If one of your New Year’s resolutions (or dreams) is to get along better with a remote coworker, you aren’t alone. Working with someone in the office every day and maintaining a great relationship can be hard on its own. When you add distance into the mix things can get a little hairier.
A few years ago I worked on a daily basis with a co-worker in New York. I’m sure he’s a great guy and I think I’m pretty OK, but for some reason almost every conversation we had infuriated the other person. Things such as email and Slack don’t bring across your tone, which while it might be jovial can come off as curt or offensive, and that great “joke” you try and tell can instead come across as the opposite. How you intend for your interactions to go isn’t always how they work out.
Harvard Business Review recently published a few tips on how to resolve a conflict with someone you work with remotely so you can work together better.
To start, HBR suggests contacting that person and just asking for a time to chat. If you’re frustrated there’s a good chance they are too. There’s also a good chance they have no idea that your relationship is problematic, and there’s no reason to make it difficult by starting things off with an argument.
Instead, kick things off by saying something along the lines of “I’m finding working remotely challenging and would love to chat for a few minutes about what’s working and how we could be more effective.”
When you’re offering them the opportunity to provide feedback you’re opening the door for them to share what might be bothering them as well. Rather than putting them on the defensive, you’re instead starting a dialogue where hopefully) the two of you can work together to create a mutually positive situation.
Another good tip from HBR is to have that chat via video if in-person isn’t an option. Video chat will enable you to see that person’s facial expressions, so you can see there’re actually being friendly, not hateful in their comments.
Explain to the person what they do that bothers you, but try to do so in a specific but no accusatory way. For instance, instead of saying “I thought you were rude in this meeting,” you might say “I felt like you didn’t respect me when you interrupted my presentation.”
You get the same point across, but you’re explaining how the action affected you. Ask them how they perceived the situation. They might have a totally different idea of what happened that will change how you feel.
After you’ve spoken, come up with a plan of action going forward. HBR suggests setting up a specific time period to check in with that coworker. Perhaps once a week or once a month to keep the conversation going.
It isn’t an idea that’s going to work for every difficult coworker (I’ve definitely had a few where I know this wouldn’t exactly fly), but it can be a good first step toward dealing with the issue and having a much more pleasant work experience in 2018.