Wikipedia:Don't smother conflict

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Water cannon can put out fires... but it can also be used to stifle protest

Conflicts are inevitable in any community, and this includes Wikipedia. With several million users editing Wikipedia, some of these conflicts spiral out of control.

Of course, "spiral out of control" is subjective. What may seem like a flame war to one may seem like a healthy conflict to another. Healthy conflict does exist, and it should never be suppressed. A community without conflicts is just a community of clones under mind control.

It has been established that the more serious forms of conflict require some form of outside intervention, since the participants are too upset to do anything about it. Since, however, degrees of conflict, as stated above, are subjective, users can never agree on when to take action. This can in itself become a conflict and/or spiral out of control, but as in other types of conflict, the participants should try to reach a compromise about the type of action to be taken. A type of action that is inappropriate and unhelpful, however, is conflict smothering.

Conflict smothering has nothing to do with solving the problem or even dealing with the issue at hand. It just, well, smothers the conflict, like smothering a flame in a blanket. It often succeeds, but only in smothering the conflict. The raging fire of the ongoing argument is smothered in a blanket of often patronising soothing words at one extreme or "I'm trying to help you, but you won't cooperate" (and therefore I'll ignore you) indignation at misunderstood intent at the other. It works, but not in the long-term. Conflict smothering rarely gets rid of the whole conflict – sparks of resentment and/or unexpressed needs often remain, and what's worse, the firewood – whatever issue sparked the conflict in the first place – remains, with the potential for an even bigger fire the next time round since the fire has not been fully extinguished.

Conflict smothering is also irritating. Often, the conflict smotherer just barges into the conflict any old how and becomes an uninvited guest. This interruption when everyone is thrashing about madly trying to resolve the conflicts is irritating at best and profoundly insulting at worst: this user doesn't even trust me to manage my own social life! He/she thinks that whatever conflict we're having is so incredibly trivial that he/she can't be bothered to help us solve the problem, but since such things are unhelpful to Wikipedia, he/she has no choice but to get rid of the conflict without wasting too much of his/her precious Wiki time.

Also, most conflicts are over legitimate Wikipedia issues that since a problem has arisen need to be debated in order to get things straight and to improve the policy or guideline, or to create a new one. Smothering these conflicts prevents the issues being debated from developing and is actually to the detriment of the project.

Positive and negative conflict smothering[edit]

Positive conflict smothering attempts to comfort the users involved. Negative conflict smothering reprimands them.

They are equally bad. Positive conflict smothering assumes that the users have gotten personally involved, implying that they are incapable of taking control of themselves, which is inherently patronising. Also, it changes the topic from the conflict to the editors' inner thoughts and feelings, which some people may not be comfortable with, and which is totally irrelevant anyway. Negative conflict smothering incorrectly assumes that all conflicts are unhealthy, trivial and/or unhelpful, i.e. undesirable. This is not correct.

Note that conflict smothering isn't necessarily initiated by an outside party. Examples of internal conflict smothering include one user bringing the other user to ArbCom to stop the conflict, leaving the issues undeveloped.

Examples of conflict smothering[edit]

Positive conflict smothering[edit]

STOP adding your personal crap to the Featured Article, for goodness' sake! Put it anywhere but here! --User:A

I would seriously appreciate it if you would stop terming 2 months of my hard work and research crap. --User:B
It's okay, stop fighting. I'm sure A didn't mean to insult you, did you? There isn't any problem here! --User:C

This patronises both participants and openly denies that there is a problem, when there obviously is. Rudely butting into the discussion with an irrelevant aside similar to that given to tantrum-throwing three year-olds interrupts the conflict, distracts attention from the issues and patronises the participants.

A better way[edit]

STOP adding your personal crap to the Featured Article, for goodness' sake! Put it anywhere but here! --User:A

I would seriously appreciate it if you would stop terming 2 months of my hard work and research crap. --User:B
Calm down! :) A, please read WP:NPA. Calling other users' hard work "crap" can imply hostility. As for B, care to explain exactly why you feel that paragraph should be in the article? --User:C

This gives helpful but non-compulsory advice, yet (hopefully) converts the flame war into something useful.

Negative conflict smothering[edit]

Stop reverting that edit, for goodness' sake! It contains useful information, you know. --User:A

No, it doesn't. It's just a pile of redundant rubbish. --User:B
WP:NPA and stop reverting that edit!!! --User:A
Whoa. Stop arguing, everyone! I think everyone should just stay away from this page for a while. A and B, you're banned from editing this article for a month. --User:C

A and B are having a legitimate conflict over a legitimate Wikipedia issue and banning them puts it on hold but doesn't solve the problem. Also, C is being patronising and exercising his authority unnecessarily.

A better way[edit]

Stop reverting that edit, for goodness' sake! It contains useful information, you know. --User:A

No, it doesn't. It's just a pile of redundant rubbish. --User:B
WP:NPA and stop reverting that edit!!! --User:A
B, please read WP:CIV and both of you calm down. Personally, I think that while both your viewpoints have merits, you are caught in an edit war, which is unhelpful, so why don't you guys stay away from this article for a while? I'm sure that would be quite helpful. --User:C

C is offering a solution, but it's only a suggestion, so the solution isn't forceful like smothering. Also, C is offering advice about conflicts that will help the two users, unlike smothering the whole thing which just puts it on hold.

Internal conflict smothering[edit]

I am tired of you ranting on this article. This article is NOT a soapbox, neither is it your blog. DO NOT add any more tirades FOR or AGAINST this campaign. --User:A

Terming my logical addition to the section on Points of View "ranting" and "tirades" will not help your argument. --User:B
LOGICAL?!?! What?! Okay, this is it. I'm calling the administrators! --User:A *proceeds to post on WP:ANI*

The conflict was not personal, did not involve death or legal threats, and was over a legitimate Wikipedia issue. Dragging the issue to WP:ANI should not be taken as a quick way to stop an argument.

A better way[edit]

I am tired of you ranting on this article. This article is NOT a soapbox, neither is it your blog. DO NOT add any more tirades FOR or AGAINST this campaign. --User:A

Terming my logical addition to the section on Points of View "ranting" and "tirades" will not help your argument. --User:B
That was not logical. I counted 23 instances of POV-charged language, and the whole paragraph was clearly designed to push your point of view towards a wider audience – not the proper use for Wikipedia articles. --User:A

This reinforces A's argument that B had posted an un-NPOV paragraph, by restating it and providing facts to back it up. This injects logic into the conflict, rather than quickly ending it at WP:ANI.

See also[edit]