Collaboration Updated on: 19 August 2020

How do you handle arguments at work? [Updated for remote teams]

arguments at work

Highlights

Arguments that take place at work are not always as negative as they seem. It isn’t what the argument is about that matters most, it is how you react to the situation that will impact the end result. We’ve compiled a list of helpful tips on how to manage arguments in the workplace. We’ve also 

10% of conflicts are due to difference in opinion. 90% are due to wrong tone of voice.

Many may think that running away from the first sign of a disagreement is the best policy to follow especially when dealing with coworkers. But this may not be the best approach to take. Having a difference of opinion can actually benefit you and your team.

…having heated, yet healthy, arguments to generate a portfolio of alternatives. People in innovative organizations have learned how to inquire, actively listen, and advocate for their point of view. They understand that you rarely get innovation without diversity of thought and conflict.

In an interview with Laura A. Hill, author of Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, she says conflicting arguments at work lead to better innovation of products and ideas within a team. Ignoring the problem at hand will only build more tension, which can severely impact the productivity and energy of the group. Follow these suggestions for how to act before and during an argument to get your team used to having productive arguments.

How to prepare yourself for a potential workplace argument

Debating back and forth on an issue is healthy as long as it does not go into emotional fighting. How you handle an argument that involves emotional fighting will determine the amount of trust and respect you have with your coworkers and will weigh on the kind of relationship you have with others at work. But before it comes to that, here are a few ways to prepare yourself before an argument that you know might come:

      1. Before a meeting or a confrontation, inform everyone involved about what it will be about and what points will be covered. This will give all participants a chance to look over the material so there are no surprises.
      2. Before a heated topic, do your homework on your audience. Find out what your audiences’ personalities are like and their views on certain ideas. The more information you know, the better your approach can be to convince your audience to follow you.

How to react when an argument takes place at work

If and when an argument takes place, the way you react to it will affect how intense it can become. Follow these tips on positive ways to act to turn an argument into a constructive one. 

Always be civil

No matter what the argument is about, never lose your temper. Especially when the stress level and emotions are running high, it is easy to forget how to act and respond appropriately. Launching personal attacks and getting confrontational will only worsen the situation, instead of finding a solution. You will also lose all credibility the minute you raise your voice.

Always listen

When in a confrontation with someone, you should always listen to their entire argument. Become a master listener by paying attention to exactly what is being said. People will become less defensive when they see that you are making a solid effort to understand their point of view. 

Further clarification can always help

When listening, asking to further clarify a specific point or idea is always helpful for you to completely understand the reason for them to feel a certain way. Don’t be afraid to ask for more details to get a complete grasp on their opinion.

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Watch the language you use

When you are expressing yourself, try to avoid using the words “but” and “however”. Including these words in the conversation will make the other person believe that their ideas are not valued or important.

Ask the right question

Instead of asking “why” the other person is thinking or feeling a certain way, ask them “how”. This change of question will bring a lot more results with facts and figures than a plain “because” answer.

Watch your body language

Many arguments that take place in your workplace can be avoided, or at least calmed, simply by expressing positive body language. For example, try to align your body with whom you’re speaking to, keep your arms uncrossed, and keep non-threatening eye contact. Here are some more tips that can help you portray positive body language.

Instead of focusing on winning the argument, showing full cooperation and listening to others will bring you to a solution that everyone can agree with. Having different opinions and diverse thinking can be beneficial for the spirit of the group, it can pool together more ideas and alternatives to a problem. Use the opportunity of an argument to turn it into a valuable solution, that can also help with the productivity and innovation of your team. 

We’ve put together an infographic for tips on positive ways to turn an argument into a constructive one. Check it out below:

Arguments at work

How to manage arguments at work in remote teams

It’s normal for teams to have disputes and arguments, but when you’re working remotely, sometimes things can escalate due to the lack of nonverbal cues (body language, facial expressions, eye contact) that help us read people and interpret situations.

Over text or email, direct questioning may come across as aggressive, messages can get lost in translation, or people may feel micro-managed or untrusted. And while conflict resolution training is becoming more common in large organizations, there’s little available in the new domain of remote work. Arguments often arise in already stressful situations, and the added complications of different time zones and work schedules, cultural differences, language barriers, and lack of personal connections can heighten the tension.

Most people hate confrontation – that’s natural. However as Liane Davey, a team effectiveness advisor and professional speaker says, “Avoiding an important conversation is a bad idea with an office mate and an even worse idea with a virtual teammate. Get the issues out in the open as quickly as possible before they sour your relationship and affect your ability to get the job done.”

So here are our five strategies to handling disputes in remote teams.

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Take preventative action

Prevent arguments by introducing techniques that will help build trust in your remote team. Tools such as weekly video calls, where remote team members have the chance to see each other can help build trust by creating personal connections. Use Icebreaker games at the start of each meeting to replicate the casual but important morning coffee chats that you simply don’t get when working remotely.

Similarly, encourage team members to use project tracking software to keep on top of tasks, track progress and allocate tasks, which will help reduce email track, and seemingly innocent ‘checking-in’ messages that can make people feel encroached on.

Communication is key

The old adage is true- communication is key! Asynchronous communication can seem excessive, but without synchronization, team members will miss out on key context, vision, and alignment. As bonding is key to getting team members to buy-into project goals, communication is the most valuable tool at their disposal.

Communication can’t be an afterthought and it needs to consider timezones, and project loads of all team members. Always stay on-topic, avoid getting personal, and any arguments that arise need to be managed effectively to avoid derailing the project.

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Provide space to voice concerns

By setting up regular catch-ups for remote employees to speak openly about any concerns they have, managers of remote teams can identify conflicts early on and work to resolve them before they turn into full-blown arguments. These individual progress meetings can give managers the chance to assess how team members are feeling, and members will feel like they’re being listened to and can speak in a safe place. It’s important to give both sides of any disagreement an opportunity to give their side of the story. While this may not be enough to resolve the issue, it can at least set the stage for opening up dialogue.

Use your voice for important chats

If a problem has been festering, it’s time to set up a phone call to talk through the issues. Book in a meeting with the team member (to give them time to gather their thoughts) and talk through your issues.

Stick with the known formula for resolving arguments at work: provide very crisp and clear observations of the behaviour that’s bothering you. Then, talk about the way that behaviour impacted on you, and how it made YOU feel. Then, ask open-ended questions that opens up a dialogue to help you to understand one another’s perceptions.

The aim of this style of conversation is to develop a clear vision for how a similar situation could play out better next time. And remember to follow-up in writing to ensure you’re all clear about what’s been agreed upon.

Tip: To avoid miscommunication if you can’t clearly communicate the message in 15 lines of less on instant messaging, it’s time to pick up the phone and talk through it verbally or just switch over to video right on Conceptboard!

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Prioritize respect

It’s important to give equal respect to everyone, regardless of whether you’ve never met face-to-face, or they work in another timezone. Remote workers shouldn’t be treated any less than office colleagues, so thinking of them as equals will ensure you treat the fairly. On the other side, remote employees need to keep those same courtesies, and importantly stick to deadlines, meetings and be available when needed.

By dealing with arguments at work in a professional and succinct manner, problems get solved faster, team members are happier and more engaged, productivity isn’t stalled, and feelings of trust become stronger creating a strong team where creativity can flourish.

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Read more about how to communicate in remote teams and our best practices to follow when working with remote coworkers.

 

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