After almost 2 years working fully remote, I am honestly scared of the 🙂 .
The fact that at some point Slack pushed an update for this to be called :slightly-smiling-face was hilarious and a reassurance that I am never going to argue online.
With the potential of things going downhill, here are a couple of the techniques that I used to navigate tense situations:
1. Do not argue in writing
When we share our point-of-view with other people, the content of our words is only part of the message. The pace and intonation that we use in our speaking bring gravity and emphasise different key points in our speech.
Arguing in writing is the equivalent of adding a comma in the wrong spot. You are leaving the intonation to be dependent on the other person’s emotional state. We all had workers that we didn’t really get along with and with that, comes a different way of reading their replies.
Opt for a video call to gain better control of your message.
2. Enquire, rather than accuse
A lot of our tense situations came from wrong assumptions. Like giving design feedback, it is worth enquiring about the reasons behind their POV rather than try and tear down their perspective. Some examples:
Instead of saying “This was really offensive”, I would say "It would be good to understand what was your past experience with this that made you think that...”
Ask for their ideas, and truly listen. Clarify their POV by summarising what they said back to them.
Usually, you find that the digression from the common POV was not in the conclusion but rather an earlier experience that was misunderstood or a totally different reason (for ex: feeling threatened or disrespected)
3. If you need to make a difficult call, provide reassurance and a reverse strategy
When there is reputation on the line, people want to do a good job.
When you are trying to launch products fast, this sometimes can lead to “doomsday prepping”.
Building for scale before you have customers. Trying to build fully automated solutions for less-likely problems. Trying to polish every corner in order to avoid launching something that you are not confident in.
When team-working gets tense because of these situations, it helps to keep a register of what the risks can be. Get clarity with your team on what the risk is, how likely it is and what will you do if it actually happens.
Being able to reverse something in case it happens and getting everyone to contribute to the solution can make people feel listened.