Text — Is It the New Conflict Resolution Tool?

By Jan Ferri-Reed

I was with a client recently doing some one-on-one coaching when I noticed that his attention was diverted by the buzzing of his phone. He appeared to be receiving multiple text messages. I asked him if everything was OK and he sighed and said he was receiving text messages from a colleague who was distressed by a recent incident that involved him and his colleague. When I asked what happened, he said, “I am working on a project for a client with this colleague. We had some questions, and so I took it upon myself to contact the client for the answers. My colleague thinks I went behind his back and now he is upset with me.”

Obviously, this conversation opened a gateway for me to coach him on his handling of the situation and what he wished he would have done differently or better to show team support. But additionally, I was baffled. Is it OK to handle conflict through text messaging? And while coaching this employee, I noticed he had not texted his colleague back. I could not help but wonder if he was sitting there seething that he was being ignored, or that his concerns were being viewed as insignificant.

When talking, people can air what is really bothering them, and when in person, facial expressions and body language are evident, making resolution to a conflict much less stressful.

Handling conflict via text strikes me as a less assertive way to resolve issues — almost like the old days of calling someone when you knew you could leave a voice message rather than talking directly with the person to iron out difficulties between you.