Conflicts in Communication

Let’s first read two fables:

Fable l: A fierce fight broke out between the Lion and the Tiger. Both of them were seriously injured in the end. When the Lion was about to die, he said to the Tiger: “if you have not tried to seize my domain, how can I end up like this!” The Tiger replied in suiprise, “I’ve never wanted that. I always thought you were going to invade my territory!”

Viewpoint: Communication with each other is a key element in sustaining different teams. Don’t bottle up what you want to say, communicate with others as much as possible, and let your colleagues know more about you. which will help you avoid many unnecessary misunderstandings and contradictions.

Fable 2: There were two birds living together. One day the male bird collected a nest of nuts and asked the female bird to properly store them. Due to the dehydration effect in dry weather, the nuts became smaller and seemed only half of the original amount. The male bird thought the female bird must have eaten them and scolded her. However, several days later, the rainfalls made the air humid and all the nuts swelled into a full nest. At this moment, the male bird was awakened, he felt so ashamed that he apologized to his mate, "I am sorry to have wronged you!”

Viewpoint: Team members must trust each other, since so many teams are ruined by suspicion and mistrust. Therefore, team members must maintain trust and guard against any suspicion,.

The above fables tell that although some problems are caused by a third party, the lack of communication and trust can still lead to conflicts between the two parties, and offshore teams may encounter more complicated situations.

The following situations occur frequently, so we should be prepared in advance in order to take targeted approaches when necessary:

■ The customer is not cooperative while working, he only considers his own duties without thinking for our party.

■ It is difficult to reach agreement on the timing of meetings, and the party making concessions will blame the other party not considerate enough.

■ Language problems make communication with offshore teams more difficult, and offshore teams are often disturbed by information loss.

■ Dissatisfaction with a specific problem extends to dissatisfaction with the entire team.

■ Disrespect the other party’s hard work. It is mainly manifested in neglect of other party’s research results, jam through his own solutions, or show no acknowledgment after his expectations are exceeded.

■ Throw a wet blanket on others. When someone further asks why a task was completed in certain ways, he gets an answer as “that’s our way of making decisions” which lacks the support of data, discussion processes, and quantitative indicators.

■ Offshore teams sometimes do things casually and pay less attention to their duties, which affects the daily work of local teams. For example, they do not return the token, thus causing others fail to submit the codes.

If all teams are located in one place, when there is a conflict, they can sit together to solve the problem face to face. But for distributed teams, team members cannot meet each other, it is more difficult for them to resolve conflicts, this is because they cannot observe each other’s facial expressions and body language, and have fewer opportunities to understand each other. To resolve conflicts in writing is a bad choice, because we cannot see the other party’s expressions or hear their voices. Without the tone of voice, we cannot catch any small emotions. In a company where I had been working, I witnessed the fierce confrontation in e-mails between colleagues, they were mistakenly guessing each other’s ideas, and finally had to terminate the e-mail communication. To call in all parties to open a video meeting is a compromise solution, which saves costs and increases the sense of presence.

When it comes to resolving the conflicts in communication, the professional advice is that we should learn to listen. However, in the case that offshore teams are involved, it is not enough to listen, but also to express your thoughts fully and accurately after listening. If you are confident in your own thinking, you may convince others to accept your ideas.

Speaking of the scope of requirements, the depth of each requirement cannot be infinitely expanded. In this regard, we are more prone to argue with our customers, since they often add new requirements, either intentionally or unintentionally. We must know well to which extent each function should be developed. When the user requirements are more complicated than the original plan, we must show them to the customer, and tell him that we are not turning down these requirements, but we need to reprioritize the tasks and shift our attention to truly valuable functions. Such practice is particularly suitable for the fixed-price projects.

Typical Ways for Distributed Teams to Resolve Conflicts

The typical ways for distributed teams to resolve conflicts are made up of objective measures and subjective thinking.

Objective measures mainly refer to playing remote ice-breaking games, creating conditions for face-to-face discussion, and seek the intervention of senior officials (they are about to play the role of a coordinator, rather than a judge). The purpose of these measures is nothing more than increasing mutual trust, pushing each other to focus on positive factors, focusing on solutions instead of blaming each other, and discussing the root causes of conflicts only based on facts. The goal of all efforts is to visualize and increase the transparency between different teams. When we have to guess some matters of the other party, we often do not draw conclusions from the optimistic perspective. For an offshore team with some on-site personnel, it may assign these persons to discuss w'ith the customer out of work, because the feeling of tension may be eased after leaving the working environment.

Subjective thinking mainly refers to solving problems by considering something as it stands.

■ Stick to facts and distance oneself from interest relations. In order to resolve the conflict, if we fail to achieve justice, but influenced by some irrelevant factors, we can never have the two sides sincerely convinced.

■ Seek common ground while reserving differences. Even if customers blame our working methods or content, we should avoid quarreling with them, which is of no help in solving any problem. We need to seek the common ground between our two parties and find out the parts that we can agree on, and then figure out means to settle differences. The “tit for tat” communication only highlights differences, the right way to do is to seek common ground while reserving and managing differences.

■ Think empathically. Each party shall try to think about problems from the other party’s standpoint, which helps to understand the underlying reasons behind their behaviors.

Dare to say “no”

In order to be recognized by the main stakeholders, we cannot adopt all the ideas and requests without discrimination, because such an approach can only increase unreasonable requirements, distract the goal of the offshore team and disrupt its original plan and rhythm. According to Steve Jobs, innovation is not to adopt all functions, but to retain the most critical ones and delete others. The ability to do subtraction is one of the key factors that Jobs made a hit, which also applies to teamwork. We should keep a sober mind that teamwork is not to meet every requirement of the customer or other teams, but to find out whether the distributed work is reasonable and whether it has a negative impact on us, and help the customer do subtraction when necessary.

If the customer representative who works with us fails to control their requirements, and even indulges frequently changing requirements, we must obtain a written reply from him to confirm the requirements, and refuse to work for any newly-added requirements without such confirmation. In this way, even if the customer keeps changing his requirements in the future, and we have to adjust our workload, we are well-founded to ask him to pay for our increased workload separately.

It is a difficult task to make distributed teams trust each other, and it is even more challenging to repair a soured relationship between them. Therefore, offshore teams are encouraged to immediately expose the contradictions, which leaves room to have them stifled in the cradle. In case of any difficulties, neither party should be a bystander. Both parties shall first examine themselves and reflect on their behaviors since every man has his faults and needs continuous self-improvement.

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