Coord 342: How to do Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution is one of the toughest parts of the coordinator role.  However many interests our members have in common, sometimes people just don’t get along nicely with one another.  Sometimes conflicts arise between two or more people who simply have a civil difference of opinion that has sharply escalated. Often the person trying to sort all this out will be looking at two or more people with a great many resentments against each other, stored up over a long period of time.  If they’ve not been able to express these resentments in the past, or if they feel that they have not been fairly treated, there is often a great deal of anger in the situation and anger is not an emotion most of us find pleasant to experience, either in ourselves or others.

So, how do you cope?

Well, firstly, remember that conflict resolution is the end of a long process.  A lot of the difficulties experienced in conflict resolution arise from the early stages not having been tackled in a timely manner.  A Domain, as a group of people, is likely to be aware of tension between members (either individual members or subgroups) well before the ‘official process’ starts.  And, one way of looking at it is that the need for conflict resolution arises out of a conflict which, in an ideal world, would have been settled before it got to this stage.

We do not, however, live in an ideal world.

According to the MES Handbook, conflict resolution comes at a late stage of the process so, before you dive into that take a look at what happened in the earlier stages (the members who have locked horns will, no doubt, remember all this in great detail).  A great deal of this is covered in the Education documents, particularly those in the Ethics section.

Preparation:

Have any rules been broken?

If anyone involved in the conflict situation has broken any rule of the Society, whether In Character or Out of Character, that needs to be dealt with outside the Conflict Resolution process.  Conflict resolution is for people who are not getting along when no rules have been broken.

The code of conduct, as it currently stands, is open to wide interpretation.  Think about the behaviours you have seen in relation to the Code of Conduct.  Some members skate very close to the edge with the Code of Conduct and it is the responsibility of the co-ordinator to ensure that it is upheld.  Sometimes ‘a quiet word’ with someone who is in danger of stepping over the edge in relation to the code of conduct can prevent a conflict situation from arising (or getting worse).

Does any Member say they have been harassed?

MES has a zero tolerance harassment policy.  More information about harassment in MES can be found in Coord 318: Identifying Harassment and is outside the scope of this document.  However, it is vitally important to remember that harassment can be any behaviour which the person harassed finds offensive.  Even if you and the majority of people present find that behaviour inoffensive.  It is not for us to judge what harms another person – if a person says they are being harassed, then that claim has to be taken seriously and dealt with according to the policy.

The Social Contract:

Reading through this document and thinking about what it means for your Domain would be a very valuable exercise to undertake before you start the process of formal conflict resolution.  That goes double if the social contract for your Domain is not documented anywhere.

  • Think about the issues between the members (as you understand them) and how those relate to the dynamic of the Domain as a whole.
  • Think about how the issues between the members are affecting your Domain as a whole

You should not be drawing firm conclusions at this point – this is really to help you to identify what questions you need to ask.

More information about the social contract can be found in the Officer 135: Crafting Game Expectations- Social Contract document.

Conflict Resolution Process:

In the handbook the entire conflict resolution process is addressed to individual members, not to co-ordinators specifically.  The role of a coordinator in this process would be to suggest that members undertake the conflict resolution process and.or to help and guide individual members through the steps they are advised to take to resolve their conflicts.

Open Discussion:

The handbook tells us that members should attempt to solve their interpersonal conflict by open discussion prior to involving officers or other members.

If you, as co-ordinator, are called upon to help with conflict resolution, you should check with both parties that this has been done in good faith.

Cooldown Period:

As the presiding coordinator you should not hesitate to ask for a cooldown period should you have any indication that a conflict has arisen or is about to arise between members.  Sometimes, if you can catch these things early enough, a ten minute break is long enough to defuse things.

More information about the cooldown period can be found in Coord 343: Cool Down Periods.

Mediation:

Mediation is a skill and training courses in mediation are available.  We do not provide these within our Club and it is important to remember that an untrained, unskilled mediator can do more harm than good.

The Membership Handbook page 18 states that, if two members in conflict cannot resolve their issues via open discussion, they may bring in an agreed-upon third party…  This whole document has been written on the assumption that the coordinator’s involvement here is as a mediator.

As a mediator it is your job to be thoroughly familiar with the failed steps that have led to mediation and with the issues perceived by both parties.  At this point you should be fully aware (perhaps more aware that you want to be!) of the issues that underlie the conflict.  You should, however, take the time to hear out all members involved in the conflict, ensuring that you understand all the points of view.  Please bear in mind that, as we are a close-knit society, it is unlikely that you will be entirely free of conflict of interest here.  You are almost certainly going to sympathise with one side rather than the other.  This is why you need to think the whole thing through very carefully as we, as members and officers, are bound to treat each other fairly and with respect.  Sometimes you will need to represent a view with which you disagree on behalf of someone who does not behave in a manner pleasing to you.

If there is a single point (or just a few points) of difference between people who otherwise get along well enough together, it might be possible for all of you to meet together.  However, in cases of longstanding acrimony, it is often better to meet with each separately (as in shuttle diplomacy).

In either case, you should start by putting each point of view into your own (as objective as possible) words.

e.g.

“Al feels that Bertha  is always picking on his character for no real in character reason and that she uses information obtained OOC.”

“Bertha feels that her character is the type that will always pick on characters who do the kinds of things that Al’s character does and denies that she used information she got OOC.  She said she learned the information IC from a third party.”

  • Remember, that if a situation like this only happens once, it’s likely to have been resolved in open discussion.
  • Check that Al agrees with your statement of his opinion before you present it to Bertha and vice versa…
  • Then present Al’s point of view to Bertha and Bertha’s point of view to Al
  • Ask both if they can think of a good compromise solution to the conflict
  • Try to suggest some compromise solutions of your own

Failure of Conflict Resolution:

The conflict resolution process can clear up misunderstandings between people who, on the whole, are able to get on with one another.  It is liable to fail in cases where there is a long history of bad feeling between people and, even if it succeeds, fresh conflicts can arise between people of incompatible views and personalities.  In some cases the only solution is to have the two members avoid each other if at all possible in the future. Some problems just can’t be solved between members and further efforts will just cause more strife.