Conflicts in a community

Any time you bring people together you will have more than one opinion. Instantly. On anything. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard of arguments in a group of people over some of the silliest things. It’s human nature. We want others to agree with our point of view. We want everyone to see things our way, and yet, we also know if we all shared the same view there would be something seriously wrong with us.

If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary
— Winston Churchill

How we handle conflicts within a community is important to the long-term success of the community. Let’s examine the concepts involved in conflict resolution within a community of individuals. To begin we should focus on why this group of unique individuals has come together.

What is a community?

A clear definition of terms is always important when discussing things. How can we discuss something if we are looking at two different things? So let’s look first at the definition and structure of a community. I think this is a great place to start. Obviously I assume most of us have a fairly good grasp on what comprises a community so we’ll run through this quickly. According to Wikipedia a community is defined as follows:

community is a group of people whose identity as a group lies in their interaction and sharing. Many factors may affect the identity of the participants and their degree of adhesion, such as intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs and risks.”

That’s a basic definition which serves our purpose quite well. A community brings a group of people together to form a common identity. Singular. One identity. A group of diverse people forming a single identity around a unique intent or belief. Seth Godin offers a slightly different definition on his blog and in his book, Tribes:

Working side by side doing something that matters under adverse conditions… that’s what we need.”

But there are many, many types of community. Let’s save some time and look at only a few of the more common types (want to see the full list? check the footnotes).
Voluntary Association: A group of individuals who voluntarily enter into an agreement to accomplish a purpose.
Interest: A group of individuals who share a common interest or passion
Practice: A group of individuals who choose to collaborate over an extended period to share ideas, find solutions, and build innovations.
Purpose: A group of individuals who are going through the same process or are trying to achieve a similar objective.

So, step one, evaluate what type of community you have joined. Does it fit a distinct definition above, more than likely it’s a hybrid of one or more types. It’s important to start here though. You need to know the underlying purpose of the community you are volunteering in. This will help as we continue to the next step.

Find your motivation

Once you have a good working definition of exactly why your community is formed you need to work out why you want to volunteer and be a part of it. What motivates you? Why do you want to invest your time, talents, and energy in this community. It’s an interesting question I admit. Interesting because it’s simple and yet surprisingly complex. What drives us to do the things we do. Sometimes I’m not sure how to answer this myself but it’s a good exercise to undertake.

But wait, it doesn’t stop there. It’s not a one-time question either. Not only do you need to know why you want to start volunteering but you need to periodically ask yourself why you wish to continue volunteering. Has your motivation changed? Has the community changed? If you answer yes to any of these questions then you need to take a moment and thoughtfully consider your situation. Have your feelings changed, have you lost your passion, drive, or motivating desire; if so, then you know it’s time to move on to a new community and a new opportunity.

Side Topic Let’s talk about that for a minute. I just said move on. Does that mean I think your services as a volunteer are of no value? Absolutely not. Every single individual has a unique set of talents and abilities that together form the identity of a community. Does that mean you should never move on. Absolutely not. Interests change, people change, and as we just discussed communities change. It’s not a badge of honor to stay in a community where you are not happy. This leads easily to the next question…

What makes you happy?

If we take the answers you worked on earlier (you did work on them right?) then now you need pick them back up. An important part of any community is evaluating how volunteers are appreciated. See how this relates to your happiness? If you know what makes you feel appreciated and fulfilled and you can define it, you’ll be much more likely to find a community which fits. What are common methods of appreciation in the workplace? Gary Chapman has written a great book on the topic, The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. Below is a quick summary. I highly recommend reading the full book as it offers a much more detailed review of each.

  1. Words of Affirmation: Uses words to to communicate a positive message to another person. Praise for accomplishments, affirmation of character, praise for personality. This affirmation can take the form of one-on-one, a group setting, and in either written or verbal format.
  2. Quality Time: Giving the person your focused attention. This means quality, focused conversations, listening to thoughts and feelings, and all without distractions or disruptions.
  3. Acts of Service: Providing assistance “What can I do to help?” Assisting someone in the way they would like things done. Be sure to ask before helping.
  4. Tangible Gifts: Physical items, could also be time off. Remember they should be something the person values.
  5. Physical Touch: Human to human contact. This is not a primary means especially in the workplace. Examples would include fist-bumps, handshakes, and high-fives.

As I mentioned, these are only brief summaries and the book provides a very good opportunity to explore the many aspects of appreciation. I want you to take a moment now and review this list. Rank them from greatest importance to those of least importance to you personally. If you know what affirmation is most fulfilling to you then you’ll be more able to recognize how to achieve personal satisfaction from a community.

Whew! Ok, enough of a side-track. Let’s get back to the issue at hand. Conflicts and resolution. First, the conflict.


Now that we have a good definition of community let’s look next at conflicts. Do you hear the word conflict and cringe? I encourage you not to feel too strongly against the idea of conflict. There are, in fact, many benefits and potential positive opportunities which arise from conflicts. We’ll start with a working definition of conflict from Merriam Webster dictionary:

“A difference that prevents agreement : disagreement between ideas, feelings, etc.”

Interestingly enough this is the third definition of conflict, the second definition also includes the idea that conflict “results in often angry argument”. This is the part most people associate with conflict. Angry argument. But I’d suggest the third definition listed above is perhaps a more practical and ideal definition. We all know conflict can be perceived as negative and I’ve already alluded to the idea of conflict avoidance. But there are benefits of conflict as well. In fact, several studies have been done on the subject of the positive benefits of conflict. According to a study, published by Ohio State University, there are a number of positive effects of conflict, including improving the quality of decisions, stimulating involvement in the discussion, and building group cohesion. Conflict is always present. It is not an obstacle to avoid but rather an obstacle to overcome. Conflict typically stems from three basic types: task conflict, interpersonal conflict, and procedural conflict.

  1. Task Conflict: Deals with disagreement about the substance of the discussion. These conflicts can result in improved decision quality. Also, a conflict based on the task can result in a better more thought-out “flow” through the decision process. This can be a positive conflict and resolution.
  2. Interpersonal Conflict: Often described as personality clash. This occurs when individuals disagree with another individual for reasons unrelated to the issue being discussed. This conflict will usually take the form of antagonistic remarks against personal characteristics of another person.
  3. Procedural Conflict: This conflict results when there is a disagreement over the procedures followed to accomplish a goal of the community. This conflict can be a positive form of conflict as it can lead to new procedures being formed and even possibly new goals being defined.
“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict- alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.” — Dorothy Thompson

What can we conclude from this list of conflict types?

First, conflicts are not always bad. Conflicts stem from a variety of reasons and many of them are extremely beneficial for the good of the community. They are not something to be avoided but rather taken as opportunities to improve the community. New tasks, new decision processes, new procedures, and new goals are all possible successes which can result from positively handled conflicts. Second, conflicts are not always resolvable. We’ll discuss the process of conflict resolution in more detail next. However, not every conflict can be easily handled or resolved positively. In particular, interpersonal conflicts can rarely be easily resolved as personal character qualities and preferences heavily influence our opinions and beliefs about other individuals. If a conflict is not resolvable then you need to learn how to best deal with these conflicts as appropriate for the community.


Ah, we’ve made it through the tougher part. We can now talk about the resolution to conflict. There are a number of steps resolved in proper conflict resolution and according to the study mentioned earlier we’ll discuss each step.

  1. Recognize and acknowledge existence of conflicts
    This seems basic right? Obviously we can always tell when conflicts exist; ok, maybe not always. Sometimes recognizing conflict is more difficult then you may admit. Identifying not only that conflict exists but also the type of conflict (see above) and then being willing to acknowledge that the conflict exists. If you don’t recognize a conflict then clearly you can’t resolve it.
  2. Analyze the existing situation
    Once you’ve recognized and acknowledged the existence of the conflict you need to analyze the situation. What is the current situation? How severe is the conflict? What are the possible outcomes and what are some worst-case scenarios? This is not a step to skip. Before being able to properly resolve a conflict you need to be able to step back and look at the entire situation.
  3. Encourage communication
    Here’s where it starts to get a little more intensive. This point in conflict resolution is where passions start to get involved, tempers have the greatest chance of flaring and resolution becomes more difficult. But communication cannot be and should not be avoided. Here’s some items to attend to while encouraging positive and constructive communication.
    — Free discussion
    — Encourage accurate communication
    — Listen and raise questions
    — Allow free expression
    — Supply relevant information and facts
    — Maintain objectivity (no emotional pleas)
    — Focus on the issue and not people
    — Be gracious when successful

This great list can be found in the same study shared earlier and listed in the footnotes below. I cannot stress enough the importance of each of these items. This is the crux of the entire resolution process. If you are not careful to actively pursue each of these items during the communication phase the entire process will stall. Communication will break down, and conflicts will abound without resolution.

Summary: Properly encouraged conversation involves free discussion related to the accurate and relevant information shared tactfully and without personal bias.

The outcome

Once these steps have been taken there is a simple plan to reach a resolution. Discuss the options (this is done mainly through the communication step previously), analyze the options, negotiate a resolution based on the facts, make adjustments, and lastly, live with the outcome of the resolution. Not every outcome is a clear “win” for one side of a debate. Most often you’ll find a blended result to be the negotiated result. I would suggest there are in fact, three possible outcomes which can result from successful conflict resolution.

  1. Compromise with a full agreement
    This is the ideal outcome. In this outcome both parties agree completely with the result and both sides believe the resolution to be the best and most successful resolution to the conflict.
  2. Compromise with partial agreement
    This is a second often experienced outcome. In this outcome one party (or both) will make concessions to reach an acceptable resolution, these concessions may cause them to not fully agree with the resolution and yet, as a result of successful communication are able to negotiate a compromise which can be partially agreed upon.
  3. Compromise with no agreement but acceptance
    This is the least desirable outcome, however still a valid resolution to conflict. In this outcome one party accepts the resolution but disagrees with the result. This typically involves accepting a solution to end a conflict but stating a disagreement with it. This should be a last resort for conflict resolution and the party in disagreement must be exceptionally careful to not allow the disagreement to be overpowering of the acceptance. Again, tact and grace are desirable character qualities to exhibit.
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. — Winston Churchill

Putting it all together.

I’d like to finish with three important take away points. They are quite simple: respect others, stick to the facts, and be willing to compromise. Allow me to elaborate briefly on each.

First, respect others. Be careful to debate the issues and not the person. Be respectful of others. You wouldn’t like someone attacking you in a debate; give them the same courtesy. Obey the golden rule. Remind yourself of what we looked at in the first point above — why you are volunteering? And remember, as a community we have a single common identity.

Second, don’t let your emotions control your discussion. Avoid being overly dramatic in an attempt to “win votes”. It’s hard to keep this in mind when discussing something you’re deeply passionate about. It is also hard when you must convey your thoughts on a language which is not native to you, the nuances of languages, especially English, can be a nightmare. Do your best to think through your words before speaking — choose carefully. This becomes easier when only discussing facts. State facts clearly and concisely. And then listen to others’ responses.

Lastly, work together to negotiate a solution. Compromise is often the result of debates. Don’t expect to always win everyone to your point of view. You may have times when you clearly state your facts and it is evident to all the truth in your view; more than likely some compromise will be necessary. This is not failure. You are not losing the argument to come to an agreement which involves sacrifices on both sides of an issue. See our previous point regarding the outcomes of a conflict.

About the author
David Hurley is a small-business owner with a passion for open source communities and realizing the power of people working together. He volunteers his time to a number of non-profit organizations where he seeks to enable others to become more empowered and to love what they do. You are welcome to follow him on twitter: @dbhurley or LinkedIn: /davidbhurleyor contact him through email or Google+ David Hurley

Intentionally building communities (More hallway!)

Conflict Management in Community Organizations

Outline of Community

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People
 Gary Chapman

Lessons in Coding: Don’t Repeat Yourself


I’m a parent. That tends to sound a bit like a confession. But most people who know me also know that I love kids. I have three children right now, and hope to add more in the near future.

I’ve learned many things from being a parent. I learned there is a strange phenomenon with children where they cannot hear something they are told unless I tell them multiple times. It’s interesting because it doesn’t seem to be all the time, only certain times, and usually only those times when they need to do something they don’t particularly want to do. And I really get tired of repeating myself. It gets quite annoying after a while.

Ok, so now everyone’s wondering, what does this have to do with coding and best development practices. Today I want to talk about the principle of Don’t Repeat Yourself.


Wikipedia defines the Don’t Repeat Yourself Principle as follows:

Every piece of knowledge must have a single, unambiguous, authoritative representation within a system.

Let’s take that definition and break it down into some easy-to-understand pieces. And then let’s apply it to code.

Every piece of knowledge: In development that could be a class, a function, or merely even a block of code within a function.
single, unambiguous, authoritative representation: code should exist only once and it should be clearly written.
within a system: inside your component, module, plugin, application etc.

If we take those pieces and re-write the definition in our new terms it would look more like this:

Any code written and used within your component should exist in only one location and be clearly written.

That seems to make more sense. Now that we have a good working definition of what is involved in the principle of Don’t Repeat Yourself let’s look at some examples of how you would do this within your code.

Example of Bad Code

function getSingleItem($id) 
   // assume all variables needed
   $query = $this->db->getQuery(TRUE)
            ->select($this->db->quoteName(array('i.*', '', 'a.something')))
            ->from($this->db->quoteName('#__myitems', 'i'))
            ->join('LEFT', $this->db->quoteName('#__categories', 'c') . ' ON (' . 
              $this->db->quoteName('i.category_id') . ' = ' . $this->db->quoteName('c.category_id') . ')')
            ->join('LEFT', $this->db->quoteName('#__attributes', 'a') . ' ON (' .
              $this->db->quoteName('a.item_id') . ' = ' . $this->db->quoteName('i.item_id') . ')')
            ->where($this->db->quoteName('i.item_id') . ' = '. (int) $id);
   $item = $this->db->loadObject();

function getManyItems($ids) 
   // assume all variables needed 
   $query = $this->db->getQuery(TRUE) 
            ->select($this->db->quoteName(array('i.*', '', 'a.something'))) 
            ->from($this->db->quoteName('#myitems', 'i')) 
            ->join('LEFT', $this->db->quoteName('#categories', 'c') . ' ON (' . $this->db->quoteName('i.category_id') . ' = ' . 
              $this->db->quoteName('c.category_id') . ')') 
            ->join('LEFT', $this->db->quoteName('#__attributes', 'a') . ' ON (' . $this->db->quoteName('a.item_id') . ' = ' . 
              $this->db->quoteName('i.item_id') . ')') 
            ->where($this->db->quoteName('i.item_id') . ' IN '. implode(',', $ids)); 
    $item = $this->db->loadObject(); 

Does that code look similar? It should. I created the second function by copying the first function and then changing a single line. (Hint: Look at the “where” clause). So what would this code look like if I re-wrote it but did so without duplicating any lines of code? Here’s one possible example.

Example of Better Code

function getSingleItem($id) 
   // assume all variables needed 
   $query = $this->getQuery(); 
   $query->where($this->db->quoteName('i.item_id') . ' = '. (int) $id); 
   $item = $this->db->loadObject(); 

function getManyItems($ids) 
   // assume all variables needed 
   $query = $this->getQuery(); 
   $query->where($this->db->quoteName('i.item_id') . ' IN '. implode(',', $ids));
   $item = $this->db->loadObject();

function getQuery() 
   $query = $this->db->getQuery(TRUE) 
            ->select($this->db->quoteName(array('i.*', '', 'a.something'))) 
            ->from($this->db->quoteName('#myitems', 'i')) 
            ->join('LEFT', $this->db->quoteName('#categories', 'c') . ' ON (' . $this->db->quoteName('i.category_id') . ' = ' . 
              $this->db->quoteName('c.category_id') . ')') 
            ->join('LEFT', $this->db->quoteName('#__attributes', 'a') . ' ON (' . $this->db->quoteName('a.item_id') . ' = ' . 
              $this->db->quoteName('i.item_id') . ')');
   return $query;

Instead of re-writing the query function twice, once inside of each function, I have extracted the repeated code and written it as a third function which I can now call from either of the two other functions. It seems simple. In fact, many developers are probably already implementing this type of coding to make their code better.


Why is it important to not repeat yourself? There are many benefits to writing your code only once. Sure, nobody like to waste time writing code over and over again, but even more importantly you reduce the chance for bugs to occur. Less code means less chance of failure points. I am sure we’ve all had those moments when we can’t find the problem until after wasting an hour or more looking you find a missing semi-colon. I know it’s happened to me. There are other benefits too. When you later realize you need to add another table on to the query because your client needs more information from the database you only need to update one query now!

I hope many developers are already aware of this principle of Don’t Repeat Yourself. If this is a new concept, congratulations you have now learned what it means to write DRY code. I wanted to start this series with an easy topic and though this doesn’t cover every technical detail of this principle it does focus on a strong aspect of it. In the coming releases I look forward to looking at more principles of good development.

Tip of the Day: 29 Jan 2014

Mac Tip: If you have ever been on a call through your Mac, or if you’ve been listening to music, or if you simply need to modify your volume level then you are aware that your Mac will happily make little popping sounds as you increase or decrease your volume. Not always the best thing. But perhaps you don’t want to completely disable the sound. Here’s your tip of the day:

Hold the Shift key down while increasing or decreasing your volume and the sound will be suppressed. 

It’s small and possibly most people already know it, but for those that aren’t familiar with it or have forgotten it, this is a handy little tip.

Do the Hard Things

We all have a good laugh at watching Donald Trump and his now famous line, ‘You’re fired!’ when he decrees someone on his reality show unworthy of continuing. But I think part of the appeal is the simple fact that confrontation like this is difficult. The stress and anxiety which accompanies it is hard to handle and most people (I’m sure there are some that would disagree) do not enjoy being the ‘bad guy’.

The Outsider
It’s a relief to watch someone else do what we don’t enjoy doing. It’s fun to see it happen. It can also be a learning experience. Watch the outcome of what happens. Sure, there are hurt feelings and frustrations and perhaps even some anger. But what is the overall end result? Improvement. A better solution for both the company AND the fired individual. Obviously things were not working out and neither the company nor the employee were happy. 

The Employee
Do we like to be told when we’re not fitting somewhere? No. But we know deep down inside we’re not happy with the situation. It is very difficult to admit personal shortcomings and failures. It goes against human nature and our desire to succeed and be perceived as successful. So we suck it up and try to ‘suffer through’ a situation that is not healthy. But this does not lead to better productivity or better work. Things continue and more than likely grow worse. It’s unhealthy. 

The Boss
It’s not fun to have to be the one to tell someone they do not fit in. It’s difficult to look someone in the eye and tell them they are not doing what is necessary. We see a person standing there, an individual with feelings and stresses and concerns and the last thing that we want is to be the one that has to let them know they are not meeting expectations. It’s not fun. So we suck it up sometimes. We ‘suffer through’ and except mediocre work and poor performance. We hope that it’s going to ‘get better in time’. The truth is, it hardly ever does. 

The Winner
Who’s the true winner in this situation? To be honest, those in leadership who are willing to make the hard decisions, who are willing to look someone in the eye and do what needs to be done. But they are not the only winner. The employee who acknowledges the situation accepts the outcome. They win too. Because their quality of life will increase. So it might be hard, but it might be necessary. Do the hard things.

The Voice

No, I’m not talking about the popular NBC hit show rather I refer to the ever growing dilemma of social media and personal vs. professional opinions. Where does a work or volunteer commitment truly end and personal feelings start? 

There have been many public cases where employees were fired for expressing their views regarding a situation. Is that legitimate? Does working for a company automatically grant that business full control and access over a person’s freedom of speech? Or (speaking outside the United States) does it give full control over every public comment to your place of work?

Option 1: Public Disclosure
It’s a tough call and puts both businesses and employees in a difficult position. Everyone wants to believe it’s easy to separate the two and just make a statement that they are expressing a personal opinion. But does the reader truly make that distinction and separation? I doubt it.

Option 2: Multiple Personas
The next step is to create duplicate profiles. Is this effective? Probably not. Most people know only one face, and it’s likely to be the one associated with a company. Even if it’s not, the odds are high they know where you work and your relationship. So again, you lack separation.

Option 3: Passive Aggressive
Often this is the path taken by people. Don’t specifically state anything instead speak in vague generalities and hope the right people infer what you intend. I think this is one of the worst ways to handle it. This too often backfires with everyone knowing exactly what you intend to say and serves to only make matters worse. Again only my opinion, but I’ve seen this happen firsthand. Nobody is fooled by a thinly veiled generality.

Option 4: Use Discretion Always*
I believe the best (and only) approach is to be thoughtful and exercise discretion in ALL public communication. Note: I said public communication. Among your friends, in closed rooms, and in the appropriate setting I believe it’s good to air your concerns and your questions. In public, your conduct should always be considered a reflection of your place of business. This means breathing more and writing less. Being careful of your word choice and your tone is important. 

Bottom Line: Be Polite
Don’t respond in anger or frustration. Try to evaluate the outcome of your post and what your desired goal is. Then filter again. Be respectful, be polite, and be good. It sounds simple, but in the heat of a moment, so very easy to forget.