There are quite a few resources from WordPress contributors over the years about how to identify and resolve conflicts in open source projects. There are posts that cover why conflict occurs, the structure of conflicts over time, and what to keep in mind while in the middle of conflicts.
I’d like to share some additional explanation of my Four Os checklist, a tool that I use to make sure I know the facts of a situation as well as the feelings. This was first shared on Andrea Middleton’s primer on Conflict De-escalation in Open Source which I also highly recommend.
Why Prepare for a Meeting
If you’ve never mediated a discussion or helped to de-escalate a disagreement before, you will be surprised just how much the emotional state of the participants in the room can affect you. To make sure you are a well-grounded, calm-headed guide, there are two things you have to know going in: Know the facts, and Know the fights
In the heat of the moment, your short term memory can fail you, so having done the work ahead of time to assess the situation is important. Also, if you have asked all participants in a mediated discussion to answer these questions as well, then it’s easy to see where there are agreements, so folks can focus on working through the disagreements.
This is my primary checklist before heading into any conflict resolution work:
- Origin: Before you can help anyone through a conflict, it’s important to know what caused the conflict. Getting an understanding of the context, the catalysts, and the primary concerns gives you the lay of the land and the beginnings of a map to see what is real. Questions that you can ask yourself:
- What made this meeting necessary?
- What are the circumstances around it?
- What made this unsolvable on its own?
- What are the perceived risks? What are the actual risks?
- Are there imbalances of power, knowledge, or access that you can see?
- Objective: Knowing the purpose of a meeting is a differentiator between good leaders and great leaders. Awareness of what needs to happen during this valuable shared time together will help keep the discussion focused and increase your chances of a workable solution.
- What do you want to happen in this meeting?
- Is this a “see the other side” conversation or a “debate the solutions” discussion?
- How do you expect the other participants to engage?
- Obstacles: If you’re new to strategic planning or communications, it can feel counter productive to think of all the ways that your plan can fail. However, I believe strongly that the only way we can keep ourselves from falling along a journey is to look for the rocks and sticks in our path.
- What do you think might interfere with this objective?
- What’s your plan if that comes up?
- Outcome: Give some thought to what you want to have happen as a result of this meeting. The best way to look at it as on a spectrum from the minimum hope is for next steps all the way through to the best long-term changes that come from resolving this conflict.
- What do you want to walk out of the meeting with?
- What’s your desired outcome?
- What are the best next steps?
- What compromises are available (where everyone has to let go of something)?
- If this is resolved perfectly, a year from now what is different?
These might not all apply to every situation you encounter. Not all conflicts have deep and meaningful context (and that’s a good thing), sometimes it comes down to miscommunication. When we’re working across cultures, sometimes the role of an impartial guide through some facts and feelings is the thing we need most.
* I know this is a terrible name, but honestly, it’s all I can come up with. 🙂