Out Against the Right: An Organizing Handbook for Queer Activists and Grassroots Organizers
For lesbian activists and grassroots organizers fighting the Christian Right.

Constructive Discussion and Conflict Resolution

If you succeed in creating a group with people who are willing to be out, to do direct action, and to fight the right-wing, you can guarantee that the members of this fabulous group will have all sorts of opinions about what to do and how to do it. And these are girls who won't shy away from arguing for their point of view! When a discussion about strategy and a possible action is seen as a think-tank-a time for you to play off each other's ideas and creativity until you come up with something that grabs all of you-you'll be glad to have such a vocal group. You can toss around all sorts of different strategies and move them towards one idea that your whole group can get behind. But this mix of opinions and ideas can be difficult if people dig in their heels or take negative stances against another's ideas.

We have learned the hard way what kinds of responses in a discussion move us closer to our goals, and what kinds leave us feeling angry and defeated. It is not helpful to simply tear apart someone else's idea-but it does help to point out a weak part and propose an alternative solution. Frame remarks as constructive criticism, not personal, political, or strategic judgment. Try to set up a group in which everybody's ideas can eventually be realized, and in which each person has a positive rather than a negative impact. Those suggestions may help you smooth a rocky discussion.

But there may still be an idea for an action or an issue which brings up strong divisions in the group. When we find ourselves in this sort of situation, we don't back away from the issue or let it tear our group apart. Instead, we try to enter into a process of negotiated compromise. In general, we operate by majority vote. We want to be able to move ahead with an idea even if every person doesn't love it. However, we have also learned that the more your group members are behind an idea, the more you can count on people doing work and showing up for an action. So seeking out a simple majority for an action isn't necessarily in our best interests. Also, if something passes by only a small number of votes it means that a lot of people think something is wrong with the idea, even if they haven't been able to articulate their concerns during the discussion. At such a time, we all make a commitment to negotiate so we can override factions, cliques, and division.

During this kind of discussion, each side must be willing to be flexible and open until a comfortable solution is found. Here are some strategies you can use during these types of negotiated discussions:

  1. Ask those who are opposed to the idea if there is some way it can be changed that would enable them to support it. -During the discussion try to focus on the issues rather than on the number of individuals or the strength of presentations on either side. Alternating pro and con speakers accomplishes this by giving both sides equal representation, and also it often creates a dialogue within which the issues will emerge.
  2. Don't speak unless you have something truly new to add to the discussion.
  3. Try, despite the passion of your positions, to treat other group members respectfully, focusing your passion on the issue and not on each other.
  4. Sometimes it helps to take a non-binding straw vote before your actual vote. If this preliminary vote is severely divided you can attempt to come up with a constructive alternative which addresses the divisive issues before you call the final vote.

If, after all parties negotiate in good faith, you still can not come up with a solution on which everyone agrees, you might still go along with a majority vote. We ask people to consider abstaining from votes if there are things they don't support but don't feel compelled to stop from happening. If this happens, the people on the "losing" side should be able to live with it, and must not continue to put down the idea or action as it progresses.

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