By Robert Conrad
Workplace conflict is never fun and if ignored or neglected, can escalate to ridiculous levels.
It doesn’t matter if the workplace conflict is peer versus peer or employee versus supervisor, left unchecked it can have a negative result on everyone else.
Online, you can find article after article expounding the importance of effective communication in the workplace.
In fact, it’s been stated so much, it’s become a part of the overarching lexicon of positive office culture.
Sadly, none of these articles tend to go into great detail surrounding online interactions at work.
In an effort to streamline daily communications and workflow, many marketing and customer service firms have turned to instant messaging apps such as Slack and Hangouts.
The theory behind their integration is clear, but the jury is still out regarding the potential effects on company culture, ease of use and effectiveness.
As great as the Internet is at times, it also removes the all-important nonverbal aspect of communication, which comprises 65 to 75 percent of all our interactions.
When someone is unable to see who they’re talking to, they can’t see if the other party is focused or distracted, if they have their eyebrows raised in sarcasm, or detect the level of interest in their voices.
Sadly, this is how Internet flamewars are born and they can quickly spiral out of control (simply search “GamerGate” and no, I won’t link it).
Dealing with an online troll is easy for seasoned veterans, but what if you encounter one in a company-wide chat app and they’re sitting only five chairs down from you?
Even though new technology can create new solutions, it can also open up new vulnerabilities that need addressing.
Tools designed to fuel efficiency and communication can end up doing the opposite if they are employed without a deliberate touch and maintenance.
Taking notes from how an effective remote business operates while simultaneously employing the oft-touted effective, in-real-life communication measures at the office is the way to get the best of both worlds.
Three Ways to Avoid Workplace Conflict
Keep Conversations Sterile
Would you be willing to shout the subtle nuances of insurance policy changes across a crowded room?
In-depth discussions and workplace issues have no place in an electronic chat viewable by everyone.
Even if the chats were intended to be private, it can encourage piggybackers who can easily flood a channel with noise if put in the wrong place or tagged incorrectly.
More sensitive conversations can even foster a hostile work environment if viewed by those who don’t need to see them.
Keep these conversations face-to-face.
Establish a Steady Moderator for Public Workplace Chats
Remember the old saying that “too many cooks spoil the broth”?
A workplace chat group of 100 people with no established moderator creates an environment where anything goes.
Taking into account the individual experiences of each employee, what seems relevant to one may seem totally irrelevant to another.
However, moderators can: Keep chats focused, open private channels when the system is being abused, encourage people to continue/move select conversations offline to facilitate understanding, and set standards on language/inappropriate topics.
And the best part?
Nothing is left to anonymous interpretation by employees.
Turn Off Notifications
Honestly, does anybody really enjoy pop-up ads?
Many chat applications have the ability to turn notifications On or Off, but in a company that overuses chat in lieu of real-life interactions, leaving this option On can generate a distracting stream of popup notifications that only gets worse as the number of participants increases.
Turning these off allows the user to check messages on their schedule while also encouraging prioritization of interactions.
So imagine a company doing the exact opposite of these recommendations: Their employee body would be comprised of people who think they have all the answers, following an ambiguous set of rules all while being inundated by chat notifications.
Sounds like a nightmare, right?
If people don’t know what they’re doing, it can create unneeded organizational stress that’s hard to bounce back from, including: employee stress/burnout, strained employee relations, mistrust of organizational leaders and high turnover.
Even worse, some of these former employees may express their grievances on review sites such as Glassdoor, Yelp, or even Facebook or Twitter.
Instead of falling on your own sword, remember that electronic workplace chat will never replace genuine human interaction.
By personally knowing the person being chatted to, you may see the subtle humor in the silly giraffe GIF they just sent you.
What if it were your company? What would you do to prevent mixed signals, hard feelings and avoid workplace conflict?