Welcome to the ongoing series on how we are building Cabin! In this deep dive, we talk about conflicts and ways to resolve them.
Communities often design their conflict resolution in retrospect of their first blowout. Waiting until conflict takes place puts the community at risk of loosening cohesion and losing valuable members.
With a bit of time investment and intentional design, both can be avoided. After all, conflict is a natural part of human interaction and hence a community. Getting practical about conflict resolution tactics can help your community strengthen cohesion and withstand turbulent times.
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Alice didn’t really know much about Bob, and now she didn’t want to know ANYTHING about Bob. Last Tuesday (“Why is it always Tuesdays?”) Bob had mocked her work in the #general channel on Discord. It was insufferable!
She tried to defend herself, but Charlie and Dean started supporting Bob. That was the last straw. She offered to leave at that point, what else could she do? Then Eddie, a well-known contributor she looked up to, asked her to leave. It was embarrassing.
Conflict is normal, common, and should be expected in every group. However, our communities often struggle to acknowledge this truth. As a result, we often forget to design proper pathways to resolve conflict.
Designing reactively, after the first big blow-out, is a regular occurrence. Unfortunately, these initial conflicts put the tie of valuable members to the community at risk. At worst, the conflict results in them leaving and at best, it is the beginning to the end of their chapter with this community. Even if it is not obvious at the time, it can lead to valuable members leaving and an odd discomfort across the community.
Constant exile due to conflict results in self-reinforcing echo chambers. These echo chambers are characterized by superficial coherence but underlying fragility. In the long term, echo chambers are not set up for resiliency because they suppress creativity, experimentation, and decision agility.
Echo Chambers become problematic, and even dangerous, when they don’t come along with deep-down self-awareness; when the sacred object is more sacred than the well-being of people; when the tribalism they generate is more like war and less like sports.
Source: Wait but Why
When conflict is not dealt with appropriately, it festers and leads to taboos, self-censorship, and unspoken rules. These, in turn, sacrifice true belonging with performative agreement and omission.
Discussing the tools and vibes to address conflict is equally, if not more important, than choosing your technology stack. Both should be researched and discussed with the same engaging curiosity as deciding the art for your inaugural member NFT and tokenomics.
Through the initial story, we can see common behaviors that surface when conflict resolution pathways aren’t clear:
This type of conflict feels unbelievably common. Many of us can easily imagine being part of the story.
In this story, as well as many others we remember, a cornerstone (but missing) discussion was how we resolve conflict in our community. A better move would be to make it an explicit and known part of onboarding.
Without intentional design, our human instinct will kick in: Fight (escalate), Flight (Exile), Freeze (Silence), Fawn (Submit). For those in doubt: These are not good resolution tactics.
If the conversation hasn't happened or is outdated, it is the responsibility of each of us to intervene and ask: "Have we discussed conflict resolution in our community?"
This is called ‘the meta-conversation’ and should help the community with the following:
The bad news is that we can’t avoid conflict. Disagreements are normal and suppressing conflict is about as effective as trying to hold a balloon with needles. It’s “doable”, sure, but do we want to spend that much energy trying to make sure the balloon doesn’t pop?
The good news is that we don’t need to avoid conflict. Instead, we can welcome it and nurture spaces appropriately. Communities can help members have regenerative relationships. In short, we can normalize iterative, intentional, and honest conflict resolution.
Let’s take a look at six recommendations to better navigate conflict:
In many cases, it's not clear where conflict should be discussed. In 100% of cases, the general public chat is not the place to resolve conflict.
If conflict is happening in a public forum, it's usually because there isn't a designated space to have the conversation with intention - and with an explicit mindset of resolution.
Conflict will inevitably happen at some point and that is OK. Community members should acknowledge this publicly and regularly. This helps normalize dialogue around the topic. Having broad consensus across the community about this challenge, reinforcing a willingness to talk things through, and not pretending there's no conflict are important habits.
To do this, stories about the community can be used to communicate frameworks, mediation expertise, and navigation language. These stories should be simple, real, and reflect the memes, lore, and lexicon of the community.
As part of defining the conflict resolution model (and intention!), it's underappreciated how much identifying a set of facilitators can help. In some communities, they are called “guardians” because they “guard the space for connection”. Be explicit: "if you're having a conflict and can't / won't / don't feel comfortable handling it 1:1 then talk to Federica or Gary.”
Facilitators often serve the community even without formal roles. Identifying them and formally acknowledging their care work can help the community navigate conflict.
Facilitators should have experience and/or practice in this area and should be known, respected, and recognized as credibly neutral. If this expertise is not present in your DAO then finding and investing in training might be necessary. Non-violent communication, counseling, coaching, and conflict mediation are useful training to reference.
Conflict resolution can include three interdependent activities: personal reflection, 1-1 discussions, and group discussions. Supporting members’ skills to self-organize these activities can unlock personal agency (and success) in conflict resolution.
When members self-organize on the long-tail of smaller conflicts, designated moderators and facilitators can give their attention to complex cases that require experienced intervention.
More often than not, conflict escalates after softer signaling has been ignored (unconsciously or otherwise). For example, someone misses the town hall regularly - why? Could it be that they are unreliable? Or maybe behaviors from someone in the meeting creates discomfort?
These signals can be further ignored when the person bringing the conflict to light is underrepresented in the community. In the previous example, maybe the person missing is the only one in a distant time zone. They have mentioned this multiple times but the organizers constantly forget.
One direct path to preventing conflict is by designing more holistically from the start. In this example, it would mean being inclusive of broader time zones. However, it can also mean being inclusive of family responsibilities, disabilities, and other backgrounds. One direct way to ensure this better design is to proactively invest in the diversity of the community. As a result, broader perspectives are included across community decisions (e.g. town-hall times).
Lastly, all else being equal, communities can prevent and address conflict in healthy ways by instilling a culture of reflection instead of ostracization. While leaving a community is the resolution for members who find themselves in a space that is unsafe for them or does not meet their needs, community builders could view that as a reason to double down on conflict resolution design. Leaving should be the last resort if a community has thought deeply about how they ensure safe spaces for members.
A culture of reflection means considering “how to resolve conflict” instead of continuing to debate the disagreement. When we find ourselves or others in a conflict we should ask first about the situation, not about the disagreement.
Of course, there are many other tactics to help with conflict resolution. Please check out the appendix!