person writing on notebook while resolving conflicts in online meetings
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Our boardrooms have shifted from wood-paneled walls to pixelated screens, and water cooler chats now happen in virtual corridors. While technology has revolutionized how we work, it’s also introduced new challenges, particularly when managing conflicts in online meetings.

Picture this: you’re in the middle of a crucial call, discussing project timelines, when suddenly tensions flare. Maybe someone’s mic accidentally goes off, interrupting a speaker, or perhaps differing opinions lead to a heated debate in the chat window. Sound familiar?

If you are in charge of a meeting, how do you restore peace if conflict occurs without harming your teamwork?

Challenges with virtual meetings

While conflict is a conflict, whether in a boardroom or online, some key differences exist only with online meetings. They have their own set of challenges, from technical glitches to communication barriers.

  • Meeting conflicts from different opinions or approaches can result in the best outcomes. However, without facial expressions and body language, it becomes difficult to identify if it’s due to interpersonal dislikes or past grievances. In such cases, these can escalate conflicts if poorly managed.
  • The remote nature of online meetings leads to divided attention and reduced engagement. It makes it easier for participants to multitask by checking emails, browsing the web, or attending to other work tasks.
  • Poor internet connections, audio disturbances, and screen-sharing mishaps can disrupt the flow of a meeting, leading to frustration and tension among participants.

Planning your online meetings thoughtfully can create a conducive environment that minimizes conflicts. Setting up the ground rules upfront and a tight agenda leaves minimum room for the participants to engage in personal opinions

Reducing chances of conflict in remote work

Preparing well and leading effectively is crucial to ensure smooth online meetings. 

One way to achieve this is by sending the meeting agenda ahead of time, specifying the start time, and keeping the meeting on track. A well-planned agenda can help resolve disputes and keep the conversation focused. During the meeting, 

  • Use features like the “raise hand” to help manage who speaks when. 
  • Seek input from different team members and value all viewpoints. 
  • Remind participants to mute their microphones when not speaking to reduce background noise. 
  • Finally, summarize the key takeaways and action items at the end of the meeting. 

While conflicts may still arise, it’s important to identify early signs and take action to avoid disrupting broader objectives.

Spotting early signs of conflict

Spotting the signs of conflicts early on can help prevent escalation and facilitate timely intervention. Yes, there are clues!

  • Increased hostility, sarcasm, or defensive language may indicate underlying tensions or conflicts.
  • A lack of participation or minimal contribution to the conversation could signal discomfort or disagreement.
  • Participants talking over each other, frequent interruptions, or overlapping conversations may indicate conflicting viewpoints.
  • Persistent arguments, excessive anger, frustration, or emotional distress expressed by individuals may indicate deeper-seated conflicts or unresolved personal issues affecting the group dynamics.

When you spot the signs of a conflict brewing, use the strategies in the next section proactively rather than reactively. 

How to resolve conflict in online meetings?

Reynolds and Kalish (2002) suggest that leaders spend a minimum of 25% of their time resolving conflicts. Why not enhance your skills and knowledge if you anticipate spending considerable time on a particular task?

#1. Facilitate Dialogue

It is essential to create an environment where participants feel comfortable sharing their opinions and concerns without fear of being judged. Encouraging healthy conflicts can lead to finding the best possible solutions. As a leader, it is crucial to acknowledge and validate their feelings while reassuring them that their input is valuable. 

For instance, if there is a disagreement about the approach to the project timeline, you can say, “Let’s take a moment to listen to each team member’s viewpoint and explore alternative solutions.

#2. Ask Questions

Ask open-ended questions during meetings to better understand the participants’ concerns and motivations. Instead of settling for a simple “yes” or “no” answer, try to delve deeper into their thoughts and feelings.

For example, you could ask, “What outcome are you hoping to achieve from this solution?” or “Why do you believe this solution will work?” 

If you notice any confusion or misinterpretation among the participants, encourage them to clarify their statements and intentions to ensure everyone understands the issue.

#3. Redirect the Focus

When meetings become heated, it’s easy to make the conflict personal. Instead, it’s important to focus on the wording, steer the conversation away from attacking a person, and concentrate on the problem. 

For example, if discussing the strengths of two individuals, a better approach would be to say, “So you’re saying that while Mark clearly has strengths, David’s strengths may be better suited in this situation.

#4. Take it Off-Line

Suppose tensions continue to escalate despite your efforts to diffuse them. In that case, taking the discussion off-line for a more private conversation with only the parties involved in the conflict may be helpful.

If the discussion becomes heated, take a break and allow everyone to cool off and collect their thoughts. Sometimes, you can reach a solution, and other times, people can agree to disagree. In the worst-case scenario, as a leader, you may need to make a decision even if no one agrees.

Importance of addressing conflicts in real-time

Have you ever participated in a formal meeting where a professional disagreement arose and was successfully resolved? If so, you can fully appreciate the benefits of working through differences to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Unresolved conflicts can derail the agenda and prolong meetings, wasting valuable time and resources.

Surbhi mahnot

When left unaddressed, these conflicts can escalate and strain relationships among team members, hindering collaboration and teamwork. This becomes even more important in online meetings because, unlike in the boardroom, you cannot stay back and talk in person to resolve your issues. Therefore, closing all the open points before ending the meeting is crucial.

Surbhi Mahnot

Surbhi Mahnot

Surbhi Mahnot is the owner of this blog. She has work experience of almost 10 years in the IT industry in varied roles. At present, she is working full-time on this blog. She is passionate about the importance of personal growth in individual and work life, which reflects in her writing too. Travelling, reading, and shopping are her core interest besides work.