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June 25, 2020
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Conflict resolution in times of remote working

Remote work and its dependence on digital engagement have changed the way we communicate with customers and with our teams. Add to this the sheer hours we now spend in online meetings, the stress of living through a pandemic, and the stress of living, working and schooling from one place – we need to give a lot more thought to how we manage conflict, digitally.

Listen to Pavlo Phitidis discuss this on The Money Show on 702 & CapeTalk:

Customer conflict resolution

Pavlo described a personal experience he’s had through the lockdown, as his computer had an actual meltdown, necessitating the purchase of a new one. The first one froze repeatedly in the first week, and was replaced with another within a few days. The second one had the exact same fault, and a quick search revealed that customers across the globe have experienced this same issue. However, Pavlo had to chase repeatedly to secure a meeting with a complaint resolution manager who then refused to switch on her camera for the meeting, and left him with no resolution whatsoever.

This is generally our experience of dealing with big corporates – we have to invest our time energy and resources to secure an engagement, and even more time, energy and resources to achieve the outcome we believe we have earned.

As business owners of small and medium sized businesses we have an opportunity to compete and win on conflict resolution, and understanding how to get it right, online is necessary for a social distancing world.

Using Pavlo’s recent experience, there are 2 immediate lessons to be taken:

  1. Be seen. Turn on your camera so that your customer can see you on the other end of the screen. Through the camera you can create empathy, show care and concern.
  2. Prepare for the call and frame the experience for the customer. Send them a confirmation of the appointment with an agenda for the meeting, so that they understand that there are certain steps that need to be worked through in order to reach the resolution. It also shows that the desired outcome IS a resolution.

Team conflict resolution

Pavlo shared an example of an operations manager who, instead of speaking one-on-one to a team member who had done something incorrectly, chose to write an email, copying in the whole team of 8 members.

This email made its way into 8 homes, where 8 frazzled individuals had been working tirelessly through lockdown, often while homeschooling and homekeeping, during these stressful times. The impact of a negative email like this affected the whole team badly, not just the individual it was intended for.

In an office environment it would have been resolved in a 2 minute chat, but on email it created more strife than the underlying issue was worth.

Pavlo recommends restructuring team engagements, understanding the different types of communication that are necessary:

  1. Strategic comms: The once a month meeting that used to happen in the boardroom must still happen online. Even if there is no news, it reassures the team that there are no major changes, and in a time when retrenchments are very common – their jobs are safe.
  2. Tactical comms around specific issues: We have successfully gotten most of our clients to use a ticketing system for task allocation and issue resolution. The system ensures the messages are clear, through structured fields, rather than open to emotion. It also helps you to manage the output of a team that is working remotely.

Why no email?

Emails are easily misunderstood, there’s a gap that doesn’t convey humour or sarcasm.

There’s also the  issue of copying in – both up and down the hierarchy. Pavlo notes that ‘CC’ indicates that the team has lost the ability to communicate – it says ‘I need help because I’m not being heard, I’m not being obeyed, and I need your intervention to resolve this.’

If you’re struggling to get your communication strategy right in an online world, contact us.

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