How to resolve a conflict between members without contributing to it, or - worse - getting emotionally invested in one side or the other.

Guild Guide: Mediating conflicts in your guild or clan

How to resolve a conflict between members without contributing to it, or - worse - getting emotionally invested in one side or the other.

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As I’ve mentioned before, the primary goal is pretty much always to avoid guild drama before it starts.  Once it starts, you’re never getting that Eden back again.  But it’s also kind of inevitable.  People are going to disagree and have arguments, conflicts will crop up, and the group cannot possibly remain a perfectly happy family forever no matter how much you try to prevent it.

So, let’s just accept that now.  You do everything in your power to prevent drama, and it still happens.  Now it’s up to you to mediate disputes as best you can.

Conflicts between members are by necessity going to involve virtually everyone in the guild, for better or for worse (mostly worse).  Even if you’re not an officer, you have to deal with the fact that the conflict exists.  So let’s talk about the best ways to help with mediating, starting with the most obvious one: if you’re not involved, stay out.

Stop fighting.

Staying uninvolved

When your friends are involved in a conflict, there’s a huge temptation to take their side.  After all, in a race between Chad and Moonstalker, you know Chad.  You’ve hung out with Chad.  Moonstalker is just some guy from the clan, and you don’t even know his actual name.  Who cares about Moonstalker?  Moonstalker’s a jerk!

Except, you know, you don’t actually know what’s going on.  In fact, you know less than nothing, because you’re friends with Chad.  Whatever you’ve seen about Moonstalker is, by definition, tainted by association with someone who you know doesn’t like Moonstalker.  It’s entirely possible that Moonstalker is a class act, Chad misunderstood something he did, and now Chad’s out for blood and is hoping that everyone dogpiles on Moonstalker.

This is, of course, rare.  An argument needs two people to fuel it.  The point is that when you’re not directly involved in a conflict, the best thing you can do is stay out of it as much as humanly possible.

Staying out doesn’t mean not offering your support to Chad; it means that your support comes in the form of understanding and camaraderie rather than speaking to the officers on Chad’s behalf.  It means that you recognize that your information is incomplete at best and downright wrong at worst.  It means telling Chad that you’re on his side, but you aren’t going to drag yourself into the middle of a conflict when you don’t have all of the information because it isn’t about you.

Hopefully, Chad gets this.  If he doesn’t… well, that’s something that you’re going to have to work out, but it doesn’t say anything positive about Chad’s maturity and reliability.  But the best way to keep drama from erupting is to ensure that the people fighting aren’t forming armies and going to war.  Like a fire, the more you let it spread, the harder it is to put it out.

I said stop fiiiiiiiighting.

Reaching common ground

When figuring out who’s going to actually mediate a dispute, the goal of both officers and arguing members should be to pick someone who either has no close ties to either arguing member or someone with equal ties to both.  It’s especially true if one of the people arguing is an officer; even if you entirely trust your fellow officers to be impartial, there’s no way to avoid the appearance of an officer’s club.  Besides, everyone knows that if one of the people arguing is the roommate/girlfriend/best friend/parole officer of an officer, there’s going to be some partiality.  If necessary, appoint someone into a temporary officer position just for mediating.

As a mediator, your job is to figure out how an argument started and what can be done about it without falling back on someone leaving the group.  The first step is understanding what issues each person has, a goal easily achieved by simply asking.  Make it broad without being too all-encompassing.

“Why do you have a problem with Moonstalker?” is a good question.  “What are you and Moonstalker fighting about?” is probably a bit too narrow, since it focuses on the most immediate problem rather than underlying causes.

Talking with other people peripherally involved can also be useful.  To continue the same example from before, it might be very helpful to understand that Chad and Moonstalker both have completely incompatible ideas about how to play a particular class or character, and that leads to arguments when Moonstalker is gearing up.  Or maybe the root is that Chad still feels slighted over a decision that Moonstalker made forever ago.  Often, conflicts arise because of miscommunications and assumptions that never get corrected; mediating, in part, is asking questions, observing these things, and trying to come to a new conclusion.

Obviously, you can’t boil the conflict down to something as simple as a third-grade character analysis without missing a whole lot of nuance.  The point is that you want to try and get an understanding of what’s really the problem here.

When all is said and done, assuming that what you see is an actual argument on both sides and not just a one-sided case of bullying, you should be looking at both participants changing their behaviors, not just one or the other.  It’s not with an eye toward recrimination or punishment, but to looking at both parties as having messed up.  If you can’t have an argument without two people, then both people involved should be making some changes in the hopes that they can work around one another, even if the odds are low that they’ll ever be friends.

Can't we all just get along?

Being at the heart

Assuming you’re one of the arguing parties bringing the issue to the forefront, it’s very important to understand your goals, too.  Because if you’re hoping to get your hated rival tossed out of the group, you don’t really want to resolve the conflict, you want to win.

I understand the temptation, to be sure.  I’ve been in guilds with people whom I couldn’t stand and people who I think every guild would be better off throwing to the wind.  The problem is that however right you might feel in that dislike – and however right you might even be – the point of conflict resolution isn’t proving who’s more right.  It’s in trying to settle a discussion and have both people find some common ground.

You can’t just get rid of every person you dislike.  Sometimes you shouldn’t even want to.  It’s possible that as much as Chad likes the game, he might be completely wrong about something, and he hates Moonstalker for being a “smarmy know-it-all” when Moonstalker is in fact just trying to correct Chad’s misunderstandings.  Assuming that everyone who disagrees with you is wrong is a great way to set up a personal echo chamber, but a terrible way to actually find out if you’re right or not.

If you bring a conflict to the officers, if you’re trying to get a dispute mediated, that needs to come along with the understanding that you aren’t perfect either.  You are not flawless or guiltless in this incident.  And when the time comes to apologize and shake hands, you should be giving an apology with a genuine sense of contrition.  Bringing an argument to the guild officers in the hopes that someone else will get kicked out of the guild is trying to take schoolyard tattling to its logical extreme.

Trying to resolve a conflict is about figuring out where things went wrong and what can be done to fix them.

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