Recently on social media, I have been very engaged in dialogues around social justice topics. At the same time, I have been discussing online conflict privately with some individuals. Something I’ve been chewing on…
When we train on conflict resolution in face to face interactions, we talk about (in general) three different strategies:
These strategies tend to be universal when it comes to conflict (unless you are Michael Scott in “the Office” – you additionally have win-win-win). There are other nuanced strategies, but these three tend to be most accepted.
When it comes to online conflict, I rarely see win-win strategy. It’s like people default to win-lose, and if that doesn’t work they go to lose-lose.
I wonder whether this is because of the medium itself (social media) or because win-win is a hard strategy which invests a lot of energy and people want a break from it online. Whenever a conflict comes up at work, when I’m at my best, I try to find solutions from a win-win perspective. It can be tiring and exhausting. At home, with my partner and with my children, I try (again, when I am at my best) to find win-win solutions (although I need to admit I struggle a lot more to be my best at home).
When I first started engaging online, I didn’t really want to do the work involved in win-win because I wasn’t as invested in the other person I was engaging with the way I would be in face to face interactions. Mainly because in the early days of digital interactions (telnet and ICQ should tell you how old I am and how long I’ve been on the interwebs) I could just turn off my computer, change my login name (from something like Manilowfan12 to RogerStaubach12) and then start over. Or I could block this unknown person. Either way I wasn’t invested because I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me.
Today this is a little different. On Facebook, my profile is connected with me. I can’t just change my login if I make a mistake, or don’t like the results of my online interactions. There are potential consequences for how I engage with conflicts. Because of this, I have discovered that win-win conflict strategies are crucial on social media. This is generally my goal on social media and when I engage with others about difficult subjects (again when I’m at my best). Social media can be a very self-absorbed world; what will these words mean for how people see me? What will people think of me when I post this picture?
We rarely (or at least I) struggle to ask the question “how will these words impact others?” Or “how might these memes make other people feel?” When I’m at my worst, those questions rarely come up.
These principles may not be universal to everyone, but they are salient for me.
So far, we haven’t discussed an important component to all of this.
When we look at conflict resolution through a lens of equality and social justice, there is another dimension at work; power and privilege. Because employing a win-lose or lose-lose strategy isn’t always about a lack caring about the other person, it’s about getting needs met and protecting ones’ humanity. We will discuss this more in a few days with Part 2.
Until then, feel free to comment on how you see issues of power and privilege could impact conflict resolution strategies and the lenses we use to interpret them.