Constructive Conflict Resolution in the Drupal Community

How can the Drupal community recognise and handle conflict more constructively? This core conversation session from DrupalCon Amsterdam aimed to start a discussion about creating an army of empowered bystanders ready, willing and able to use conflict as a positive force in the community.

Conflict is a part of human nature.

Core Conversations at DrupalCon are a place for people actively working on and contributing to Drupal core or Drupal.org to meet, discuss and plan the future of Drupal.  I was honoured to have my session on conflict resolution selected for this track at DrupalCon Amsterdam.

I hoped to start a conversation with the community about how we recognise and handle conflict.  I hope we can grow to see conflict as a positive force. A force we should harness in order to take a constructive approach to disagreement.  The Drupal community values consensus, which is a good thing. But avoiding the conflict that consensus often generates means we risk stagnation.  We need to continue to innovate, and test our ideas.  But we need to do it with respect, trust and compassion.

Ultimately, I'd like to build a Drupal peace keeping force.  A peace corps of people willing to help mediate and negotiate, and help others better understand and accomodate opposing perspectives.

 

Here are the slides

Constructive Conflict Resolution slides from Donna Benjamin

 

Here is the session video.

 

Here are the rough speaker notes.

Conflict is human nature.  

Although, not exclusively.  Cats and Dogs are famous enemies.

Conflict is natural. And we have a natural, biological, response to conflict. An adrenalin rush forces us to make a choice. Flight or fight? Or freeze?

Conflict isn’t just war.  Many of us think conflict is “Big” violence. Blood on the streets. But it’s often much smaller; a simple misunderstanding, a fear of speaking up, or an unmet, unexpressed need.  

I mentioned Flight or Fight.  There are some other common responses to conflict…

It’s easier to walk away, to give up.  Avoidance is not a constructive response.  Avoidance generally doesn’t help us build a better solution.

Or try to pretend it isn’t happening. Denying there’s a problem doesn’t move the issue forward to construct a solution.

It’s not a game.  Though many people play with conflict as though it is a game.  If you’ve seen the classic movie War Games, you may remember… “The only way to win, is not to play”

History… is the story of conflict. Our human histories are marked by stories of war and conquest. And by the various ways of resolving conflict. 

Some have tried building walls.

Building arsenals of missiles.

And others by resolving conflict in courts.  Even this is not a truly constructive resolution - there’s usually a winner.  And a loser.

Challenge is at the heart of conflict.  And I believe, that Accepting that challenge is the Key to constructive resolution.

We need to explore, test and challenge ideas. Competing ideas. And as Albert Einstein said “We can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

So what is Conflict?  It's different things to different people. It's defined in different ways in different contexts.

It's at the heart of why diversity matters.  The different ways we approach conflict is cultural, is gendered, is about power and authority.

What do you think?

Our relationship with power and authority also impacts how we handle conflict.

My view, is that respect is at the heart of how we should respond.

In most martial arts, we start with a bow. This is a show of respect to our opponent.  Putting respect front and centre when we disagree with each other is crucial.

There are two sides to the coin.  We must both be respectful, and feel respected.

But we also need to have trust in each other.  Trust that we CAN find common ground, that we DO have mutual goals, or values.

And, most importantly. We need compassion.  We need to have empathy and try to understand the opposite perspective which forms the foundation of our conflicts.  Respect, Trust and Compassion are the keys to constructive conflict resolution.

There are non constructive ways to solve conflicts, but they… aren’t pretty… 

If you disagree, you could pull my hair

Smack me in the face

Bite me on the chin.

But that just usually ends in tears.

Drupal Drama - In the Drupal community, we value consensus.  We test ideas, and we work towards finding common ground we can all agree on.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of discovering we actually want the same thing, but have been pulling in different directions.  

But sometimes we can’t reach consensus.  Instead we reach stagnation.  Where no-one’s idea could “win”, and vast amounts of time and energy are wasted.

Stagnation is not healthy.  So how do we avoid this?

We have a code of conduct.  We’ve had it for a while.  But we had some unfinished business. We had a “ToDo” item, which said “Develop a conflict resolution process”  We’ve done that now.

And what I want… is a Drupal peace keeping force.  A Peace corps that can help… keep the peace.

Our conflict resolution policy is here at drupal.org/conflict-resolution - it’s the culmination of work begun by others, and continued at last year’s first community summit in Prague.  Randy Fay wrote a series of blog posts about governance. We had a template from the Vic Human Rights Commission. And we ended up with this.

Essentially.  There’s 3 steps.

1. Try to talk to each other and work it out between you

2. Ask someone else to help mediate the dispute

3. Reach out to the Community working group

But we need that peace keeping force.  An army of empowered bystanders ready and willing to help maintain the peace.  And stand up, and speak up. But we might need to skill up to do that.

The Drama Triangle is a useful model for thinking about interpersonal conflict. Hands up if you’ve ever found yourself drawn into a drama or conflict, and felt confused or uncomfortable about how that happened?  There’s a chance you were drawn into this negative, but seductive dynamic.

This is an alternative - challenge, create, coach.

The Victim becomes a Creator (focused on a vision, working toward a goal). The Persecutor becomes a Challenger, pushing others to acquire new knowledge or skills and strive to be their best. The Rescuer must become a Coach - supporting, assisting, facilitating).

Ultimately, we need to work together to avoid stagnation, wasted effort, and making people feel bad, we need to embrace conflict constructively. It’s fine to disagree.  

But rather than tear me down…

Can we build something together?

I want us to build a culture of respect. Where bystanders are empowered to help.  Where it's ok to challenge an idea to help make it better,but not ok to tear someone down for thinking differently.

Whenever two good people argue over principles, they are both right. - Marie Ebner von Eschenbach

Let’s have less of this. (Holes in walls in gaza)

And more of this. (Van Gogh’s sunflowers)

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