Researchers Suggest How to Manage Virtual Conflict - Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

October 20, 2021by Elise Sanchez

Summary of:

Gail F. Thomas. (2020). Perspective: Managing virtual team conflict. the Western ABC Bulletin, 2.2.

Background & Theory

Conflict in the workplace has always been acknowledged as a part of workplace culture. With different people coming together with a variety of backgrounds and beliefs, along with differing conflict styles, having a diverse group of people together can lead to disagreements that can later become workplace conflict. While this is a topic that is still being explored and studied, with the pandemic and new styles of office space, managers and supervisors are now having to tackle and navigate virtual team conflict.

Research Question(s)

In the article Managing Virtual Team Conflict, author Gail F. Thomas asks these discussion questions based on the content of the article:

    1. ​​What can you say about the conflict behavior that might be present given this team’s conflict handling profile? Where might the team be overusing and underusing the various modes?
    2. What additional team factors might need to be considered during COVID-19? How might you discern COVID stressors that might be impacting your team? What can you do about any stressors that might exist?
    3. You’ve observed process and interpersonal conflict issues with your team.  How might you address and minimize process and interpersonal conflict for your team?
    4. What is required to build collaborative skills among your team members?  How might you go about strengthening these skills for your team?


Due to the new working environments, researchers have been looking into how these new methods of communicating and virtual working are creating new areas of conflict that are still unknown in nature.  However, more scholars have studied virtual team effectiveness. The article reflects on how Schulze and Krumm (2017) created a synthesis of knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAO’s) that are needed by virtual team members.


From the content in the article, the research suggested that face-to-face teamwork can be challenging, virtual teamwork can be even more difficult especially under the stresses of a pandemic. They found six KSAO clusters which include the following:

  • Media – knowing when and how to use specific media
  • Communication – skillful knowledge sharing and an ability to send and interpret messages appropriately
  • Trust – skills to develop and maintain interpersonal trust including responsiveness, dependability, active and frequent participation
  • Intercultural – knowledge and skills to enhance interaction with people from different cultures
  • Self-management – skills to manage oneself effectively
  • Conflict management – the skill to effectively manage conflict

In addition to this, different conflict styles stemming from Thomas Kilmans’ research were also referenced. These differing conflict styles are the following:

  • Competing (high assertive and low cooperativeness)
  • Avoiding (low assertiveness and low cooperativeness)
  • Accommodating (low assertiveness and high cooperativeness)
  • Compromising (mid-level assertiveness and mid-level cooperativeness)
  • Collaborating (high assertiveness and high cooperativeness)

What This Means

  • New environments and modes of workplace functions can lead to frustration and team conflict
  • Understanding how individuals handle conflict and their area of expertise in the team can aid in catching disruptions quickly.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: Having good training for managers and supervisors for not only workplace conflict, but also additional training for new ways conflict can occur with the changing environment of the workplace can help eliminate conflict. Catching the scenarios quickly aids on providing a cohesive and productive working environment.

For everyone: Conflict is inevitable and something that is uncomfortable for a lot of people to work through depending on their situation and conflict style. Within the world of virtual teambuilding, being open-minded and understanding these differences in conflict styles can affect working relationships and working environments during conflict.

Elise Sanchez

Élise Sanchez is a double alumnus from Pepperdine University where she holds a Masters in Dispute Resolution from the Caruso School of Law and a Bachelors in both International Relations and French from Seaver College. During her time in her studies she found her passion for being an advocate for those who need help amplifying their voices. After finishing her International Relations degree, she decided to go on for her MDR to learn how to be a better advocate and peacekeeper.

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