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Collected on this page are some techniques to avoid or to resolve conflict. Since conflict is a natural part of life, most will likely apply in any context. However, certain forms of conflict are unique to OnlineCommunity, so some will likely only apply in that context. Also related, the ConflictCycle, ConflictIntensity?, HealthyConflict. For wiki-specific discussion, see WikiConflictResolution.
When people are experiencing conflict it is useful to analyze the potential SourcesOfConflict and draw potential interventions. Conflicts may be about:
- Data (e.g., lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, different interpretations of the data)
- Relationships between people (e.g., misperceptions or stereotypes, repetitive negative patterns, PersonalityConflict)
- Differing interests (e.g., perceived or actual competitiveness, procedural interests)
- Differing values (e.g., different ways of life, ideology, religion, CommunityExpectation)
- Structure (e.g., unequal control, ownership, or distribution of resources)
Each of these types of conflict can be resolved with interventions such as: agreeing on a process to collect and analyse data; setting core rules to block negative repetitive behaviors; developing exchanges to satisfy the interests of the different parties; allowing parties to agree to disagree; reallocating ownership or control of resources.
1.1. Avoid or prevent conflict
- AssumeGoodFaith. If you assume the best in others, you are less likely to get it wrong. Moreover, if you do, you will limit your own exposure.
- IgnoreMalice?. Closely related, when you encounter what is clearly malice, ignore it. At least when maliciousness is rare. Don't be intimidated by it, and don't attack it - ignore it.(AssumeStupidityNotMalice)
- DontLookAtTheFinger. Don't be distracted by irrelevant or unimportant issues, especially those of form.
- FairProcess. Try to understand and respect other people's interests. Don't be unfair from the start.
1.2. Identify conflict
- NameTheConflict. If you identify what's going on, the situation might quickly diffuse.
- OpenDiscussion. Identify and solve the problem by talking it out. Address problems, not personalities.
1.3. Reduce conflict
- BusinessAsUsual. Continue doing what you enjoy while the conflict rages on. Also, don't show that the other party has power over you by changing your behaviour (DissuadeReputation).
- SmoothItOver?. Play down the differences, while playing up the commonalities at the same time.
- TimeOut?. Take a deep breath, go for a walk, come back later ... and things may look different.
- SeekCommonGround?. End turns by stating something that you do genuinely agree with or respect about the person you are in conflict with. This tends to reduce the SaintsOrSinners? polarisation that otherwise maintains conflict. Be careful not to let this morph into the AntiPattern of lipservice of agreement -- having the statement of agreement occur at the end of your turn, without embellishment, helps there.
- TacticalDistraction? -- distract the participants. Popping a balloon or dropping a tray of glasses can work wonders. This is most useful where the conflict has taken on a life of its own, and works best when a non-involved party does the intervention.
- TacticalEngagement? -- Engage one of the parties of the conflict in a discussion/debate, drawing away their energies from the conflict. A key point is that this is done not to win the debate, but simply to distract and engage the person. Similar to TacticalDistraction?, but takes more resources to effect, and occurs over a longer timespan.
1.4. Solve the conflict
- SeekThirdParties? as ConflictMediator. When stuck against the thorny bushes, get a third party involved to help end the dispute. Conciliation, consultation, mediation, arbitration, adjudication or authoritative command.
- SuperordinateGoal. Force (or convince) the parties to agree to a goal that cannot be attained without cooperation.
- FindConsensus?. Different from compromise, seek out the common ground that both sides hold. Deliberately focusing on something that can be agreed upon can break the adversarial cycle. It can also reveal the blindingly obvious solution that is staring you in the face.
- CompromiseAgreement?. Each party gives up something for the greater good of each other.
- ChangeThePeople?. Train people to deal with others better, and to alter needling attitudes. Deals with PersonalityConflict.
1.5. Live with conflict
- AgreeToDisagree. Some conflicts will never be "solved", only abated. Live and let live.
- Vote. Of course, voting should be the last resort. (see VotingIsEvil, WikiVoting). Voting doesn't change the conflict, change the minds or interests. But it creates a decision and it wins a kind of TimeOut? (decision may be reconsidered).
- SurrenderWithGrace?. Agree to let it go their way, not yours. Similar to AgreeToDisagree, except available even when the conflict isn't totally intractable. You decide that this is not the hill to die on. Surrender the battle, win the war.
- ForgiveAndForget. The time honoured principle in many cultures. Pettiness isn't prettiness.
1.6. TacticalEngagement? and Fork the community
''I'm putting these two techniques to effect on
Wiki:SocialAcceptabilityOfWikiVandalism. There is a Wiki:WikiVandal
that was damaging scores of pages, putting himself in conflict with
the rest of the Wiki:WikiCommunity. He is now currently too busy
debating the merits of his action to be doing more damage.''
I attempted to employ these myself (little did I know the person had
already grown bored of the whole affair and left for the day), but
only while I was silently tracing the offender's location and
attempting to neutralize them for real. You have to be careful with
this. If the attacker's point is to gain attention, giving them
attention is only encouragement to do it again. When I look at
Wiki:SocialAcceptabilityOfWikiVandalism, I can't help by roll my eyes
and think, "You have been trolled." The incident is not worth
debate. Real diversions are totally tangential to the issue as
they are meant to divert attention. I tried talking about the
weather in Melbourne, Australia, where the attacker lives. --
These are ways that can resolve a conflict (ie. make it go away), but the medicine is worse than the disease. Please don't use these techniques.
- ShoutThemDown?. Don't let a single point slide, hammer every point, repeat to absurdum.Eventually you will wear down your opponent and they may either AgreeToDisagree, compromise, or SurrenderWithGrace? (or without). See also Wiki:ConversationalChaff
- EnlistIdiots?. Bolster your side by appealing to the peanut gallery, apply sophistry to appeal to the unwashed masses passing by. Encourage them to add their voice to your side of the debate. Deploy demagogurey.
- Involve more people. The more you spread the conflict, whether by enlisting idiots or just ordinary people, the longer it is likely to go on for and the more damage it is likely to do.
- LieCheatSteal?. Pretend to AgreeToDisagree, compromise, (etc), but its just a charade. As soon as their back is turned you strike.
1.8. Helpful Links
An interesting and related site campaigning for the end of workplace bullies.
And of course, in the case of versioning systems
- UseRevisionNumbersInsteadOfTimeStamps?. why? even on this wiki, there has been instances where two people edited and saved the same page in the same second, hence the timestamps were not different, and thus no conflict was detected. This bug in UseModWiki has been fixed (IIRC)
Wiki:SixThinkingHats, IntroductionIntoCriticalThinking, ConflictVsCooperation
There are many conflict resolution institutes all around the world. Some links: Conflict Resolution Information Source , Conflict Resolution Center International , Journal of Conflict Resolution , etc.
These links were found by Google and are offered as a starting place, not as recommendations. If you have recommendations, just replace the links. -- AlexSchroeder
1.9. A philosophy: The rope analogy
Conflict is a knot in the rope emotionally binding two people together. Ending the conflict is getting rid of the knot. There are three ways to do this. The knot is a stress point in the rope, a place where it is weak. Thus, one can pull the knot tighter, and tighter, and tighter until the fibers of the rope strain and crack and break, until finally the rope breaks apart at the stress point that is the knot. Exacerbate the conflict until finally you overcome your opponent or she overcomes you, and this is what will happen.
One can use mechanical intervention to sever the rope on your side of the knot. This is a quick and efficient way to remove the knot from you, but it really leaves the knot still there on the other side. One must also employ a tool to help, such as a knife or scissors, and you may not have one available. While you are cutting, you will encourage your opponent to pull harder on the knot to wrest control of the situation away from you. If your knife isn't sharp enough to cut the rope, you will be left with a tighter knot.
Both these solutions destroy the rope; the third way is the only way to still have a rope at the end, the only NonViolent means to free the knot. Stunningly obvious, one can simply untie the knot. Untying the knot is difficult. To untie the knot, one must first become the knot. Some knots are simple and take very little spiritual effort to untie. Others are very complicated and may be very difficult. Others may seem impossible, but remember that if the knot was tied, it can be untied.
It's easier to untie a knot if you stop pulling on it. It's even easier if both stop pulling, and both start untying.
Remember, if you pull on the rope, the natural reaction is to pull back in order to keep balance. If you manage to keep balance and let someone pull the rope long enough, they may gain enough of the rope to hang themselves; we might try to avoid letting people do that.
Finally, one or both may decide to stop pulling the rope and just drop it. The knot will remain, but it will no longer be a force in either's lives.
Other Comments and Observations
One thing that really hit home working on Wikipedia is that people can have the same overall goal: make Wikipedia a good and useful encyclopedia, but disagree wildly on the specifics. I suppose that is partly due to the goal being very "long-distance".
Or just natural group dynamics. Same goal, just need to figure out how to work together to get there.
Should not we separate the techniques that seeks a real constructive conflict resolution, from the ones merely temporarily fixing the matter and likely to see the conflict appear again after a while ? I think of TacticalDistraction? or TacticalEngagement? for example.
These are indeed useful, but more for ConflictExtinction? than ConflictResolution :-)
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