Conflicts can happen on any team, but conflict on remote teams need to be handled a little bit differently. Why?

“We’re massively reliant on nonverbal cues to help us read people and interpret situations,” says Ed Muzio, CEO of Group Harmonics and author of Make Work Great. “Trust happens when people do what we expect. When we’re robbed of the information that helps us know what to expect, the result is a more detached and skeptical dynamic, in which people feel a little less connected, a little less supported, and a little less sure they can rely on each other.”

The good news is that solid ways exist to help remote teams resolve conflict.

Consider these four strategies to maintain harmony among employees, regardless of location, and reign in conflict on remote teams:

1. Take preventative action.

What is an acceptable response time? How can I check on a colleague’s progress for a collaborative project? Tackling such questions head-on helps get everyone on the same page. Consider composing a remote team agreement. Not only does it outline a basic set of expectations for how you want to work together as a team, it’s also an effective way to learn about each other’s working styles. This article by Lisette Sutherland has some great tips on how to create such a document.

2. Ask questions.

Silence definitely is not golden when it comes to the possibility of discord. Muzio suggests addressing issues proactively with questions designed to encourage discussion such as:

  • “I sense that you’re not in full agreement, am I right?”
  • “How does this approach mesh with your other responsibilities?”
  • “Am I wrong in thinking this might create some problems for you?”
  • “What other information would you need to make a decision?”
  • “What’s the best approach, in your opinion?”

3. Confirm understanding.

Without witnessing a head nod or a puzzled look, it can be difficult to judge another person’s comprehension of what is being said. Skype and other forms of visual contact can help with such cues, making them the preferred form of communication for many companies.

But securing clarity can be done through any medium. Ask directly at the end of an email if what you’ve written makes sense and encourage questions. Make a point during conference calls of seeking responses from every person involved. You’ll ensure all get a chance to raise objections or concerns. Follow up both one-on-one conversations and group meetings with a document summarizing decisions and actions. Ask participants to review for both understanding and possible errors. It can then serve as a point of reference that will aid in work getting done and arguments being limited.

4. Prioritize respect.

Finally, don’t forget to extend basic courtesies to those with whom you work remotely. Use pleasant, positive language. Keep emotions in check. Assume good intentions rather than jumping to conclusions. Apologize when you make a mistake. Viewing remote colleagues as professionals who share your same desire to produce the best work possible will instill incentive to resolve differences and move ahead.