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Managing Conflict in the Telework Environment

  • Posted by: Ellen Kandell

One night last week I gave a guest lecture on conflict management and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) for a graduate organizational development class, Managing People and Groups in the Global Workplace,  for University of Maryland University College.   The professor invited me to share information about workplace conflict resolution because these students will eventually be leaders and have to know about resources for conflict management.

I  reviewed the history and development of ADR in the federal and private sectors.  We talked about conflict management strategies and the basic conflict management skills of listening, negotiation, investigation and reframing.  One class member asked the following question:  “With the increase in tele-work and the growth of organizations which include offices around the globe how does that impact conflict resolution in the workplace?”

With the growth of tele-working and remote workplaces there is less direct face-to-face communication between people.   This means that the body language component of human communication, which is 55% and the tone of voice component, which is 38% are largely missing.  Written communication must be crystal clear in these types of workplaces.  It is also vital that managers set clear expectations when communication is unclear and conflict and misunderstanding percolates in the organization. 

When managers and staff can’t meet face to face to resolve conflict  Online dispute resolution may serve as a potential resource.  Online dispute resolution started in the 1990’s and has grown exponentially as our society has become more reliant on technology.  While it was initially used for technology related matters, like eBay and internet domain name disputes, it has expanded to include workplace disputes.   There are many companies that offer online dispute resolution services and some, like  Better Business Bureau on line,   Settle the Case,  and Virtual Courthouse   specialize in these matters.     The dispute is handled via email and chat and is on a confidential platform to assure that important component of privacy.  In some of these forums a formal complaint or claim might be the triggering event.

Online dispute resolution is not a perfect substitute for some types of disputes but it is better, faster and less expensive than the court system.

Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.


Author: Ellen Kandell

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