Dr. Conflict Is In

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As you might imagine, I am a member of a number of list servs and most of the time I simply monitor them for interesting topics and resources we can pass along to our readers but over the past day or so one of them blew up into an online battle where accusations, mollifications, diatribes and apologies have followed one after another even into the wee hours of the morning. This has happened in this particular forum a few times before. Every now and then someone chimes in with a “can’t we all just get along?” but the conflict has achieved its own momentum apparently entirely disconnected from any sense of real importance to the world.

Of course, email is like a tool of the devil when it comes to fanning flames of misunderstanding but I am always shocked at how publicly out of control such stuff can get.

This kind of highly personalized fracas over things that no one else cares much about is a time-honored tradition among intellectuals and I am not suggesting that it is entirely useless but watching it when so many things are at risk in our communities is difficult. Long story short though, my personal tactic is to wait for it to go away (which can take a week or more on this particular forum). The best face on my behavior is that it is a kind of “pick your battle” approach. The less attractive face is that I am recently a disengager when it comes to emotionally fraught conflict. Again for those who know me, this reticence is fairly recent and does not extend to political battles.

The Nonprofit Quarterly’s Dr. Conflict is a master of helping people understand the best way to approach their particular clashes. I am including a link to the most recent column here so you can get a sense of his erudite style. I invite you to submit your own question about a quarrel you are in or are avoiding or fear you may have handled badly.

Meanwhile, I will try not to rubberneck at the accident occurring in slow motion on the list serv in question.

  • Susan Golinske

    We have a recent volunteer who wants to “take the ball and run with it” without checking with the Director’s on funding, timing, proper protocol, use of logo, etc. We don’t want to discourage her but we need to “rein her in”. We think a policy on how to hold an event would be worthwhile – can you provide any examples with language that protects a non profit?

  • Alan Arthur

    This is a problem?! I LOVE people who want to take balls and run with them, both staff and volunteers! There is not, and should not be, an over-arching “policy’ for this, because it’s not a problem – it’s an opportunity to perhaps get something done. However, expectations for everyone should always be clear: What do you care about re funding? (Require a budget and discipline under it.) What do you care about timing (Establish a schedule, and require adherence.) What do you care about protocol? (Establish who she reports to, about what, and how often.) Do you have policies for staff regarding the logo? (Give them to her.) Do you have other relevant policies? (Give them to her.)

    In summary, sit down with her and set achievement (outcomes) expectations, clearly establish the ditches you want her to stay out of (parameters), and let ‘er go! (Just like you would/should do with good staff people.)

    If you really are worrying that she’s not the right person for the job, get someone else for it. If you just have controlling behavior problems yourself, get control of them. In any case, don’t forget that if she isn’t achieving the goals, or isn’t staying out of the ditches, you (if you are her supervisor) can fire her – and never be afraid to do it. Good luck!