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What to do when community conflicts arise

In 2022, I was part of a professional software community that had decided to host an event in Austin, Texas. To be fair, the event location had been determined years prior, but the in-person event had been delayed for a couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the years leading up to the event, social discourse about discrimination tied to sexual orientation in Texas had reached greater intensity. Event organizers were torn between the business values of contracts signed in years past with the personal values of community members that they believed were very important. Some called for boycotting the event, while others questioned the values of the business and community leaders to host an event in Texas amongst the intense discourse. Not all community values were in conflict, but a few very important values to some members conflicted with the event’s location and its ties to values expressed by some people living in and governing the state.


Members Hold Common and Differing Values

No one wants conflicts to arise in their communities, but when they do, it is important to approach them correctly to ensure everyone feels safe, heard, understood, and valued.

Professional communities are typically composed of individuals who share a common interest or goal, such as a specific field of work or a particular industry. However, even within these communities, members may hold different values and beliefs due to factors such as their cultural background, personal experiences, and upbringing.




These differences in values can manifest in various ways, from political opinions and religious beliefs to attitudes toward social issues such as gender and sexuality. When these differences come to the forefront, they can create tension and conflict within the community.

Examples like the one above represent one type of values conflict that involves geography, politics, sexual orientation, individual rights, and business operations. I’ll offer a couple more examples of values conflicts that a community might face:


  • Consider a community of software developers where one member is a devout Christian who believes that same-sex relationships are sinful. In contrast, another member is openly gay and advocates for LGBTQ+ rights. While the focus of the community is on software development, these differing values may still come into play, particularly in discussions around workplace diversity and inclusion.
  • Similarly, in a community of marketing professionals, members may hold differing political views that come into play when discussing the ethics of advertising and branding.


While managing conflicts that arise from these differences can be challenging, it's important to remember that diversity can also be a strength. By acknowledging and respecting these differences, communities can become more inclusive and foster greater creativity and innovation.

That being said, it's also important to approach value conflicts with sensitivity and a willingness to listen to all perspectives. Community leaders must strike a delicate balance between upholding the values of the community while also recognizing and respecting the diversity of its members.


When Conflicts Arise, Follow These Steps

If such issues arise in your community - don't worry - there are steps you can take to manage these conflicts effectively without igniting a crisis. Here are seven points to consider when facing value conflicts within your community that can be approached immediately:

Immediate Actions:


  1. Acknowledge the conflict: Don't ignore or dismiss differences in values. Instead, recognize that they exist and may cause tension within the community. In the Texas example above, the community leaders did not attempt to skirt the conflict under the rug; they took steps to acknowledge the conflict and communicate that positive actions would be taken.
  2. Create a safe space where members can express their views respectfully without fear of judgment or discrimination. In the Texas example, the safe space for that conversation was provided prior to the event as well as throughout the event itself.Encourage respectful dialogue: Create a space where members can express their views in a respectful and non-judgmental manner. Make it clear that personal attacks or discrimination will not be tolerated. In the Texas example, LGBTQ community leaders took part in the event’s keynote program to discuss and shed light on the challenges some community members faced.
  3. Stay focused on the community's purpose: Remind members of the community's purpose and goals. Encourage them to work together towards these shared objectives, despite their differences. While time was invested in acknowledging the conflict, creating safe spaces, and opening dialogue, community members could still pursue the original goals of education and collaboration promised by the event.
  4. Seek to understand: Take the time to understand different perspectives and try to see the issue from all sides. This can help to create empathy and find common ground. Organizers of the Texas event took additional steps to ensure more information about the LGBTQ community was made available to conference attendees.  This was not only important for those in attendance but also took on a symbolic gesture of recognizing that even though the event was being held in Texas, it did not mean that the event had to adopt or acknowledge the values shared by the state.
  5. Find common values: Look for values that are shared among community members. Emphasize these values to unite the community and focus on what unites them rather than divides them.
  6. Be transparent: Keep the community informed of any decisions or actions that are taken in response to the conflict. Explain the reasoning behind these decisions and be open to feedback. In the Texas example discussed here, transparency was key.  If decisions were made behind closed doors or if certain community members felt excluded to denied information, a chasm of distrust could have grown.  Transparency helps relieve tensions that can cause and spread chasms.


Beyond the immediate actions, there are a few things you, as a community member or leader, can pursue over time: 


  1. Seek outside help: If the conflict is particularly complex or difficult to manage, consider bringing in an outside mediator or facilitator to help the community work through it.
  2. Create a code of conduct: Develop a code of conduct that outlines the community's expectations for behavior and interactions. This can help to prevent future conflicts and create a culture of respect.
  3. Respect individual differences: Recognize that not all members will share the same values or beliefs. Embrace this diversity and value each member's unique contributions to the community.
  4. Foster a culture of inclusion: Emphasize the importance of inclusion and diversity within the community. Celebrate the differences that strengthen the community and encourage all members to feel welcome and valued.


By following these steps, you can navigate value conflicts in a respectful, constructive, and productive way. While conflicts may still arise, taking a proactive and thoughtful approach can help prevent them from becoming communication crises for the organization. Remember, diversity can be a strength, and by acknowledging and respecting differences, your community can become more inclusive and foster greater creativity and innovation.