Community Management Crib Notes - Conflict Resolution 1/2 Video
Community Management Crib Notes - Conflict Resolution 2/2 Video

From The Art Of Community by O'Reilly ( by Jono Bacon

Even if you don’t manage to catch the warning signs and step in, you can apply a similar process to managing the actual conflict. Of course, experts have proposed many, many different approaches to resolving conflict, and each situation is in itself unique. There is no cookie-cutter approach to dealing with conflict, and experience is the best judge of how to move forward to resolve issues.

These steps map out the primary elements involved in conflict resolution, and you can build on them to form your own style. Interestingly, while I was reading some of the many books about conflict resolution, I discovered a theory developed by Johnson & Johnson in 1994. I have been living and practicing this approach to conflict resolution for years without realizing it had a name. I was all set to call it Bacon’s Great Conflict Resolution Theory when I discovered that those pesky Johnsons got in there first.

Irrespective of who coined the theory, it is a practical, real, and directly usable approach for communities. Let’s take a look at Johnson & Johnson’s approach:

  1. Collect data—learn what the conflict is about, and develop an objective picture of all parties’ perspectives.
  2. Probe—ask open questions, listen, and engage with all parties to get the full story.
  3. Save face—work toward a winning resolution for everyone, and try to avoid embarrassing either party while always remaining objective and unemotional.
  4. Discover common interests—finding common interests and alliances will help find points of commonality beneath the conflict.
  5. Reinforce—where both parties share a perspective and agree, reinforce those perspectives, and particularly try to use data to back it up.
  6. Negotiate—start simple, trying to get both parties to agree on simple solutions, and then continue to build toward the common goals of both parties involved.
  7. Solidify adjustments—Review, summarize, and confirm the areas in which both parties agree.

Each of the steps is performed one at a time. Naming and being conscious of these seven steps is useful to break down the process of conflict resolution. A little later we are going to walk through the resolution process and flesh out these steps, but before we do that, let’s cover some general best-practice elements involved in the entire process.

The Role of a Facilitator

When conflict occurs, the person who steps in to straighten out the issue has a role like a judge or magistrate: to investigate the issue fairly and objectively and to reach a conclusion based upon that fair and objective judgment. This is the role of the facilitator (also known as a mediator).

A facilitator can’t just be anyone: she must secure the trust and confidence of the warring parties. The parties involved need to have faith that the facilitator is going to take a fair, reasoned, and thorough approach to the conflict. The probability that the conflict will be resolved is hugely dependent on this faith. With this in mind, let’s spend some time looking at the profile of a great facilitator. This can give you some food for thought for your own role as a facilitator.

Be objective

Objectivity is the foundation of all effective conflict resolution. As we discussed earlier, you need to build faith in the participants. To do this, you need to build faith in the wider community that you can act in an entirely objective fashion. This raises a difficult question, though: how do you demonstrate objectivity in your community yet still offer opinions and direction? To remain objective, do you need to never express your own opinion?

Not at all. Objectivity does not spring from remaining aloof and above the fray, but in the way you engage in discussions and topics. This is all about how you interact with the community. There are a few simple best practices that can help communicate your objectivity to the community:

Be honest

There is no such thing as an objective but dishonest person. If your community doesn’t trust you, they won’t believe in your ability to be objective. As such, be honest at all times, privately and publicly.

Admit when you are wrong

Sometimes you are going to get it public. Instead of denying any mistakes or withering behind a wall of silence, put your head above the pulpit and admit when you get it wrong. This is an extension of being honest, and your community will respect you for it.

Don’t wear the flame suit

Every community has flame wars, that is, the arguments and disagreements that happen on mailing lists, websites, blogs, and elsewhere. Don’t get involved. Participating in the flame wars causes you harm in two ways. First, it raises the temperature, because a well-respected community member has sought to weigh in, which drags the war out longer.

Second, you don’t want a reputation for taking part in online spats. Instead, you want a reputation for resolving them elegantly, and the place for elegance is not in a flame war.

Don’t be afraid

Another key component in building honesty with your community is to be honest and up-front when you disagree with someone. Every so often, you are going to need to grab someone by the virtual collar and let him know what a destructive force he is. Under the premise that your conduct is fair and balanced and that the cause is reasonable, many community members will respect you for your frankness. Just be careful not to veer into outright bollocking.

Always remember that building confidence in your objectivity works only if you are genuinely...objective. Objectivity doesn’t grow naturally in most people; you need to consciously consider it and work on it.


There are many ingredients that can risk or taint your objectivity. One of the most significant is trying to remain objective when dealing with someone you just don’t like. Is it possible to be objective with someone who previously humiliated you personally on his blog? It is, but it requires careful and conscious consideration to ensure you keep on the straight and narrow and don’t let personal animosity blur your ability to judge a situation fairly. The solution to this is always to remember that the community is bigger than you, that guy, or anyone else. Your ability to resolve conflict is something that you are seeking to achieve for the community, and you need to keep its best interests at heart. That could mean engaging respectfully with someone you don’t like, even someone who was disrespectful to you.

Be positive

Conflict is not fun for anyone involved. A conflict situation is a mishmash of different emotions from the different parties: anger, frustration, annoyance, self-reflection, embarrassment, and more. You should do your best to lighten the atmosphere. Being positive breaks down into several stances. First, you should be positive about the ability to find a solution and an outcome. You need to give the participants of the conflict a positive impression that you can help, that you sympathize with their plight, and that you are going to help them to resolve the problems.

Second, you should be positive about the wider community and the values behind the project. As an example, whenever I have dealt with conflict situations in the Ubuntu community, I have started by reminding participants why we are all involved. This positivity not only reminds the participants of the important wider picture, but also highlights a connection between the members of the conflict.

Finally, there is huge value in just offering a generally positive and lighthearted approach to the situation. Having a generally positive demeanor, smiling, and using upbeat language and subtle humor are all great methods of lightening the slightly cloudy atmosphere. Of course, there is a balance to be struck here: don’t turn your role as facilitator into that of a stand-up cabaret comedian, but a few subtle, amusing references here and there will ensure that everyone stays as positive as possible.

Be open

I am going to let you in on a little secret. The word “open” irritates me. Well, let me be clearer: the overuse of the word “open” irritates me, and in recent years the word seems to be more prevalent than a furball in an animal shelter. When used within the context of conflict resolution, a valuable application of openness is to seek equality with all participants in the conflict and thus avoid cliques and in-jokes. Some years back, I was observing a friend of mine dealing with a conflict situation who managed to violate this goal of equality and openness. He did this by engaging differently with one of the participants: he knew that person more personally and referred to various in-jokes and private references. Rather unsurprisingly, the other person (who was just as bemused about the in-jokes as I was) felt he never had a shot at an objective judgment. Don’t make the same mistakes yourself.

Be organized when you put your feet firmly into the shoes of a facilitator. Make sure to schedule calls and meetings at times you can adhere to; under no circumstances should you simply skip meetings or stop responding to email. Timeliness is key.


Always document what happens during conflict resolution. Get permission to preserve emails and other communications from all parties. Write down notes from sessions. In this way, you can refer back to previous communications when people dispute the facts. Keeping records is also important because conflicts sometimes escalate to higher levels of the community, and members will want a history of what happened. Your conduct may even come under examination.

While it is important to keep records, don’t be tempted to quote people out of context and use their words against them. This serves no purpose other than to make people feel cornered. The records are instead a useful resource for keeping track of the discussion as a whole.

Be clear

The most fundamental task when beginning conflict resolution is to communicate to all parties involved the expectations around your role as facilitator. The primary expectations that I communicate are the following:

Solutions are the goal:

"I am here to find a solution." There may be open wounds and cuts and bruises from previous exchanges, but we all need to find agreement on how to move forward.

Evidence is central:

The process is going to concentrate on evidence as opposed to emotion. The facts and reality of a situation are the guiding force, and emotion, carping, complaining, and assumed perception are not going to have a place in the discussion. This does not prevent an aggrieved party from asking for discipline toward someone who has violated the community’s standards regarding respect, tolerance for others, and basic etiquette.

Conduct must be under control:

All discussion must be polite and respectful. You will not accept disrespectful, threatening, or violent behavior.

Compromise is the modus operandi:

The goal here is to find a solution that satisfies the majority of considerations in the main parties, but this solution may not be 100% of what everyone—or even anyone—wants.

By framing the conversation with these expectations on all sides, you will help get the conflict resolution wheels on the runway and prepare for takeoff.

Resolving the Conflict

Earlier we talked about the seven-step Johnson & Johnson method for dealing with conflict resolution. Over the following pages, we are going to explore this entire process by breaking it into five parts:

  1. Calm and reassure.
  2. Get the facts.
  3. Discuss.
  4. Document.
  5. Reflect and maintain.

These five parts will embody different steps of the Johnson & Johnson theory outlined earlier. In each part, we will discuss in detail the different considerations facing you. Each of these considerations is driven from countless conflict resolution incidents that I have been involved in over the years.

To make this content easier to understand, it is always good to apply the theory to a real scenario. As such, through the following pages I will be discussing a real incident that occurred between two very prominent members of a user group who were in fairly serious conflict over how to handle monetary donations to the group. Naturally I have changed the names to protect the innocent, but let me introduce you to the two characters:


Lee was loud, at times obnoxious and slightly egotistical, but despite these traits clearly a sensitive guy. His commitment to the group was unwavering, and he was always coming up with ideas and creative methods of growing the group and doing exciting things. With this in mind, Lee was keen to set up a facility to handle money (bank account, accounting, tax returns, etc.) and a governance body to handle this facility.


Alan was quieter than Lee, but never afraid to voice his opinion. Alan was the kind of guy who would bear grudges, but would not engage in confrontation. Alan took an immediate and visceral dislike to the idea of a money-handling facility. He was a firm believer in keeping the user group as simple as possible, and felt that Lee’s idea would create an unnecessary and complicated bureaucracy.

We will call this example “the fantastical user group debacle” and refer to it in each of the five parts. All set, friends? Let’s go....

Part 1: Calm and reassure

Before we begin the Johnson & Johnson items, the first step is to provide as much calm and reassurance as possible to the parties involved in the conflict. The goal here is to set the tone for the conversation so it begins without aggression and shouting. If you are receiving an aggressive tone, you should first have a conversation with the person involved and make it clear that you are there to help, but you can’t do anything until he calms down. Use reassuring and familiar language. For example, talk about “calm,” “resolving,” “peace,” and “community.” You absolutely cannot move forward effectively if an aggressive tone is used, because it will instantly deter the opposite side of the argument.

It is this very first step where you need to firmly assert your position as facilitator. You need to reassure the factions and seal your commitment to finding a solution, demonstrating absolute objectivity, and focusing on evidence in the interest of finding a solution. You need to strike a delicate tone here: sound reassuring and caring, but don’t sound like a pushover. You need to ensure both participants are clear that you will be firm and fair and that you will hear all sides of the story.

The fantastical user group debacle. Alan and Lee clearly disagreed over how to handle money in the user group. Although this was the current topic, the initial email I had received suggested this was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was becoming evident that the two just didn’t like each other very much and saw the world very differently.

Both had exchanged testy words with each other, primarily over email, but they shared even more fervent words about each other with me. The language was very emotional: talk of “hating” each other, “refusing” certain ideas, and “demanding” various assurances. To get this off on the right foot, I always prefer to discuss things on the phone. Both Alan and Lee were happy to talk, and I called both separately to begin the discussion.

It was important that these were individual phone calls. At the beginning of the calls, I received the expected vitriol toward the other, and I sought to calm them down first. I then made it clear that I was here to help, to offer an objective investigation into what had happened to cause this rift and to offer my input. With so much anger on display, I made it very clear that I had my own requirement before starting: a polite and reasoned tone. I stressed that aggression and bickering had no place in the discussion. Both agreed, and we were off to a good start.

My goal now was to help identify if there was a way these two passionate community members could straighten out their differences or at least work cohesively in the same volunteer environment.

Part 2: Get the facts

J&J Elements Covered: Collect data Probe

The goal of this phase is to assemble as much evidence about the situation as you can. The real focus and priority here is to find unequivocal evidence, that is, evidence of the situation that can be independently verified. Here we want to separate out emotion and get to the heart of what really happened.

You should first speak to those on both sides of the conflict and ask them to provide you with their stories. To engage in this discussion, you should first decide how to communicate with them. I would highly recommend doing this on the phone or via Voice over IP (such as Skype) if possible. A phone conversation is far more interpersonal and allows both parties to communicate more quickly than over email or a chat medium such as IRC.

When you gather this initial story, you should expect a fairly significant amount of venting and emotion. Expect both parties to speak quickly, dart the focus around different issues, and keep remembering details and frustrations that they had previously forgotten to mention in the conversation. While you have this conversation, bear a few things in mind:


Take your time and listen to the person carefully. Give her a chance to speak, get her frustrations off her chest, and provide you with as much data as possible.

Ask questions:

Start by asking the person to start at the beginning, walk her through what happened, and ask lots of questions about each step in the timeline. If you are uncertain about something, don’t be afraid to ask. Remember, you want to gather as much data as possible.

Don’t offer opinion:

Try your best to not offer an opinion or emotional reaction to what the person tells you. Even if you strongly agree or disagree with her sentiment, you should try to just gather the facts as best you can.

Make notes:''

Always have a pen and paper (or text editor) ready before you have the conversation. Note down the timeline, the issues, and other elements of the story. After this initial conversation, you should have a firm idea of all parties’ primary problems and concerns. At the end of the conversation you should ask for one more thing: ask both parties independently to send you an email with as much evidence and details that illustrate their concerns as possible.

The next step is to reenact a childhood dream that has been left dormant for years: to assume the investigative role of Columbo. That’s right, folks, it’s time to don the long mac, chomp on the somewhat dog-eared cigar, and begin hunting for additional third-party evidence. Here you want to augment the content submitted from the (naturally biased) participants of the conflict and find some other data that can help you figure out where things stand. With the focus very firmly focused on cold, hard evidence, you need to know where to look.

Some of these may apply to your community:

Public communication channels:

Look for public discussion on mailing lists, in logged IRC channels, social networking websites, and elsewhere.


Earlier in the book when we explored how to measure community, we talked about the hooks that can be used to extract meaningful data about your community. Think about which hooks could be useful to gather relevant data. As an example, if the conflict is surrounding a specific person screwing up bug reports, look into the bug tracker and make a note of the activity that occurred there.


Take a look at blogs, blog comments, articles, and other written material that may be relevant to the topic. There may even be evidence lurking in podcasts, online videos, and elsewhere.

When you have gathered as much evidence as you can find, you now have to consider whether you need third-party opinions. If the conflict concerns the conduct of people in the community, or it affects the wider community or other public issues, you may want to gather some feedback. There are two approaches to soliciting feedback, both of which have pros and cons. First, you could target specific people for their opinions on the issue. The benefit of this is that you can specifically target people who you know to be objective and unbiased on the issue. The downside is that you get a limited spread of knowledge that may not accurately reflect the situation.

The second approach is to have a call for more data from the general community. The pros of this approach are that it is open and inclusive to the wider community, but it does have problems: (a) it raises the profile of the problem, which is typically the opposite of what you want, and (b) it can bring out all manner of crazies.

I would personally recommend you take the former approach but ensure you have a wide spread of opinion and still maintain a strong sense of objectivity around the information that you receive.


When soliciting opinions about a conflict issue, you should do your best to obscure the identities of those from whom you solicit private opinions.

When you have solicited your evidence, input, and general feedback on the conflict, you will have enough material to begin forming a position on what has happened. Although you have to remember the possibility of bias in each piece of evidence and opinion, it is likely that you are beginning to get a broadly accurate idea of what has happened and what went wrong. You now need to reconcile this evidence and input with the goals, values, and perspectives of the community. Have any of the actions of those involved fallen outside the culture of your community? Is there any evidence of personal benefit being put forward as the best interests of the community?

Now is the time to review the situation and adopt your unbiased perspective to draw a conclusion on what has happened. With almost every conflict situation, the fault will lie on both parties in different areas. You should note down how each party could have handled the situation better and if and when they acted outside the reasonable (and preferably documented) expectations of the community.

The fantastical user group debacle. Earlier I mentioned that I had initial phone calls with Alan and Lee to calm their frustration. I used my phone calls partly to gather some initial feedback on what the primary issues were (the donation system being one of them) and their respective viewpoints.

Alan gave me a patchwork of his problems with Lee and Lee’s perspective, a stream of consciousness that came flooding toward me in one big disorganized mess of thoughts. I noted down everything he said, and regularly repeated key problems that he outlined to ensure we were both clear on what he was saying.

I then did the same for Lee. This time, an even more disorganized set of thoughts came flying in my general direction. Lee was less personally angry at Alan, but he was clearly frustrated with the situation and was growing impatient. Because the environment that encased these issues was a user group, I started doing some third-party research. I looked into their mailing list, lingered on their IRC channel, and had a few private one-on-one conversations with people whom I knew to be objective in that community. As I received more evidence, a pattern was forming: Lee’s requests were increasingly erratic, demanding, and personally driven. It seemed that Lee not only wanted a governed body to cover how money was handled, but he wanted almost absolute control himself. Reports of Lee’s demanding nature and self-perception of leadership was concerning other group members. Although it was clear he was not seeking to make money from the group, there was maybe a little too much desire for power in his plan. My hunch was that Lee’s desire for power was an insecurity caused by the rift between him and Alan, another very prominent community member.

At this point in the process, I was faced with two challenges. First, there were the specific relationship problems between Lee and Alan, but there was also the wider concern in the community surrounding Lee’s conduct and leadership efforts. My feeling was that if I could reduce the venom between Alan and Lee, this would (a) bring less of their personal anger to general community meetings, (b) drive toward a solution on the money handling issue, and (c) inspire Lee to become more reasonable and less power-hungry.

Part 3: Discuss

J&J Elements Covered: Save face Discover common interests Reinforce Negotiate

The next step is to engage in a conversation with both parties that nudges them toward a conclusion. The goals of this part are to discuss the issues, hear all sides together, and then to find solutions and consensus in areas where both sides agree. This is all about searching through the chaotic claims and memories for patterns where you can lay down an eventual consensus. By finding these patterns, you can make progress toward a general agreement and also build a more positive atmosphere around shared values as opposed to differing ones.

The first step is to schedule the discussion. If the conflict is between two specific people, the best medium for discussion is typically a conference call. This can happen on a range of online telephony services (such as Skype) or by using a conventional telephone conference call service. Many conventional handsets even support three-way conversations at no extra cost. If the conflict is public and part of a team or group, schedule a public meeting.

I have found the most suitable medium for this to be IRC. It allows people to share thoughts quickly so long as they can all get online at a specific time. Your choice of medium is heavily dependent on what is comfortable for your community. The most important factor is that it is real-time: the discussion needs the immediate give and take of a meeting of minds. Email and forums are fine for discussing general issues of the conflict, but the resolution really needs to happen in real-time. The most important points about scheduling a public meeting are that it should (a) be in a neutral or, if suitable, public place, and (b) it should be at a time that is convenient for the primary stakeholders in the conflict. What you want to avoid is scheduling a meeting when one of the primary participants has to get out of bed at 3 a.m. to take part in the discussion. That person will invariably be a little grumpier than normal (shock, I know!), and said grumpiness will infect the discussion and complicate matters.

Face-to-face meetings for conflict resolution are sometimes possible, and while valuable in many instances, I would generally recommend against them. Body language plays a huge role in face-to-face conflict resolution and can distract the participants from the issues and provide a more intimidating environment in which participants may struggle to find consensus.

Whether public or private, you should keep the length of the meeting to a set time slot (one hour is usually advisable). There are a few reasons for this. First, if you have an open-ended meeting, it will first go on for a long time and some of the participants will grow tired of the meeting before others, causing frustration. Second, a set time slot will keep everyone focused on the details and mitigate inane rambling, diatribes, and monologues, which are always common in these kinds of discussions. Finally, you need to think of your own sanity, too: dealing with a juicy three-hour chunk of conflict resolution can drive you potty. If you break down the discussion into manageable chunks, it will mean that the members of the discussion are always fresh and so are you.

With the meeting scheduled and everyone either on the line or in the channel, you can now begin the discussion. Although there is no fixed formula for handling these contentious topics, we will now discuss a broad template that can get you started. First, introduce the conversation. Say who you are and the role you are playing; state the purpose of your meeting; and reiterate the values, goals, and bigger picture of the community.

Make it clear that you are here to help and will be taking an objective role in discussing all the issues involved. Next, make clear the ground rules for the discussion. Make it clear that the discussion needs to remain polite and honest and that everyone should be driving toward a conclusion. Also make it clear that while everyone involved cannot fix the problems of the past, you can work together to produce a better future that avoids these issues. Reinforce that to achieve this better future it will require the commitment of everyone in the meeting to move toward a solution. Ask everyone to enter the discussion with an open mind to finding this solution. Now it is time to get to the meat of the entire conflict resolution process. Friends, this is where the action really happens. Discuss the different issues openly and objectively, seek additional input, and focus on how you can make small agreements here and there. Remember that the goal here is to achieve lots of little victories. Try to reframe the conversation away from what the participants disagree on and instead focus on what they agree on. Cover each issue one at a time and slowly build more and more little agreements. When you reach a consensus on a specific topic, make it clear that you are making progress (but don’t be tacky when celebrating this progress).

Throughout the meeting, take plenty of notes and be careful to note down areas in which you reach consensus. These notes should preferably be public so there can be agreement on the wording: the devil is always in the details. Make sure everyone understands the consensus, as sometimes subtle differences in interpretation can blow up later in the discussion. As such, when agreement is made, repeat it and ensure you get a clear agreement from everyone.

The devil is in the details here, too: when you repeat what you understand as the agreed-upon view, one of the members of the discussion is likely to disagree with a certain choice of words or require clarification. As such, adjust your language until everyone is happy. When you reach the end of your time slot, you should first thank everyone involved for their contributions, express pride that you all made progress, and repeat the areas in which you reached consensus. If you didn’t reach consensus on anything, indicate that you still made progress and that you are confident that more progress will be made in the next meeting. You should never end a meeting without scheduling the next one: this will ensure that the issue has a sense of continuity.

The fantastical user group debacle. To resolve the conflict between Alan and Lee, I scheduled a conference call to bring them together and discuss their different opinions. Fortunately, both were based in the same time zone, so I scheduled a call that was mutually convenient for them both. Before the call began, I refreshed my memory of the evidence using the notes that I had gathered. My goal in the call was to find as much consensus as possible, particularly around the money handling issue. While it was the group’s decision as a whole about how they handle donations, I was keen to reduce the vitriol from the Lee and Alan relationship because this would then help the discussion with the rest of the group to be less emotional.

When the call began, I largely followed the steps I outlined in the previous few pages. I introduced myself and my involvement, made it clear that reasoned and polite discussion was required in the call, and started covering each issue one by one. I started with general attitudes toward funding resources in the group. The first piece of consensus we achieved was that the group did want to conduct activities that required equipment and therefore an outlay of money. This was a step forward: both Alan and Lee agreed that the need to handle money in some way was required.

The next part of the discussion was to cover typical activities requiring money. Was this a small amount of money for printing and CD duplication, or was it a larger expense for equipment and travel? Consensus struck again with agreement that costs would be for small to medium expenses, the most expensive being a few nights in a hotel and a train ticket. At this point in the discussion, there was a general atmosphere of agreement in the call. Both Alan and Lee were loosening up and more pleasant with each other, and the growing sense of agreement was having an impact. As the call progressed, we edged further and further toward agreement on a series of different issues. After a few more small steps forward, the time was up. I reiterated our progress and we all agreed to have a wider meeting on the money handling topic with the wider community.

A week later, the community meeting kicked off, and I shared some of the agreements that Alan and Lee had formed. We then moved forward to discuss how donations would be handled, and the community agreed on PayPal. The next step was to discuss the crux of the issue: who would look after the money. Alan and Lee each expressed their perspectives in turn and other community members weighed in. A number of community members expressed concern over a full governance solution to handling money, and naturally Alan reiterated his views on the matter while Lee and some others provided their opposing views.

To find a middle ground, I proposed that instead of a full governing body to look after the money, Lee (who had been the primary champion of a money management facility in the group) would handle the funds but provide open accounting of the funds. I also recommended regular meetings with the group about how the money was being handled. Furthermore, I offered Lee the task of investigating what we would need to do to satisfy the local tax requirements.

The group unilaterally agreed. Bingo! This tentative and fragile agreement was the victory that we could build on to later reach a firmer sense of agreement and consensus. The next step was to document the extent of this agreement so everyone would be (literally) on the same page.

Part 4: Document

J&J Elements Covered: Solidify adjustments

As you proceed through your negotiations in the previous part, you should document each agreement in detail and ensure that both parties agree to what you have documented. It is this agreed document that is going to form the basis of cooperation between the two parties in the future.

With this document, once again, the devil is in the details. Ensure that you use precise, descriptive language and try not to use conflated or ambiguous words. This document should be unsexy but accurate: its purpose is not to enthuse or inspire, but to accurately describe the agreement in all of its boringly descriptive and unexciting glory.

As you build up this document, check in formally with each party to gain agreement on each addition. By the end of the discussions, when you have consensus on all major areas, the document should be no surprise to anyone.

The fantastical user group debacle. In the case of our friends Alan and Lee, I spent a total of three calls with them fleshing out a conclusion to the conflict. In each call we made progress, and with each agreement I noted the precise results in a document we all shared. After each meeting, I emailed them with a summary of what we agreed and the total set of agreements.

The act of documenting our progress and sharing it fostered a real sense of progress.

Part 5: Reflect and maintain

The final part of the conflict resolution process is twofold: to maintain progress on the agreed-upon outcomes and to encourage a general sense of personal development in the members ofthe conflict.

The former goal is an exercise in keeping your wheels on the road. Just because you have a set of written agreed-upon outcomes doesn’t mean that anyone is going to stick with them. Don’t hold the members’ hands as they execute the outcomes, but check in every so often and ensure everything is running smoothly. This can often be as simple as a quick email to each party to see how things are going. To ensure you don’t forget, it’s often useful to put it in your calendar for a few weeks’ time.

The second element is subtle yet important. In many cases of conflict, the participants often become very reflective at a later date. Many will review their actions and their conduct, and while they will remain resolute in some of their opinions, they may also express regret at how they handled certain situations.

These reflective lessons are valuable, and your community needs reinforcement when they happen. To see why, think back to when you have made your own reflections on your life. When someone has been by your side to cheer you on, it gives you much more determination to be consistent in the change. Because you are the person who helped get these two parties through the conflict, they will be looking to you for guidance and validation.

Offering this validation is something worth doing, but very carefully. There is a fine line between validating and patronizing. Help to validate them, but listen carefully to the feelings they express, and don’t rush. Get it right and not only have you unblocked the conflict but you have helped to improve someone’s life inside and outside of your community.

The fantastical user group debacle. After finishing the conflict negotiation with Alan and Lee and the wider group, I stayed in regular touch with them both and the team, and I still am today. I have had many an informal conversation with them on IRC, the phone, and blowing the froth off a few cold ones, and have helped to reinforce their growth. While I’ve helped them, they have helped me so much, too. The reason I picked their story for this example is no coincidence: it is their conflict that helped me to really understand the topic better—but more importantly, to understand them better. At its heart, conflict is about understanding people and helping them to understand each other, and sooner or later you will have your own Alan and Lee story to take lessons from.


BuildingCommunity/Conflict/Resolution (last edited 2011-10-21 04:08:59 by ahathaway21)