Jump to content

Dispute resolution (essay)

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
(English) This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.

This page was essentially the rant of one person and may not fit the view of the community. If it becomes listed on vfd for being a personal page, please rather move it to a user:anthere sub page. Thanks.

See w:en:Wikipedia:Dispute resolution for more on the various steps suggested on the english wikipedia.

Dispute resolution is the process of resolving disputes between parties. It includes litigation, arbitration, mediation, conciliation, and many types of negotiation.

This page focuses in dispute resolution through mediation. As a reminder, mediation is the activity in which a neutral third party (called the mediator) assists two or more parties in order to help them achieve an agreement.

Mediation differs slightly from the conciliation process in this that the parties seldom, if ever, actually directly face each other or talk together in the presence of the conciliator.

Contrary to real life, most wikipedia editors never meet physically. Most of the disputes occur on talk or article pages, though they can spread on user page, mailing lists, IRC, etc., as well (see forest fire).
Contrary to real life, people in conflict can't meet each other over a beer, or for a positive informal discussion. For the most agressive individuals, this will often result in breach of civility, or an edit war.
Given the collective nature of the project, most disputes have a great impact on the whole Wikipedia community. Not only do disputes tend to spread on many pages, but some editors join the fray, based on their own opinions on the matter, or their personal relationship with one or both of the disputants, further fueling the crisis.

Steps in dispute resolution[edit]

There are basically five steps in conflict resolution:

Stopping the fighting[edit]

In real life, the first level of dispute resolution is fundamentally a physical response to the conflict -- interrupting the behavior that is creating the conflict. Stopping the fight is meant to separate people and to keep them from hurting each other. On Wikipedia, it essentially focuses on keeping people from hurting each other (and themselves) through verbal attacks, and preventing them from hurting the content of articles through page protection or temporary blocking.

Examples of verbal attacks

  • Use of loaded language (very emotionally charged words, such as nazi)
  • Name-calling (nazipedia)
  • Calling for a user to be banned
  • Lies and distortions
  • Ad hominem (personal) attacks: If you were not so stupid, you would have no problem seeing my point of view
  • Strawman (attacking an exaggerated or caricatured version of the other, for example, exaggerating a position so much that a comparison can be made between Hitler and an opponent)

Settling the issues[edit]

In this step, the resolution process engages the mind. The mediator will work to provide a logical analysis of the underlying interests of the parties, and how those relate to the issues that are generating conflict between them.

That is the article fix !

Most of the time, mediators do not seek to go any further, as they are happy they fixed the article. In all appearances, the conflict is solved. However, it often is not, which will be often proved when a similar type of conflict erupts between the editors 2 weeks later -- whether over the same article or a different one.

Resolving the underlying reasons that generated those issues[edit]

Unless resolved, these issues will continue to generate the same type of issues.

In short, do not fix the article, fix the people !

In general, people have to "fix" themselves. Be patient and provide only measured doses of tutoring, mentoring or critiquing of their behavior.

It might be helpful to consider yourself an element of soothing water rushing by some conflicting rapids. You have successfully wet the rocks (if the article is temporarily "fixed") and possibly rubbed a little polishing sand in their face, now it is time to flow away and allow the rocks to think about reality and their personal interface with it for a while. Leave placidly confident that there is plenty of water and other elements around the wiki to embrace rocks rubbing against each other. Eventually some polish will occur and reduce the friction on the beautiful weathered rocks lucky enough to have fallen into the streambed.


No one is perfect, so forgiving someone's error may be desirable. Do not disrupt projects to make a point by digging out very old problems to justify your point.


Mutually agreeing to reconcile is good. Otherwise, simply stopping arguments without express forgiveness or reconciliation may still be mentally disturbing to those directly involved.

A check list for the mediator[edit]

  • Stay calm, and write in a quiet way
  • Ask disputants to explain why they are here
  • Explain that you would like to hear each side of the story
  • Let the person vent frustrations
  • If on irc, do not break the discussion unless necessary
  • Do not give advice
  • Do not take sides
  • Do not make judgments, and do not blame someone or make them look ridiculous or silly
  • Do not solve the problem for the disputants, let them solve it themselves
  • Establish some ground rules, such as no name calling
  • Practice active listening: you (the mediator) will rephrase what the userA said, to the userA himself. It will indicated what you understood. You may add some summaries, such as you felt angry/frustrated/confused when UserB wrote that. Active listening has several objectives:
    • the disputant cools down when he or she makes the effort to listen to you
    • the disputant can check that you really understood what he or she meant. If not, the person can rephrase it. This avoids misunderstandings.
    • the disputant will likely open up and say more. Sometimes, when people are in conflict, they can contradict each other, denying what the opponent say. This will tend to make them silent, but if they feel someone is listening to their concerns, they will explain more what they think, feel, and wish.
  • To help the disputants, summarize what has been said, clarify, restate information, and check back often to see that your understanding is the same as the disputants' understanding(s).

Ask questions, such as:

  • Explain to me the history and the facts of the situation.
    • This should be based on facts, not on opinions -> user A wrote I was an liar
  • Tell me what you want to achieve here in the mediation.
    • The disputant is positioning himself or herself; Does the person just want to have a link or an opinion included in an article, or does he or she wish to get apologies from another user, which is a different matter
  • Tell me what happened and what effect it had on you.
    • Let the user vent his or her unhappiness. If the user was told he or she is a liar, what did that feel like when it happened?
  • Tell me what you think should be done today
    • Even if the goal is for example to settle the issue of a link being placed on an article or not, perhaps the user first want to solve first the issue of having been called a liar
  • Tell me first how you think we should go about resolving the problems that we are dealing with
    • Here, you ask to the editor to suggest a resolution procedure