312: Internal Conflict Resolution

In every group, eventually a conflict or dispute will arise which needs to be resolved. Sometimes this can be a small issue, but a conflict can also escalate to an argument which spirals out of control, and negatively impacts your team and your community. In this article we will look at typical situations that can occur that might lead to a conflict between members of your staff, how to de-escalate situations and work on conflict resolution, and how you can handle the demotion or removal of a moderator when no resolution can be reached. We will also cover the best practices for giving and receiving feedback from other members of the staff team.

Causes of Internal Conflicts

There can be many causes for conflicts between your moderators, some of which occur more often than others. Some of these can easily be prevented, while others might need a more intentful thought process to stop them from escalating to a conflict. 

 

Personality Clashes and Differences

The main reason for conflicts to arise is a difference in personalities amongst your team. Everyone perceives, analyzes and responds differently to certain situations. While this should be a learning opportunity for everyone involved, it can lead to arguments when moderators can not get along. While emphasizing there are different approaches to the same issue, you should teach moderators to learn from each other instead of disagreements ending in a conflict. When a moderator constantly disagrees with someone else, or ends up in a personal argument, try taking them aside and let them know that they should be working on their personal issues. You can help them as an objective observer - it can be very valuable to let members of your team know that you understand their individual perspectives and are working to balance them.

 

Try to avoid the “Halo/Horns effect” as much as possible. This is a type of cognitive bias where your view of someone’s actions can influence how you think and feel about that person in general, both positively as well as negatively. 

 

Poor Communication

Misunderstandings between your moderators can lead to a conflict as well, especially when there is a different understanding of how a situation should be handled. Having transparent, consistent communication where everyone is on the same page is very important in an online setting such as Discord. Text is often perceived differently than talking over voice or even in person. Oftentimes a language barrier can lead to misinterpreting a message as well. Try to prevent misunderstandings from happening with clear communication and when misunderstandings happen, step in where possible and explain how the situation should be handled. Foster a culture where it is not only allowed but encouraged to ask for clarification on someone’s statement if you have any doubts about what their intent was. 

 

Bullying and Harassment

Making jokes is beneficial for maintaining a healthy and welcoming environment and even a way to deal with the tough situations moderators may face. However, it is important to make sure that jokes don’t push the boundaries of what is appropriate and lead to perceived bullying of server members behind closed doors, or even other members of your own team.

What is perceived to be a harmless in-joke in context could out of context seem like a malicious and unwarranted comment. When it is clear someone is not comfortable with certain jokes or feels targeted, you need to step in and clear the situation by telling moderators involved that you want a positive atmosphere where everyone feels welcomed and comfortable while clearly identifying what line was crossed so it does not happen again. That’s not to say that all close knit groups trend towards exclusionary jokes, but it is something that can happen without a team even being cognizant that it’s a problem. Hence why it’s pertinent to keep inclusivity and good faith intent in mind with situations like this. 

 

Unfair Treatment

A main cause for conflicts is unfair treatment amongst members of your team. This might be because there is a lack of equal opportunities, or because there are unrealistic expectations. Make sure that everyone on your team is treated equally as everyone deserves the same treatment, regardless of your personal relationships. This also means you and other moderators should have reasonable expectations of each other. Moderators often volunteer to help out in your community, so don’t expect them to be available at all times; they might have other responsibilities as well. Any mod team’s north star should be that “real life comes first”, and to be lenient amongst themselves in the face of that. 

 

Unclear Responsibilities

Sometimes it is not clear what responsibilities everyone has on the team. This can lead to misunderstandings and eventually to conflicts. Make sure everyone on the team receives adequate training and information on what different roles and positions should be doing. You might want to divide different responsibilities amongst members of your team or between different roles, such as moderators and administrators. Be as transparent and clear as possible on what everyone should be doing.

 

Competition

Sometimes moderators feel that they are competing against each other, especially if there are statistics or promotions available. You should always be clear that moderation is not about competition, it is about helping your community in the best way possible. Not every moderator has the same time available to help, so naturally there are going to be differences amongst your team. Moderation is not about quantity but quality - if this negatively skewed competitive atmosphere is a frequent issue, it may be worth looking at whether there are mechanisms within your community that encourage competition conflicts that could be removed or revised, such as quotas, public moderation statistics, or leaderboards.

 

Different Values and Standards

Moderators usually come from all over the world and might have different values. Sometimes, these might result in a conflict. Remind your moderators that they should always respect each other's values, regardless of their own opinion. Moderators should be able to explain why they feel a certain way in order for others to be more understanding of the situation. When someone has values that do not align with the server’s moderation philosophy, you might need to remove them from your team.

 

Unresolved Underlying Issues

It is not always possible to immediately see a reason for a conflict, this might be due to unresolved underlying issues. It is very hard to know these without having a conversation with everyone involved. There can be many more causes for a dispute to arise, but it is always important to find the underlying issue which causes a conflict, only then are you able to resolve it.

Preventing Internal Conflicts

To minimize and prevent conflicts from happening, try as best as you can to get a comprehensive view of why and how conflicts occur in your server. It is very important to develop interpersonal relationships with all of your moderators and value their contributions to the server. Encourage moderators to take initiative in projects they are enthusiastic about, especially in collaboration with other moderators. Just as moderators set a positive example in your community, you as the leader of your moderation team should set a positive example within your team.

When you propose major changes to the server, listen to your team’s viewpoints before deploying and explain why a decision was made. Good communication is very important within a team, not only to prevent conflicts, but also to keep all moderators on the same page. All moderators should feel involved and informed when you are making major changes. 

 

You can give your moderators regular feedback on how they are doing and what they can improve. Make sure moderators always feel welcome to provide feedback constructively and positively to each other and that they can always contact you or someone in charge in case a conflict does arise. 

 

Try to discourage gossip within your team, both internal and external. When moderators start to talk about each other behind their backs, it becomes personal and can distort the relationship your moderators have and how they see themselves within the server. Instead, encourage moderators to form friendships with each other by organizing social events for your staff. During those events, you can learn about the different personalities in your team.

 

Last, but not least; you shouldn’t lash out over mistakes.Give feedback where it is appropriate and move on. Be quick to forgive and forget. You should always prevent belittling your moderators while also creating a culture of de-escalating situations in private.

Resolving an Internal Conflict

There are many ways to resolve conflict internally and most of these will depend on what the cause is for the conflict. A good way of resolving conflicts is using the Thomas-Kilmann model. It should be stated that conflicts are not necessarily bad and shouldn’t be avoided at all costs. When you are working in a team, it is important to be able to challenge the status quo and question each other, to keep everyone on the aligned and up to date.

 

In the Thomas-Kilmann model, there are two dimensions when you are choosing a course of action: assertiveness and cooperativeness. Assertiveness is the degree to which you try to satisfy your own needs where cooperativeness is the degree to which you try and satisfy the other person's concerns.

 

Based on these dimensions, there are five ways to handle a conflict:

  • Avoiding: Ignoring the conflict
  • Accommodating: Satisfying the other person’s concerns at your own expense
  • Compromising: Finding an acceptable compromise that partially satisfies everyone
  • Competing: Satisfying your own concerns at the expense of others
  • Collaborating: Finding a solution which satisfies the concerns of everyone



All these different ways to handle a conflict are your intention to solve them: Sometimes situations occur differently than you expect at first. Don’t jump to conclusions when you are dealing with a conflict, as the reasons for conflicts are often more complex than they first appear.  Everyone tends to resolve conflicts in a certain way, so try to balance them so you don’t end up overwhelmed or overwhelm others.

 

The first step is to identify the cause for the conflict. You might already know this based on previously sent messages, but sometimes you need to contact everyone involved separately and in private to determine the cause of the conflict. It is your responsibility to determine how to handle a situation. While collaborating together to resolve a conflict might look the most appealing, this will not always be possible. Try not to completely avoid a conflict: if you feel uneasy dealing with conflicts or don’t want to give moderators feedback, you might not want to be in a leading position.

 

If you need to resolve a conflict, choose a neutral place to work it out. This might be a separate server or a private group. None of the people involved in the conflict should have power over the others, so you or someone else should act as an objective observer. If the conflict is between other moderators, you should offer guidance, but don’t offer solutions: ultimately it is up to others to resolve their conflicts, you are not taking sides.

 

Remember that not all conflicts require consequences. Most conflicts are sparked by the passion of your moderators who are simply in disagreement on how to deal with situations. Try to turn a conflict into a learning opportunity for everyone involved. Let them explain how they view the situation and how they would have handled it or behaved differently. Afterwards, you should be able to identify specific disagreements that you can solve. Listen to everyone involved and give everyone an equal opportunity to express themselves. Remind everyone to stay respectful at all times, even if they disagree with each other.

Giving and Receiving Feedback

As said before, you should discourage gossip within your team and encourage each other to give constructive feedback. It is important that everyone knows how to give and receive feedback to prevent a conflict from happening in future situations.

 

Giving Feedback

When you notice a moderator that displays behavior or takes action that can be improved, you should give them feedback on how to improve this in the future. Don’t rush in giving your feedback, everyone needs time to process. When a situation becomes heated, it will not be the best time to give feedback. Remember to always give feedback in private!

 

If you are in doubt as to whether or not you should give feedback, see if you can recognize a pattern in their behavior or actions. Everyone makes mistakes and that is perfectly fine as mistakes serve as a learning opportunity and you should only give them feedback if it becomes a pattern. Additionally, it’s recommended that you ask for consent to give feedback. While this may seem a little counterintuitive to helping the moderator improve or change, blindsiding someone when they’re not ready can result in backlash rather than progress. 

 

When you do decide to give someone feedback, don’t focus on the person who made a mistake: focus on their behavior or action instead.By making feedback personal and equating it to an issue with the individual rather than their choices, you can come off as argumentative and unconstructive and biased. Never exaggerate their behavior, be sure that you are clear and specific . When you make generalized or vague comments about someone, they will not be able to improve their behavior. Feedback should be actionable- there should be a suggestion or a change that the individual can work on as a result of the feedback. Otherwise it’s just airing your grievances, which is unproductive for all parties involved.

 

The next time you see someone doing something good when you have given them feedback in the past, give them a compliment! Positive, specific feedback is especially effective in encouraging repeating said good actions. Giving each other positive feedback is just as important as giving each other constructive or corrective feedback.

 

Remember to always treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. It is proven that negative feedback is given mostly when people are experiencing negative emotions like hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness. This negative feedback method is referred to as the HALT-mode, and it is important to try to avoid situations where you are giving feedback when you find yourself in one of these states.

 

Receiving Feedback

When someone is giving you feedback, it is very important to listen to what they have to say. Don’t jump to conclusions, react defensively, or disagree immediately. Take a moment to summarize the feedback as you understand it to make sure you have understood their feedback correctly.

 

You should always thank someone for giving them feedback, even if you disagree. It has to be clear you are welcoming feedback to improve. If you do not thank them, they might not give you valuable feedback in the future.

 

Ideally feedback is very clear and specific, in which case you can end the conversation by thanking them for their feedback and reflect back what you are going to do with the feedback in the future. Other times it might not be understandable to you and as a result, it is unclear what you should do differently in the future. In this case you should ask questions to understand their feedback better. To have a better understanding of what they want to achieve with their feedback, it is a good idea to ask the other person how they would have handled the situation or how they would have behaved. After this you should thank them and reflect back on what you are going to do with their feedback.

 

It is okay to let someone know why you disagree with their feedback, but remember to stay respectful at all times and explain clearly why you disagree. Everyone should feel heard, even if you are not acting on their feedback.

Handling Demotions

There are many reasons why you might want to remove a moderator from your team, including internal conflicts you are unable to resolve. Removing or demoting a moderator is not easy to do, but can be a necessary evil. Removing someone from your team should be in the best interest of your community or team and can often be in the best interest of that person as well. Be sure to give someone an opportunity to learn from their mistakes before removing them. Give a warning first and have a conversation in private with them, following the principles of giving and receiving feedback outlined above. 

 

While it is not easy to deliver bad news, here are some tips to keep in mind when you do want to remove someone from your team.

 

Don’t delay the conversation

Once you have made the decision to remove someone from your team, don’t hesitate and wait for the conversation to take place. When someone is causing more issues than they are solving, they will need to be removed sooner than later, but make sure that someone has had enough opportunities to fix their mistakes and resolve their issues. Please make sure you have this conversation in private, for example in direct messages or a voice call.

 

Keep it short and clear

When you are talking to someone you are removing, it is important to keep your message short and clear. Tell them they are being removed from the team, why you have made this decision, and when this will take effect. Be transparent in what reasons you have for removing them, but do not go into too much detail with specific examples. This may result in a conversation where you are arguing about these examples rather than informing them of their removal.  You’re aiming for polite dismissal, not a lambasting of their character.

 

Stick to your decision

Despite your message being short, clear, and transparent, you might still receive counter arguments as to why they should not be removed and to give them another chance. It is important they can express themselves, but it should be clear at all times that the decision to remove them has already been made and is not up for debate. Always listen carefully to what someone has to say and appreciate their feedback, but unless someone has substantial evidence a mistake was made, repeat your decision and make it clear that your decision is final.

 

Be helpful and compassionate

Even though you are delivering bad news, you should take a supportive approach in the conversation. Remember that while it might be difficult for you to deliver bad news, it most definitely is difficult to be on the receiving end. Show empathy for them and especially when they have done a good job in the past.


In some cases, the moderator you’re removing may wish to receive feedback on what they can improve - giving this feedback in a constructive fashion is important, and will help them to avoid future problems. This feedback should include reflecting on the positive contributions they made to the team, helping them understand what the causes of conflict might have been while they were on your team, or simply trying to give them something positive to take forward and work on as a result of your conversation. This conversation shouldn’t reflect a reversal of your decision, but can be a useful point of reference if they want to join other servers or work on improving their skills down the line, or perhaps even re-apply to join the team in the future.

 

Inform your team

When someone has been removed from your team, make sure to inform the team of this decision. It is up to you whether or not you want to share the reason for their removal, but refrain from sharing details as these are confidential, especially when these could be potentially harmful to someone. You also want to prevent anyone, including yourself, from talking bad about them, as this sets a wrong precedent for your team. As with your decision, you should be straightforward and clear to your team, an example of this could be: “Today we have decided to remove Sarah from our team. I will not go into too much detail why this decision was made, but we believe it is the best decision for the community and the entire team.”

 

In case someone was removed because of misbehavior, you might want to include that in the message, as this gives the team assurance you are not removing someone because of a personal conflict, and it shows a strong message about how you want moderators to conduct themselves.

Wrapping Up

In every group, eventually a conflict or dispute will arise which needs to be resolved. There are common causes, such as personality clashes and differences, poor communication, unclear responsibilities, and harassment. To minimize and prevent conflicts from happening, try and understand as much as possible why conflicts occur in your server. It is very important to develop interpersonal relationships with all of your moderators and value their contributions to the server. Try to discourage gossip within your team. When moderators start to talk about each other behind their backs, it becomes personal and can distort the relationship your moderators have and how they see themselves within the server.

 

You can resolve conflicts using the Thomas-Kilmann model. It is important to know conflicts are not necessarily bad and shouldn’t be avoided at all costs. When you are working in a team, it is important to be able to challenge the status quo and question each other, to keep everyone on the same page and sharp.

 

When you want to give feedback to someone, talk to them in private and be clear and specific. Prevent giving feedback when you feel hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Focus on their behavior or action instead and never exaggerate their behavior. Oppositely, when someone is giving you feedback, it is very important to listen to what they have to say and to avoid jumping to conclusions, reacting defensively, or disagreeing immediately. Take a moment to summarize the feedback to make sure you have understood their feedback correctly.

 

Sometimes you need to remove someone from your staff team. Don’t delay this conversation, keep it short and clear, and stick to your decision. When the conversation is taking place, be helpful and compassionate and do not forget to inform your team as well, but make it clear that certain things remain private for the safety and privacy of those involved. 

 

Keeping all of those points in mind when managing a team environment will be integral to maintaining a healthy atmosphere full of various viewpoints that are united in the shared desire to keep your community safe.

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