!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Easing Conflict via Internet Dialogue

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Easing Conflict via Internet Dialogue

A pair of researchers in Israel have provided a helpful summary of research concerning how biases and hostility people bring to contact with others can be diminished by enabling groups to talk to each other via Internet text-based dialogue.

Yair Amichai-Hamburger of Bar-Ilan University and Katelyn McKenna of Ben Gurion University argue that the Internet's unique characteristics help create effective intergroup contact "by creating a secure environment, reducing anxiety, cutting geographical distances, significantly lowering costs, and by creating equal status, intimate contact, and cooperation." A bit more expansively, the authors point to these benefits of using a virtual meeting space on the Internet (or, by extension, a company intranet):
Participants can readily take part from disparate locales and do so from a position of greater comfort and security than can be obtained in face-to-face meetings. Many of the most obvious status "give-aways" are not in evidence in text-based online interactions. When the status of a member is known, the nature of the communication medium tends to ameliorate the negative influence and effects that status can have on an interaction. Cooperative tasks can be conducted just as well online as they can were the participants to undertake them in person and, indeed, there may be greater willingness to take part in the online task. Finally, as our technology continues to evolve, better software tools are being developed that will enhance the meeting and interaction between participants in ways not possible in traditional settings.
Though Amichai-Hamburger and McKenna focus on encounters involving groups on two sides of a racial, political or similar divide, it is not much of a stretch to apply the principles they describe to a business setting in which groups in conflict need to find a way to overcome antipathy and work constructively together.

Other benefits of text-based virtual dialogue Amichai-Hamburger and McKenna cite include:
  • Less anxiety among participants because they have more control over how they present themselves and their views.

  • Socially anxious participants are viewed as more likeable and extroverted than when interacting in person and tend to take more active leadership roles than in face-to-face meetings.

  • Group norms can have a stronger effect than in face-to-face interactions.

  • Participants tend to develop an enhanced sense of attachment to the larger group composed of all those involved in the dialogue.

  • There is more mutual self-disclosure, which helps in the formation of interpersonal bonds and a sense of belonging and acceptance.

  • The vast information resources accessible via the Internet make it easy to supplement dialogue with information about the participants that helps them learn about each other.
Training professionals can assist their organizations in getting maximum benefit from virtual meetings by advising on how to structure and facilitate the interactions.


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