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I've been thinking a lot about conflict on wikis recently. There's a wiki I've been watching (I won't name it) where it seems everyone is fighting with everyone else. There are groups on one side or the other of the argument, and no one is managing to calm things down. Obviously this is affecting the productivity of the community, as well as driving away those who can't stand the bickering. As I tried to think of ways to help them resolve their differences, I found a blog I wrote in 2011 that talked about how to resolve disputes. I'd like to share it with you now.

Duty calls
Wikis are all about groups of people coming together to build something. They grow best when people can work well together, agreeing on what the site should be and how to best build it. Wikis work because most people are good, and most edits are a positive addition to the project. Otherwise, we’d all be drowning in spam and vandalism, not building awesome sites!

But every group will have its conflicts: disagreements over how things should be, arguments when participants can't get along, or someone causing a stir simply because they can. Each situation is different, but there are some general tips that can help everyone get through the difficulties.

Assume Good Faith

One of the earliest wiki principles was "Assume Good Faith". When we're disagreeing, it's easy to think the other person is being malicious or is trying to do harm. Usually though, they're genuinely trying to do what's right, but have a different opinion on exactly what that means. Knowing that they mean well can help us talk to each other in a way that helps solve the problem. For example, if someone comes to a wiki and blanks a page, it could mean they're trying to disrupt the project. But maybe they think the page is wrong or harmful and don't know that blanking isn't the right way to get it deleted. Maybe they don't realize that pressing that button will change the page for everyone and think their experiments only affect their own view (I've seen this happen!). Or maybe they're testing, and don't know how to return the page to its previous state after an accidental save. By assuming that they mean well, and trying to contact them to leave a friendly message, you might help someone develop from a confused newbie to an enthusiastic contributor.

Don't Feed the Trolls

Sometimes people are just out to cause trouble. They think it's funny to make childish changes to pages, or they enjoy the drama caused by an argument. The key to dealing with this problem is in understanding what they want: a reaction. Most people disrupting wikis want to know that there's an audience. They can get that by watching pages being fixed and knowing it has inconvenienced other users on the wiki, but they can get much more from comments and messages to them, and discussion of the problem on the wiki. By keeping your reactions quiet and practical, you actually help discourage trolls. Remember: revert, block, ignore.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On Poster
What about the more complicated disputes between people who genuinely and strongly disagree with each other? Arguments can get heated, and can be very difficult to resolve. In general, "assume good faith" works here too. It's likely that both sides want what's right for the wiki, so that's common ground you can build on.

Some other tips are:

Stay polite

Being polite has two advantages: it helps keep focus on your message rather than personal differences, and it helps keep both sides willing to talk.

Don't make it personal

Keep it about what you disagree on, and not who you disagree with. Remember that people may take what you say personally, even if that's not intended. "That's stupid" can often be heard as "you are stupid."

Remember the audience

On a wiki, you aren't just talking to one person, you're talking to everyone reading the page. Write in a way that helps other viewers understand what's going on, and that maintains your reputation as fair and even-natured.

Check your understanding

It's easy to misunderstand each other when you are talking via text. Tone is often impossible to read; your own emotions can influence how you think another is feeling and the tone you "hear" in their writing.

Talk to others

It's always good to get a second opinion. Someone else might have a different insight or point of view. It isn't a good tactic to simply get your friends to take your side (especially if they aren't regulars on that wiki), but it can be good to hear from others and get another opinion.

Be flexible and find middle ground

It's important to consider what options there are for compromise. Is it really important that a template is on a specific page? Is there an alternative you can both agree on? Or is the real problem that the wording of the template needs to be tweaked?

Write it... then write it again

Sometimes it's useful to write what you want to say, get out your anger or frustration, then delete it (without saving!) and rewrite it with care and politeness.

Consider talking live

Wikia Chat is a great tool for getting together to talk something over in real-time. It can make a conversation that would usually happen over days happen in minutes - with a lot less misunderstandings!

Looking back on this, I'd say the most important part of resolving conflict is empathy. That means understanding and respecting other people's emotions and motivations. It doesn't mean that you automatically agree with them, but understanding that they are a real person with their own feelings can go a long way towards treating each other right.

To do that, it's important that you listen to each other, and listen carefully. As I say above, tone is very difficult to judge, especially when you are upset already. So listening with that in mind is very important. The same phrase can be heard in many different tones. Is "you are clever" sarcasm? Or an attempt to connect in a more friendly way? And that's where we come back to that key concept: assume good faith.

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