Conflict management and resolution, rather than avoidance, is quite possibly the interpersonal skill I’ve needed to put the most effort into while learning the community ropes. Some time ago on #CMGRHangout, Jonathan Brewer, Dom Garrett and I hosted Katie Bapple, Jared Cummings, Patrick Hellen, David Hurley and Aimee Jarboe as panelists to discuss Managing Community Conflicts and Controversies. While we wore costumes, both real and digital, to lighten up the conversation, reality is the discussion took place not long after Gamergate and had a very serious tone.
We actually covered a lot of content in this panel, but I want to zone in on what I feel are three steps to managing conflict in communities:
- Breathe. It sounds too simple, right? Remember when your parents taught you to count to 10? (Or maybe you heard them counting to 10.) It’s the same concept. Never respond in anger. Instead, take a step back. Maybe you need to count higher than 10, or go for a walk. Do what you need to do to mentally step back and remove your personal feelings from the situation.
- Assess. Make sure you’re listening closely and really getting to the heart of the conflict at hand. Never assume that you know the full story, instead consider those involved and ask questions where needed. Get context.
Our panel had a lot to say on this:
- Aimee mentioned that for her, managing conflict was “a lot of listening to people, understanding what they’re actually complaining about.” She’s always careful to take the time to get to know “what was really bothering them and sometimes just hearing them out.”
- Jared had similar advice, “See what the initial response is. … Then reach out to people, actually talk to them, and see if you can get any more clarification, see if you can really get to the heart of it.”
- Dom also cautioned to “really try to look at [the conflict] as objectively as possible.” and said “The first step that I always take is making sure to not take a side immediately.”
- Katie agreed, “The first step is really to review how contentious the conversation or the issue really is.” She then pointed out that, “you should be able to gauge what the behavior patterns are for those specific members. Has this person been known to create conflict?”
- Address. While you don’t always need to step in, avoidance is generally not your friend for managing conflict in communities. While community professionals have differing opinions on whether to resolve the issue in public or private, I would caution two things here:
- If you choose to address the issue privately, leave some indication that you’re doing so publicly.
- Always go back to “How can I help?” (This is probably the best piece of community management advice I’ve ever received, and from one of my mentors: Rhonda Rondeau.)
While I tend to address most conflicts privately, Patrick made a strong case for public resolution, “The evolution of the conversation ends up being almost as valuable as fixing the conversation. … To resolve it in a public way delivers the trust and shows the community manager is in a position of caring about both sides.”
Aimee shared how she assesses public vs private: “Is this going to continue the conversations or am I going to do more harm by shutting it down? If it’s going to be detrimental to the ongoing conversation as a community, I will take it private.”
Katie added that she reaches out to all involved in any conflicts or controversial situations to get their feedback on the situation.
It’s important to note that no two communities are the same; however, these three steps have worked well for me when managing conflict.
Want more tips on when to get involved in controversy vs when to let your community debate it out? Catch the replay below.