Conflict resolution for MUSH admin teams
This document discusses principles to resolving conflict between
members of MUSH admin teams, approaches to doing so, and skills
that administrators should develop to facilitate conflict resolution.
There are several basic principles of conflict resolution that
guide the recommendations of this document and should be adopted
explicitly by admin teams. The admin must agree (when they're not
in conflict) to honor these principles, and must stick with that
agreement (when they are in conflict.)
When an administrator finds themselves in a conflict with another,
they should keep these principles firmly in mind.
- Everyone wants to see conflicts resolved productively and
wants to work together in a team with respected teammates.
THIS IS AN AXIOM. If the team does not agree with this principle,
the rest of this document can be ignored.
- It is more important to identify and address peoples' needs
(primarily psychological needs for security, dignity, and
meaningful work) than to argue over positions.
- It is important to identify issues, and separate them from
proponents. The former should be debated; the latter, respected.
- It is preferable to focus on solutions than to find flaws.
- It is preferable to allow people to try things and take risks
rather than to block change for the sake of stability.
Keeping the principles in mind, there are several strategies that
admin can use to help them resolve conflicts.
- Collaboration. In a collaborative resolution, the conflicting
admin jointly recall the principles above, note that they're in conflict,
and consciously seek to find a resolution that will satisfy both
(or all) of their needs, and that can prevent similar conflicts in
the future (between themselves or for other admin).
Collaboration often yields the best outcomes, but can be difficult to
achieve when parties are upset or when the conflict has become
- Compromise. In a compromise resolution, each party agrees to
give up some need in order to satisfy the other. Although everyone
loses something, the benefit of resolving the conflict can make
the losses worthwhile.
The key to successful compromise is equity. Each party must agree that
a fair deal has been made, and that they will not hold their unmet
need against the other (though they should certainly seek to meet it
in other ways!)
Compromise can often be avoided using one of the other strategies.
- Mediation. In a mediation resolution, the parties agree to bring
their conflict to a mutually-trusted third party who listens to the
situation and attempts to find a collaborative or compromise resolution
that the parties can agree on.
A variation on this strategy is for the parties to agree on a resolution
process, rather than a person. For example, "let's take a vote and
majority rules". This will fail if the process is not one that all
parties truly agree with and respect.
Mediation is more time-consuming than other strategies, but may be
particularly effective when parties are upset or overly fixed on their
- Withdrawal. In a withdrawal resolution, one party gives up, trading
their needs for an absence of active conflict. Withdrawal can be an
effective tool, particularly if the withdrawing party has very little
stake or preference relative to the other party, but rarely results
in an ongoing resolution.
No matter what approach to resolution is chosen, there are several
communication skills that greatly enhance the likelihood of a mutually
satisfactory resolution. These skills are routinely taught to
parents, teachers, counselors, negotiators, and other communication
professionals. They're useful when you're a party in a conflict,
and they're useful if you're a mediator in a conflict.
These techniques are not 'lines', or 'moves', and won't work unless
they're used with the principles of conflict resolution in mind.
They are valuable ways to improvement your genuine communication,
and quickly become natural.
There are several good websites about these topics.
Active listening is a process of listening to another person's words
and insuring that you are understanding their meaning (and, ideally,
the underlying needs). The active listening process requires that
the listener take the following steps:
- Allow the speaker to finish speaking, without interruption.
- Consider what the speaker has said carefully. Think about the
underlying needs, and about issue itself.
- Tell the speaker what *you* believe they said or meant, in a way that
makes it clear that if you're wrong, it's your mistake rather than theirs,
and you hope to have it corrected so that you really understand them.
Here's an example:
<Admin> Javelin says, "If we go too fast with this thing, we'll lose players" <Admin> Grinna says, "So your concern is that the players aren't smart enough to keep up with this plan?" <Admin> Javelin says, "No, I'm sure they're smart enough, but change is scary, and I think we should phase it in more slowly." <Admin> Grinna says, "Ah, I think I get it. You like the plan, but want it to be more gradual so players know we're not just jerking them around?" <Admin> Javelin says, "Exactly."
Active listening has several important benefits. The listener is assured
that s/he has understood where the speaker is coming from. Equally
as important, the speaker knows that they have not been misconstrued,
and that the listener values their opinions enough to bother to get them
As children, we often learn to argue by pointing out the flaws in another
person. "You're an idiot." "You never believe me." "You suck!" These
kinds of statements are focused on the other person's personality, as
we perceive it, rather than their behaviors, and generally result
in defensiveness, anger, and responses in kind.
A more effective response is what's sometimes called the "I-message".
An I-message has three parts:
- A behavior, with no judgment ("when you interrupt me...")
- A tangible effect on you ("I can't finish my thought...")
- A feeling about that effect ("and I get upset")
The order is not important ("When you interrupt me, I get upset
because I can't finish my thought"). What is important is that you
convey how you're being affected by what specific behavior and how you
feel about it.
A message like this can not be disputed. The behavior is an objective
event, not subject to dispute, and no one can seriously argue that
you aren't affected a certain way or don't have a certain feeling.
The I-message also doesn't tell the recipient what they should
do about the problem. It implicitly says that you trust them to care
enough about you to take appropriate action to help you.
When people first learn about I-messages, they often think they'll
be stilted and sound silly. With just a little experience with them,
however, they come to be as natural an expression of feeling
as "You're always interrupting me, you jerk", and much more effective.
If you receive an I-message from someone, this is an ideal time
to practice your active listening.
Sometimes, tempers flare and resolution can't be pursued until
the parties can calm down and consider the issues and needs
In this case, the parties are well-advised to inform the other,
"I really want to work this out, but I'm too upset right now.
I'll be back when I can think more clearly."
A statement like this conveys the importance of resolving the
conflict (a key principle) along with reassurance that you're
not withdrawing for good.
In any complex negotiation or conflict, there are usually many
points on which the two parties agree, and others on which they
conflict. It is often valuable to identify the points of agreement
first. In addition to helping to clarify the conflict and potential
solutions, the process of finding agreement can be a useful way to
help the parties work together positively, rebuild trust, and put the
disagreements in perspective.
Don't be afraid to broach the idea of asking for help from a mediator.
Remember, however, that all parties to the conflict should be
willing (if not enthusiastic) about getting outside help.
Conflict is stressful. You can make it easier on each other by
remembering to give praise and positive feedback when the other person
does something that you like -- when they listen actively to you,
when they seek solutions instead of problems, when they behave
in a mature fashion, etc.
When you both reach a mutually-acceptable resolution, pat each other
on the back. A few days (or weeks) later, get back together to
go over the conflict and how you handled it and to congratulate
yourselves again (or tweak your solution!)