute the difference in viewpoints to distortions in others' perceptions, due to their ignorance, false beliefs, irrationality, or biases. This phenomenon is known as naïve realism. Three assumptions more likely to be valid are that (a) everyone grasps some of the truth, (b) everyone is misled or confused in some respects, and (c) nobody has a complete and clear-eyed view the entire situation.
Address misinformation and disinformation proactively
Misinformation is false information that arrives by chance and error; disinformation is false information intentionally and knowingly distributed. Although naïve realism is an actual phenomenon, people do sometimes make erroneous judgments based on false information, by whatever path it arrives. If false information is in the air, address it directly and proactively. Arguing with its victims after the damage is done is far less effective.
Allow for political pressures
Some people, in some situations, adopt the views they have because of coercion applied by someone with superior political power. To conceal the facts of their circumstances, they devise complex "arguments" to justify their views. Engaging in debate with people so entangled is unlikely to yield the desired results. Political problems must be solved politically.

Most important, understand the online disinhibition effect. [Suler 2004] Briefly, the environment of the Internet and other interactive media contributes to relaxation of inhibitions that suppress antisocial behavior. When things get out of hand, the environment might have played a starring role. To regard any of the people involved as "out of control" might not be correct. Ironically, telling them so might itself be an example of the online disinhibition effect. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Risks of Humor at Work  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Footnotes

[Suler 2004]
John Suler. "The online disinhibition effect," Cyberpsychology and Behavior 7:3 (2004), 321-326. Available here. Retrieved 22 April 2021. Back

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.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.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

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.

Related articles

More articles on Conflict Management:

Planet earthCorrosive Buts
When we discuss what we care deeply about, and when we differ, the word "but" can lead us into destructive conflict. Such a little word, yet so corrosive. Why? What can we do instead?
Damage to Purple Loosestrife due to feeding by the galerucella beetleLateral Micromanagement
Lateral micromanagement is the unwelcome intrusion by one co-worker into the responsibilities of another. Far more than run-of-the-mill bossiness, it's often a concerted attempt to gain organizational power and rank, and it is toxic to teams.
Col. John Boyd, U.S. Air Force, in a photo taken during his time as a fighter pilotOODA at Work
OODA is a model of decision making that's especially useful in rapidly evolving environments, such as combat, marketing, politics, and emergency management. Here's a brief overview.
President Obama meets with Congressional leadersEthical Debate at Work: II
Outcomes of debates at work sometimes favor one party, not only at the expense of the other or others, but also at the expense of the organization. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for steering debates toward wise outcomes.
Fire at the base of a tree in Yellowstone National Park, 1974Conversation Irritants: II
Workplace conversation is difficult enough, because of stress, time pressure, and the complexity of our discussions. But it's even more vexing when people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part II of a small collection of their techniques.

See also Conflict Management and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Adolf Hitler greets Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the Bad Godesberg meeting on 24 September 1938Coming October 20: On Ineffectual Leaders
When the leader of an important business unit is ineffectual, we need to make a change to protect the organization. Because termination can seem daunting, people often turn to one or more of a variety of other options. Those options have risks. Available here and by RSS on October 20.
Browsing books in a library. So many books, we must make choicesAnd on October 27: Five Guidelines for Choices
Each day we make dozens or hundreds of choices — maybe more. We make many of those choices outside our awareness. But we can make better choices if we can recognize choice patterns that often lead to trouble. Here are five guidelines for making choices. Available here and by RSS on October 27.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.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:

Reprinting this article

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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.