[hackerspaces] That one person...

Ross Smith rsmith at i3detroit.com
Wed Mar 2 15:21:19 CET 2011

(This feels like a Dear Abby column!)

Dear AC,

> 1. Have your space ever needed to cope with a person like this?

At my space, I wouldn't say a single person outdoes the rest of us in
this regard.  Good people like your Hacker X still can lead wicked
double-lives of bad behavior (dramatic and unsolicited criticism,
accidentally steamrolling other people's emotions, epic
misunderstanding-based flamewarring).  It happens at my space too, yet
we are still friends, and conflicts have a way of being handled.  To
that end, I'm going to give you a conflict-resolution process below;

> 2. What did you do about it?
> 3. What happened? Did it help?

The rule is "fairness to both sides."  This person has a side; your
space has a side.  Both have to be heard and both have to be respected
if you ever hope to persuade this person to change.

I use the steps below.  I don't know if it's necessary for you to be a
person of authority in your space (President, a member of the Board of
Directors, etc), but it helps, and really these conversations should
be handled by those people if it's a matter of one member disrupting
the space's well-being.

 1) amicably and maturely bring the problem(s) to their attention
 2) give *specific* instances of the bad behavior
 3) back the instances with complaints from *multiple* people as much
as possible
 4) respect the person's position, hear them out, and give the person
a chance to defend him/herself
 5) if necessary, hold firm to the fact that the behavior is harmful
and has to change or else there is no room for the person at your

It's very easy to make the person feel cornered or attacked if all you
say is "You discourage other people;" you need more substantiated
complaints and specific instances than that.  ("Last week when Lisa
was working on her movie prop you spent twenty minutes giving
unsolicited advice about her wood-working mistakes; she got so
discouraged that she hasn't been back"; that sort of thing.)  Likewise
it's very easy to make the person feel like the target of your
personal vendetta if you can't back the conversation with *multiple*
complaints from more people than yourself.  If this person really is
harmful to your space, your members need to have taken the action of
raising the issue and complained.  If no one actually complains to the
powers that be, then frankly you have no evidence to take to this
person to fairly have a conversation about their behavior.  The issue
must come to a head.  If the problem is as bad as you say, getting
voiced complaints shouldn't be hard.

Keep it calm and mature.  This isn't about name-calling or hearsay,
it's about getting along with colleagues.  Mature people can have
these conversations and still be friends; don't let it sound like a
personal attack that could end with "Also you suck and I don't like
you."  Express your concerns, hear his or her side, and try to reach a
mutually understood agreement about what needs to change.  The more
you listen to and *actively explore* their position in this
conversation, the more likely the person will see and respect your
side as well.

In my experience, 90% of these conflicts are imaginary and dispelled
with goodwill when you follow this process.  The offender relents
quickly, knows right from wrong, and we get on with our lives.  If the
person really, honestly does not see what they did wrong and insists
that everyone else is stupid/weak/boring/etc (I have never met such a
person myself), you have a real problem.  You have to make sure the
person truly understands that they can't stay if they don't respect
your complaints - and you have to have backing from your space's
authorities to enforce that.

Trust me, it's worth it to go the route outlined above.  If I were the
aggressive Hacker X in this scenario (as I have sometimes been in the
past), I would much rather be told to my face what harm I was
unknowingly doing.  If I do the harm knowingly, it has to be
communicated to me that it won't be tolerated.  Apart from that
person's education about their own behavior, the space has an
obligation to defend its social atmosphere, whatever that atmosphere
happens to be.



On Wed, Mar 2, 2011 at 8:03 AM,  <auto37494135 at hushmail.com> wrote:
> First of all, I'm truly sorry to write this as an Anonymous Coward,
> however this case is somewhat sensitive because it revolves around
> a single person.
> Have your hackerspace ever needed to cope with 'that one person'
> that seems to be so active that other people seem to fade in
> activity, not because s/he is that active, just because his/her
> mere presence drains other members' hacker vein completely?
> This particular person dominates to a degree where other members
> have ceased to hang out in the space. It is not because of bad
> hygiene, it is not because he breaks anything, it's all about
> domination. He actually does a lot of good, solid work in the
> space, and he helps people. But when people disagree with him, he
> gets (passively) aggressive, and is generally not 'excellent' to be
> around. This leads to a generally tense atmosphere in the space,
> which understandably scares some of our best hackers away.
> My cowardly anonymous questions to you all are:
> 1. Have your space ever needed to cope with a person like this?
> 2. What did you do about it?
> 3. What happened? Did it help?
> Thanks for your insight.
> If you want to reply to this thread anonymously, you can use this
> Hushmail account: auto37494135 / foobarbaz
> _______________________________________________
> Discuss mailing list
> Discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
> http://lists.hackerspaces.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss

Ross Smith
i3Detroit President

"Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually
right." -- Henry Ford

More information about the Discuss mailing list