Resolving disputes in a virtual world

Disputes are inevitable. When they happen in families or at work, we manage to get past them because we often have no other choice.

In virtual worlds, relationships can be more tenuous and more quickly discarded. Anonymous and more free of social constraint, people can forget to treat us with the same respect they might afford real world interactions. It can be easier to insult or turn your back on someone with whom you disagree. We can, if we wish, even block offenders so that for us at least, they needn’t even exist.

Like most of you, I too have experienced disputes in the virtual world. Some were misunderstandings arising from the limited nature of text-based communication. Others were more complicated and led to the withering of meaningful relationships.

I see a lot of the fallout from inworld disputes in social media. Who hasn’t seen the ambiguous Facebook status update stating: “I’ve had it with ‘so-called friends’ who backstab me and don’t take responsibility for their sh*t”, or something like that?

I’d share examples, but I’ve unfollowed them all.

These publicly expressed frustrations can be useful venting mechanisms, but they do not resolve disputes. That is precisely what not to do if you want to resolve a conflict with another person. Throwing one’s frustrations out on the mercy of public support may make you feel better, but it does nothing to mend fences between injured parties. Further, it makes you (the complainer) look like a whiner that deserves a wide social berth.

By resorting to these less efficient methods, we may miss valuable opportunities to learn, practice and hone our dispute resolution skills. These skills are useful, but they need work.

If we don’t learn them, we might get lazy when faced with situations we’d rather not face. At worst, we might allow these lazy habits to bleed into our more meaningful relationships, where it might be harder to run away from our social responsibilities.

Last Wednesday I hosted a Chat Salon at Basilique. At the Salon, we discussed participant’s best approaches to resolving disputes. As I heard everyone’s views, I noted the most resonant suggestions and made a list.

Before I share them with you, I’d like to frame these approaches in two ways.

First, I am assuming that when faced with a dispute, you want both parties to win. The methods I list will not help you ‘win arguments’. Rather, they might lead to win-win agreements, where neither party feels like they lost. I prefer win-win outcomes to disputes because they tend to help us preserve relationships.

Second, I’m again reminded of how Aikido principles can help me handle conflicts. To my surprise, the disputes needn’t even be physical. In class this week, we learned how every move in Aikido follows an A-B-C structure. The structure is

  • Avoid
  • Break balance
  • Control

First, you avoid an attack by shifting your body out of harm’s way and keeping a safe distance. Second, you break your opponent’s balance by doing something they do not expect. Third, you control your opponent’s aggression by redirecting their energy in a way that incapacitates them. As a result, you and your attacker remain unharmed – a win-win. I have come to realize that non-violent dispute resolution techniques follow a similar A-B-C pattern.

Here is the list of recommendations, in order of application:


  1. Know disputes will happen. Know they’re inevitable. Appreciating this fact will help you avoid surprise and remain calm when attacks arise.
  2. Avoid conflict where you can. First, don’t start it. Think before you speak. Choose your battles with care. Sometimes it’s better to let go of a throwaway comment or perceived slight. Why argue every.single.point? Instead, defuse the bomb before it detonates. Maintaining your sense of humour and not taking yourself too seriously helps here.

Break Balance

  1. If you sense an argument building, move the conversation into a private channel as soon as you can. If you’re in a group or local chat, move it to PM. If it’s a blog comment, email the commenter. Don’t waste your time attempting to manage a dispute with someone in a public forum like group chat. Handling conflicts in a public forum only invites grandstanding. The bigger the forum, the more drama may ensue.
  2. Stay as calm and relaxed as you can. Depersonalise attacks. Remember that people often bring their problems or history to their disputes. It’s a paradox, but becoming defensive will reduce your defensive effectiveness.
  3. Get the facts first. Know “what happened?” Ask: “How did you feel when this happened?” Hear them out without interruption – even if you know, they are wrong. Let them vomit their grievances until they tire themselves out. Pushing back at this stage will only fuel their fire. Instead, listen and breathe.
  4. Look to the reason for their grievance. Consider: “Why is this important to them?” and “What do they want?” Listen not to reply, but to understand. Often we might find we are arguing against what we perceive the problem is instead of the real issue.
  5. Listen for frames of reference. Consider: “Where are they coming from?” and “What does this mean for them?” As you listen, you may better understand why this issue is worth their ire.


  1. Empathise with their losses or harm. Even if they only perceive the losses and they are not intended. Sometimes people just need to vent and be heard. Shutting them down too soon may cause them to appear foolish or risk losing face. Appreciate their feelings, even if you do not agree with their position.
  2. Take responsibility for your part, even if it’s a tiny part. Your part might be a failure to listen, or a failure to clearly communicate, or a failure to notice something. Rarely are disputes 100% one-sided. Even taking responsibility for a small part of the problem may go a long way towards defusing an attack.
  3. Look for mutual interests: Consider: “What do we both want?” The sooner you can focus on a solution, the sooner you can stop arguing. One participant suggested that shifting the aggression toward a common enemy may be effective in deflecting attacks.
  4. Abandon preconceived positions. In any argument one person has a position and the other person takes another. Keep your eye instead on mutual interests. Let go of your position (what you thought was important) if the area of common interest is more important than your position.
  5. Identify solutions together. Ask them how they’d like to see it resolved. If you can agree with that, there’s more chance they’ll be happy with the resolution. There’s more chance you’ll be able to live with it.
  6. Agree on a resolution. Put it down in writing if you can. When emotions run high, remembering details can be a challenge. Sometimes we can be so relieved the argument is over that we forget to put the resolution into action.
  7. Fix the problem as best and as quick as you can.
  8. If need be, prepare to walk away. Not every dispute is resolvable. How much you can live with depends on how much you value the relationship. Experts in negotiation tell us to have a BATNA in mind – a Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. Having a BATNA will help you negotiate from a position of strength. Sometimes that BATNA is walking away from the disagreement – agreeing to disagree.

In all this it’s important to accept that not every problem is resolvable. Not every relationship can last forever. Why should things only have beginnings and not ends? Impermanence is a fact of life. The better we are at letting go, the better we will be at being happy.

Disputes happen. They always will. These skills are necessary because the enduring quality of your more important relationships depends on them. Every dispute is a test. Every argument is an exercise. Every disagreement is an opportunity to practice. After all, half of life is getting on with others. The other half is getting on with yourself.

Thank you to all the participants at the Basilique Chat Salon for sharing their suggestions with me. What do you think of these approaches? Do you have any you would add that have worked for you?

By | 2016-11-18T13:14:49+00:00 January 16th, 2016|General, Opinions, Second Life|6 Comments

About the Author:

Canary Beck has been an active Second Life resident since 2007. She is an SL blogger, artist, creator, merchant, sim owner, researcher, filmmaker and performing artist. Offline she works as a London-based internet marketing consultant and business owner.


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  3. Cybele Moon January 17, 2016 at 7:09 am

    these are fantastic points Becky! I try to apply them in my first life a lot- especially with family members lol! It’s tough going and definitely a learned skill! I am quite emotional so I have learned to to stop and breathe deeply at least 10 times before I jump in and by that time the wind has calmed (somewhat) in my sails! Listening is a huge skill! Remembering that we are all human and often insecure is something else that helps me not get too upset.Everyone is fighting a hard battle as they say. Some are more intuitive and sensitive than others.
    In SL as I am not hugely social I think perhaps it’s best to be a bit guarded (for reasons you stated at the beginning of your post) yet I appreciate the people I have met- and no conflicts yet this time around!
    I really enjoyed reading this post and finding out you do Aikido!!

  4. Persephone Emerald January 16, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    Great points and ideas for conflict resolution. That must’ve been an interesting salon chat.

    When you listed the A-B-C’s – Avoid conflict, Break Balance, Control opponent, I was also reminded of the US Republican debates, particularly between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, then between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump .The winner in these instances, put their opponent off balance by attacking them in an unexpected way, inviting their opponent to feel strong emotions of insecurity or anger, which then weakened their ability to control their response to the attack. As in Aikido or most martial arts, keeping one’s cool in order to focus on one’s end goals and training is crucial to winning a conflict.

    These steps could thus be used either for conflict resolution or for winning a superior position The choice of which route one takes, depends on one’s end goals. When we want to establish a friendly, cooperative environment, trying to defuse tensions is generally more important than seeming to win a conflict. There are times when an adversary has goals that conflict with our own, though, so then isolating them to prevent them from causing further damage may well be the best route.

    I think we have 3 major barriers to healthy communication in SL. The first is the lack of RL body language. We can’t see when someone else is confused, annoyed, hurt or angry, so we can’t moderate our own communication with them appropriately. The second is that because we never have a full understanding of other people, we often project motivations and feelings onto them that aren’t really there. Finally, as you said in your post, It’s so easy to just shut down communication with anyone who annoys us, that we don’t push ourselves to develop better communication skills with others inworld.

    One thing I do in conflicts, is to try to look at them from a non-personal perspective. Then I break down what my goals are for this relationship and conflict. From there, I can better determine what response will best benefit my long-term goals, If I’m angry with someone who holds power over me in some way, hiding my anger is generally the better tactic. If I’m very angry or if their position creates a real threat to me and my goals, I may look for ways to weaken their position in the long-term, but do so in such a way as to not weaken my own position. If I realize my feelings toward them are based on a psychological trigger of my own, rather than their actual intent to cause me harm, I’m more likely to distance myself from them, but not seek to cause them harm. If I think I need to maintain a working relationship with them, I may try to be friendly and charming, and try to accommodate their needs and expectations, despite not liking or respecting them.

  5. Lici Le January 16, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Great article! Just thought I’d let you know that you’ve included this paragraph twice “First, I am assuming that when faced with a dispute, you want both parties to win. The methods I list will not help you ‘win arguments’. Rather, they might lead to win-win agreements, where neither party feels like they lost. I prefer win-win outcomes to disputes because they tend to help us preserve relationships.” You don’t have to make this public if you don’t want to lol Just thought I’d let you know! I’ll be taking some of this advice on in the future for sure!

    • Becky January 16, 2016 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks Lici, I saw that right after I posted because my proofreading skills are best immediately *after* I hit publish!

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