Leadership advice

How do we resolve real conflict in a virtual newsroom?

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

Here’s a real challenge for virtual teams: distance can reduce empathy. It’s harder to see the world through someone else’s eyes when you don’t often see their face. Here are some truths and tips to reduce conflict and misunderstanding.

  • The more important a message is, the more it benefits from what scholars call the “richest” form of communication — one that lets people see and hear each other, listen for tone, read body language and gestures, provide immediate responses and question what they doubt or don’t understand. Use Zoom or Skype on a regular basis to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Because we need to text and Slack and email, and do it often, make certain your brief messages don’t come across as terse or your delayed response doesn’t seem like a diss. If you write “mhm” in response to a message, and for you it’s, “I agree” — for someone else, it might be “whatever.” Spell out your interest. And Make it safe for people to ask “What do you mean?” as an earnest question and be prepared to explain your communication intentions, preferences and quirks.
  • If you weren’t fond of someone before, you’re unlikely to give them the benefit of the doubt now. But give it a try. Promise yourself you’ll first try viewing their words or actions through a neutral to positive lens. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, it’s time to set up a difficult conversation to resolve what’s at the bottom of your anger.
  • Remember that we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. That leaves lots of room for bad calls. Be explicit about your intentions. “What’s your story status?” may sound like “I don’t trust you.” But “I’m checking on your story status because they’re pushing me for graphics” keeps me from misreading your intent.
  • If you’re ticked off about something — step away from the keyboard. Use a call to work things out rather than escalating things online.

Have questions? Ask away.


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