Dealing With Conflict
Conflict between people is something that happens in all communities. Although you may have a team of people who are all wanting the same approximate goal, different people have different views of how to achieve that goal, and some people just don't get on. When this happens, conflict can arise and it can make life unpleasant for the community when two or more people are in conflict and arguing with each other. In these situations you need to try and resolve the issue as quickly as possible and get the atmosphere of the team back to being a happy and pleasurable place to be.
There are a number of techniques that you can use to help resolve conflict, and this guide aims to cover many of them. Through all of this there is one golden rule when it comes to resolving community:
Calm it, understand it and put processes in place to resolve it.
Always keep this motto in your mind when trying to resolve conflict.
Being the right person to resolve conflict
Resolving conflict is not easy. It requires a patient listener - someone who is willing to listen to all sides of the story, understand all views and advise on a suitable solution to the problems. This is not about picking a sides, it is about identifying what the problem is and solving it.
Of course, when conflict occurs, people get angry, and their anger may be taken out on you, and they may seem difficult and unwilling to cooperate with you. This can test your patience, and you need to be careful to be honest and focused, but to not lose your temper or make rash decisions.
Another important factor here is that you should have the respect of the people involved in the conflict and be authoritative enough that they will respect your advice and suggestions to resolve the problem. This does not mean you have to be a leader, but a well respected member of the community who all parties in the conflict have confidence and respect in. You should also not be clearly allied with any specific member of the conflict - you should be as bi-partisan and objective as possible, and everyone needs to have confidence in this.
The very first step is to calm the situation. You should make clear that you are working to resolve the situation, and that you are going to be objective and detailed in your work to resolving things. You need to give all parties confidence that you are here to improve the situation, and make it clear that the arguing, bickering and fighting needs to stop to make progress. Getting people calm is an essential first step.
The next thing you should do is speak to all parties involved in the conflict and ask them to fill you in on the details. You should try to understand all viewpoints and get a good feel for all sides of the story. Also, do remember that much of this opinion and information will be contradictory as people have different recollections, opinions and spins on the subject. Try to develop a picture and timeline of events and develop evidence for the most likely period of events.
Getting everyone on the same page
You should now organise a meeting to get everyone involved at. The aim of this meeting is to get everyone who is involved together a mediator (you). You will lead the discussion, cover the issues and try to resolve the conflict.
The best place to get people together is in an IRC meeting. Mail each of the parties involved with a suggested meeting time and IRC channel, and ask if everyone can make it. Make sure that all of the core parties are in attendance - if this means re-arranging the times until you find a suitable time for everyone, so be it. It is essential that all of the core parties are involved in the meeting.
It is recommended that you have a first meeting with just the parties involved to resolve specific personality and other conflicts, and then you can always organise a second meeting for the wider team if required.
How to resolve the conflict
So, you have calmed people down, got them together and you are mediating. How do you resolve the conflict? Unfortunately, there is no 'magic button' for this and it depends on the situation, personalities and context of the conflict. There are however some things you should keep in mind and some things to try:
- The real goal is to find common ground - find ways in which conflicted people do agree and determine how well they can work together. Some conflicts are so deep rooted that people just cannot work it out, but some issues people can dislike each other or disagree yet still work on the same the project. Find this common ground.
- Try to understand the crux of the problem, and think of ways in which the problem can be eliminated. As an example, if you have two personalities that just don't like each other, have them work on different things so they interact with each other less and as such can both contribute but not interact and start arguments and fights.
Conflict in technical decisions
Always adhere to the CoC. Try to stay on-topic, try to be pragmatic and goal-oriented.
- Try to get input from more people. It's important to understand the problem from all angles: Users, Sysadmins, Ubuntu, Debian, Upstream. Try to think of people who know a lot about one of these areas and the specific problem you're trying to solve.
- Start a mailing list discussion or schedule an IRC meeting with all these people and discuss what the minimal consensus would be to improve things. What would need to be fixed in an ideal world? What can be done in the next release? What needs to happen upstream, in Debian, in Ubuntu? How can the fix best be tested?
- Summarise the discussion and the conflicting opinions.
- If you feel that picking up the phone (or skype, ekiga, etc.) and talking to the people involved is beneficial (it almost always is), schedule a call.
If no agreement can be reached, notify the Technical Board. Add your agenda item to TechnicalBoardAgenda - link to the summary of your discussion. (If the outcome of the discussion is important for the Ubuntu release, please notify members of the ubuntu-release team as well).
If the problems are personal or on a social level and you're unable to work out the conflict, you can take it to the Community Council.
Key things to remember
When working to resolve conflict, always bear the following things in mind:
- Those who can effectively resolve conflict need to have the respect of the parties involved
- Always remain objective
- The aim is to not pick a side, but to understand the problem and to solve it