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Some of the most amazing communities to be part of are those whose purpose is to create or make things, and that are full of passionate craftspeople. One such community is The Apache Software Foundation which develops much of the open source software that runs the Internet and business IT departments.

These type of communities are usually full of level-headed, reasonable people, who have a strong vested interest in, and passion for the purpose of their communities. This passion that both unites the community can also be a source of tension and conflict. This conflict can quickly escalate into flame wars in message boards and other digital mediums because of the relatively impersonal contact between members.

When conflict inevitably erupts between passionate community members, is there a way to help mitigate emotions and tempers that flare up such that the community can resolve the issue and make a decision related to a disagreement?

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This Q&A came up in a meta-discussion forum at The Apache Software Foundation, and I found the answer so amazing and useful to community building in general, I wanted to share it here.

Guidelines for reducing tensions between passionate community members in a distributed community

  1. Assume that the other party agrees more than disagrees with you. We tend to leave out agreements and focus on differences. Sometime this is forgotten and escalation becomes absurd for no rational reason.

  2. When in doubt, assume that you are interpreting the message wrongly and kindly ask for verification that you understood a particular topic well.

  3. When writing, assume that every sentence will be misinterpreted. Review and try to reformulate to be as clear as possible.

  4. Use a submissive tone in all writing. Instead of the strong "In my opinion, we must..." or the quite neutral "I think we should...", try to use "Maybe we should consider..." or "Another idea that we could..."

  5. If you disagree strongly with an email sent, tag it Important, then put it aside. Read it half a day later again. Put it aside. Read it again next day, and then it is easier to write a balanced and inviting response, instead of the initial vitriol that flows through us when we get upset. I found that sometimes a response wouldn't be necessary, as the importance was actually much lower than originally perceived, and I would be able to work "with", instead of "against", a given change.

  6. Be forgiving and accept different priorities. The other person is not out to get you or attack your work. More often than not, it is one of the above (a-d) that are failing, or that the other person prioritize some aspect higher than you do. Sometimes, this requires compromises, sometimes not and the different priorities can co-exist.

  7. Face-to-Face is excellent way to eliminate disagreements, but that is often not practical. Consider Skype or Google Hangout, just for the social aspect of being part of this community. It should not be formal, and the invitation should go out to everyone, perhaps someone want to make a short presentation of what he/she is doing, to have some "structure", but that might not be needed either. Once we have a face to the words, and a general idea how that person is socially, we are much more capable to interact by email.

  • Wish I could upvote this answer more than once. – Kurtis Beavers Apr 13 '16 at 19:31

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