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Assholes Are Killing Your Project Session
Community Leadership Summit 2012
(LH sez I didn't get all names; please add yourself.)
Rodger Williams
Dawn Foster
Michael Downey
Ilan Rabinovitch
Randy Fay
Lance Albertson
Donnie Berkholz
Jacinta Richardson
Kathy Houghtalen
Alex Lefebvre
David Galliel
Aja Bogdanoff
Ed Cable
Paul Orwig
Fred Trotter
George Dunlap
Richard Meidera
Ben van't Ende
Chris Beltran
Dave Neary
Leslie Hawthorn (took notes)
Sarah White
Dan Allen
Hans M. Kern
  • Don't give assholes the benefit of the doubt, lay down the law and say their behavior is inappropriate and will not be tolerated
  • No need for natural justice if you're not denying someone anything - assholes will argue points of order/process/etc. to defend their bad behavior
  • Being part of a community is a privilege, not a right
  • Have a good set of guidelines and document your processes so you can deal with behavior problems in a known, documented way
  • What happens when one of your assholes is one of your leaders?
  • Build a private coalition of supporters to address
  • If there's a culture of fear and reprisal, it won't get better
  • Danger of group think in a benevolent dictator culture
  • Make sure to have a diverse set of leaders to ensure a diverse set of members
  • If you are a consensus based community, it's much harder to deal with asshole problems, not a slam on consensus just an acknowledgement that it is difficult vs. majority rules
  • Some communities have had success in turning trolls or assholes into useful contributors
  • Sometimes people don't know what they're doing, they just want attention/recognition, give them an opportunity to do so more productively
  • Understand their motivations, address root cause
  • May not understand how negatively their behavior is being perceived
  • May feel that it is in best interests of the whole group, so persevere
  • When addressing, show that you are on their side / trying to help instead of shutting someone down
  • "I know you did not mean for your statement to be taken poorly, but perhaps you could have phrased it this way..."
  • Assholes can also deliberately violate social norms, don't assume that everyone is just misguided
  • How do you spread the responsibility of community policing/dealing with the tough conversations? 
  • Some communities have conflict resolution group vs. having one person have all the difficult conversations
  • Agree in advance on process to address so that everyone doesn't wait for it to happen, then more likely task will only fall on one person
  • Open the question about how to turn the assholes into someone cool in your community more widely
  • Kill them with kindness approach - push work on someone because they are so 'amazing', for example
  • Dispense the best asshole of the week award (kidding! maybe not....)
  • Rotate the functions of leadership - this month you deal with the tough conversations vs. last month when you wrote the newsletter, etc.
  • Not my or my community's responsibilty to socialize people - even if they admit they are poorly socialized - they need to behave well in order to participate effectively and the goal is effective participation
  • Actually mentally ill people can show up in your community - different set of problems
  • How do we better prepare ourselves to deal with difficult conversations when we are introverts? Assholes are always going to show up and we can't stop them from being assholes.
  • Have the conversations more quickly.
  • When new people come in and do something wrong, correct gently. Start kindly. Then escalate your response.
  • 3 strikes you're out process - some involve tiered suspensions, others public reminder about "not cool" with pointer to guidelines and then next private reminder then public banning - almost never get to the 3rd time
  • Don't necessarily get the 3 strikes if it is bad enough the first time
  • Hard to notice when it is many little things that add up over time
  • People who stick exactly to "the rules" can still be major assholes
  • If there is behavior that is illegal, treat it as illegal and not as a matter involving conflict resolution. This goes immediately to the authorities.
  • What happens when the asshole is a paid contributor? We've talked a lot about volunteers but what about when the individual is an employee?
  • You can kick a paid contributor out of a project if they are not doing their job
  • Even worse when the paid asshole is executing their employer's strategy
  • Community can limit the asshole's access to the community, even if they are paid to do the work
  • Use the penny trick - just agree in the community that every time someone exhibits the behavior you don't like, give them a penny but don't tell them why, just give it to them as feedback; eventually they get it
  • What about someone who is super picky about patch review? Can this count as being an asshole? It does drive people away.
  • What about when certain behavior is accepted that is suboptimal and the asshole points to their behavior being acceptable in the community's culture?
  • What happens when you've driven away all the people who agree that this behavior is assholish?
  • Build a culture that defines what correct behavior is or you can't deal with the asshole problem
  • Difficult to be in a situation where you are trying to enact change in a situation in which you feel powerless