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How Collaborative Leaders Moderate Arguments in Virtual Settings

Wednesday, September 27, 2017 - 13:30
Moderate Virtual Arguments

“The fact that people disagree isn’t a bad thing. It’s how we manage conflict that can be damaging to productivity.”
- Amy Gallo, Contributing Editor, Harvard Business Review

Discord among teammates, discontent in the wake of business decisions and disappointment with policy changes or new directions are natural – some would say inevitable – in a fast-paced work environment in the throes of digital business transformation. In fact, many business pundits believe friction between inquisitive, creative teammates is a critical factor in fostering innovation through collaboration.

“Companies benefit from assertive employees… who offer fresh ideas, and good managers understand that,” writes careers columnist Tess Pajaron in a recent contribution to Fast Company. Collaborative leaders “depend on their direct reports’ valuable feedback…” she contends.

Still, arguments between co-workers can be tough enough to handle when everyone attending a meeting is in the same room. Facial expressions, eye contact, and even a pat on the back can help meeting leaders clarify complex issues, articulate nuanced positions and demonstrate emotional support. But when all or some teammates are participating by audio, web or video conference, the additional layer of separation makes these tasks more challenging. We know, for example, that body language is important on phone calls as well as face-to-face conversations.

Collaborative Moderators Rely on Rapport to Resolve Conflicts in Virtual Meetings

Pajaron believes “Workplace disagreements can be very constructive if everyone involved trusts one another.” And one key to nurturing trust among teammates is building rapport, which should begin as soon as a team is created.

Per our post “How to Build Rapport Like a Superhero,” we recommend three ways collaborative leaders can establish lasting rapport – which apply to business interactions of any kind, whether virtual or face-to-face:

1. Raise Commonalities Among the Team

Mention common professional interests among teammates, such as colleagues who attended the same school, worked at the same company in the past or belong to the same trade association. Personal interests are fair game, too, but make a connection to the team’s mission. For example, if a teammate runs marathons and the group’s work requires patience, discipline and grit, then maybe introduce other members with experience running long-distance events.

2. Source Your Research

Explain how you discovered commonalities in professional or personal interests. For example, tell co-workers that you prepared for your role as leader by reviewing the LinkedIn pages of teammates. Citing a readily available reference tool can establish business context and bolster your credibility.

3. Take Cues from Others in the Meeting

If teammates seem comfortable discussing hobbies and other shared interests, then you have an invitation to continue raising these commonalities. If others seem reluctant to talk about these topics, that’s a cue to set a different course.

Collaborative Moderators Use Rapport to Ask Meaningful Questions

During many virtual collaboration sessions, audio communication is the primary connection between colleagues. So, when arguments between participants arise, wise moderators choose words carefully when mediating disputes.

Ease tension – and inspire mutual respect – between dissenting parties by practicing courtesy and asking what Harvard Business Review Contributing Editor Amy Gallo calls “meaningful questions.” These inquiries should focus on emotions, not facts, she counsels.

“Often conflicts erupt because one person doesn’t feel heard,” Gallo, who authored the HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work explains in a recent Fast Company article. “Just making someone feel heard can help.”

3 Ways Collaborative Moderators Can Help Teammates Feel Heard During Disputes

In the spirit of Gallo’s advice, we researched persuasive techniques. Here are three methods for facilitating constructive dialog that we cherry-picked from a recent infographic in Entrepreneur magazine:

1. Lower Your Pitch When Interceding

Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology shows that lowering your voice pitch during arguments (regardless of your normal pitch) improves persuasive power.

2. Create a Positive Environment of Mutual Liking

The Harvard Business Review piece “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion” indicates identifying shared ground between quarreling parties and giving each side genuine praise can improve your “power to convince.”

3. Summarize Opposing Viewpoints

During an argument, reiterating and encapsulating opinions on behalf of both sides can generate an atmosphere of trust, per studies of high-risk conflict resolution.

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