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Names in this question are not actual names, not even online pseudonyms. I am the leader of a mediumsized online gaming community (about 50 active members). Alice and Bob assist me in running this online community.

A subgroup of this community runs a particular weekly gaming session. They have about 10-15 people attending regularly, including Alice and Bob. For reasons not relevant to this question, I am not part of this gaming session. Bob calls the shots in this gaming session and makes sure that it runs smoothly. Alice is supposed to take over if Bob is unavailable to join.

Dave, Alice's boyfriend, came to me, complaining that Frank, Gerard and some of their friends are bullying him. Alice somewhat confirmed this. Dave and Alice have been with the group a relatively short time, three months maybe, while Frank and Gerard have been longstanding members. They didn't strike me as the bullying type, but I could be wrong of course and Dave struck me as genuinely upset about the situation. They are known for their - sometimes a bit dark - humor, though.

At about the same time, Gerard came to me, mentioning Dave and Alice were being rude.

I investigated the situation, speaking with Frank and Gerard individually, but also with various other members of the weekly group. I took care not to mention that Dave feels bullied. Frank and Gerard both told me that they believe Dave and Alice don't like them, but they weren't sure why. Frank told me Dave had repeatedly insulted him, which Frank tried to cope with by joking, which Dave in return believed was bullying. Other members have confirmed the insulting from Dave's side.

Frank, Gerard and a few of friends tend to prank each other. They would burst out in laughter for no apparant reason on voice communications. Dave mentioned that he thinks they are laughing about him. Frank, Gerard and friends have admitted to me that they are not talking to Dave much anymore. They are actively ignoring him on voice chat, unless they need to communicate with him for gameplay reasons or he addresses them directly, in which case they give simple responses. They are trying to avoid any more clashes. (I know this because I listened in on voice chat and other members confirmed this is happening.)

Dave shows clear (psychological) signs of being a bully victim. He seems to genuinely believe himself to be the victim in this situation. While I think Frank and friends haven't been the nicest about it recently, I don't think it justifies Dave and Alice's behaviour. They promised me to try and be the better human and not let it get to them.

Instead he appears to be bullying Frank and to some extent Frank's friends. Alice fully supports him. I understand where his feelings come from, but I think it is all in his head. Frank and friends are worried about the admin Alice 'supporting' the bullying.


This is creating a very hostile situation. I would like to solve it as peacefully as possible, preferably without offending Dave and Alice or creating any 'drama', but that may be difficult. How can I get Dave to realize he the cause of his troubles, not Frank and Gerard?

Summary: Dave is rude to others and gets ignored because of it. Dave thinks he is being bullied.

Clarification: All people in question are adults between mid-twenties and late thirties.

  • What is the location you all live in? – XtremeBaumer Mar 28 '18 at 13:28
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    @XtremeBaumer all over the world – Belle Mar 28 '18 at 13:30
  • is it possible Dave took the laughing at nothing to be the first insult? and it just escalated from there. if I joined a new group and people were randomly laughing, if it happened enough times after I had spoken it would upset me. – WendyG Mar 28 '18 at 15:01
  • @WendyG possibly. I understand that Dave thinks he gets bullied, but 1) it is based on (false) assumptions and 2) he doesn’t stop to think what he can do about it – Belle Mar 28 '18 at 16:00
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    @cactus_pardner To your first question: he agrees with me, but isn't sure how to talk about it. To your second: it's a team based game which requires a minimum amount of people. It's not possible to split the team up in any way that would leave two big enough groups. And even if it would be, Dave is starting to create issues with more or less the whole team at this point. – Belle Mar 29 '18 at 11:21
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It will be incredibly difficult to get Dave and Alice to relinquish their feelings of victim-hood. In fact,I would go so far as to say that it's unlikely to happen at all. And so, there are a couple of considerations at play here:

1) Communicating where you stand

You're going to need to take Dave and Alice aside, and explain the situation: Dave is insulting Frank and Gerard, and then complaining about the blow-back. Furthermore, while Frank and Gerard are trying to be adults about it, Dave and Alice continue to push their buttons. This cannot continue.

The way to go about getting that unpleasant message across will be to sit them down, and calmly explain your point of view.

Guys, I've investigated the situation, and even sat down and listened in on the game session last week. What I've found is that there indeed exists tension in the group, however the situation is not as clear cut as you make it out to be. Dave, while Frank and Gerard have their own style of humor, which you may not appreciate, I couldn't help but notice that while they were trying to be polite to you, or avoid you, you did not offer them the same consideration. You made snarky comments about them on several occasions, which is not helping the situation. And Alice, as a game admin it's your responsibility to mediate these conflicts, not come down on Dave's side and escalate the situation.

You will, of course, have to adapt this to your own style.

Sadly, it's more than likely that they won't like what you've go to say, even if it is the objective truth.

2) The interests of the community

As the community leader you will now have to make some difficult decisions. Dave and Alice have essentially proven that they can't be entirely trusted.

David completely ignored the fact that he bears some responsibility for the situation, and tried to play the victim. Alice, an admin, did not remain impartial, or try to mediate the conflict. Instead, she came down on Dave's side, and escalated the situation. This is sure to make the rest of the people involved in the session more than a little uncomfortable around the new comers.

And so, what's likely in the best interest of the community is for you to deliver the above talk to Dave and Alice, put them on notice that their behavior is "not cool", and place them on probation.

Alice should no longer admin any sessions until she learns what it means to be objective, and lead. And any more negative behavior from either of them should result in a firm push out the door, as they would then have proven themselves to be instigators of conflict (otherwise known as toxic), and not productive members of the community.

5

This situation is difficult to mediate effectively online since everyone is all over the world. Could there be a cultural misunderstanding?

AndreiRom has great points. If you deliver the speech he prepared, just know that Dave and Alice will probably assume you are taking sides. That speech doesn't acknowledge Dave's fantasies of people bullying him or the feelings created by it.

Dave shows clear (psychological) signs of being a bully victim. He seems to genuinely believe himself to be the victim in this situation.

Dave sounds very defensive and quick to rise to false conclusions. This can be very difficult to mediate. Is it possible he has been a bully victim in the past? Those past feelings could have been triggered by what he perceived to be bullying on Frank/Gerard's end. That, in no way, excuses his current attitude in the group but provides an explanation to help you resolve this issue.

Acknowledge his hurt feelings. Even if no one believes him to be the victim, he clearly does so operate as though it is a possibility. By laying out the situations and both perspectives, the truth may be more easily revealed.

Dave, I know you're feeling hurt and defensive right now. I'd like to help figure this out.

Ask probing questions. He may open up or be more receptive. You might even find out that he's been bullied in the past.

Dave, can you tell me what the source of all these issues are? Can you recall a specific situation that triggered these events? It's very out of the norm for members of the group to pick on new members so I'd like to help resolve it where I can.

Firmly bring up that his are not the only hurt or offended feelings. Even if he were being bullied, he's handling it in a very childish fashion. Instead of talking to the group (no help from the admin), he went on the defensive and lashed out.

I hear what you're saying, Dave. I've also heard from the group. Do you think there's been a series of misunderstandings? Because you perceived ( X situation ) to be bullying, you reacted ( X situation ) and these people were also hurt.

This may be a lot more work but Dave seems to take everything personally so approach with caution!

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Short answer

Don't take sides and concentrate of the fact that both parties of the conflict feel offended. Deal with it by making both parties share their perceptions of the situation with each other and reminding them that the goal is to act in the interests of community.

Long and complicated answer

The following answer gets a bit metacognitive which might be quite confusing, but I hope it will help you to change your way of thinking about conflicts in general to resolve this one in particular.

From the title of your question it seems that you've already decided whose side you are on, which is something you as a leader of your community should avoid (taking sides) at any cost. It seems like you are trying to be objective about this situation but it might not be possible (or even necessary) so instead you should try to be more open-minded about it. These might seem like the same thing but they're not, so just bear with me here.

Even though you've talked to all the parties and "witnesses" and even listened to one of the sessions, you can't really know how it all started because the information you have is a product of people's perceptions of the situation and even if you yourself have witnessed the situation it would've been your perception of it which might differ from the perceptions of the offended parties.

As you can see this all gets rather complicated and subjective, so instead of trying to establish objective truth of the situation, you should focus on the fact that you have two parties who both feel (subjectively) offended.

So all you need to do is to get both parties of the conflict to share their perception of the situation with each other and sort out who meant what and how it was received by the other party. And while doing all this refrain from adding your own subjective perception to the mix (i.e. don't take sides).

This way you will be acting in the interests of community and not any member (or group) in particular. And hopefully all the participants of the conflict will be willing to act in those interests too, and if they don't - remind them that the goal is to restore (and keep) the friendly atmosphere of the community so that all members could enjoy it.

  • Thank you for the answer, but I am not really sure if this answers my question. It almost seems like you rephrased it. You have addressed the 'before' and 'after' of my question - a step I already went through and one that I will (most likely) go through after the question in question: getting Dave to accept that he's not just the victim here. Going into the talk before that is clear won't resolve anything. – Belle Mar 29 '18 at 6:17
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    There's a misconception floating around that if you get disagreeing parties to simply talk their differences out, everything is gonna get worked out. But many, many times those sort of talks fall apart when one party refuses to compromise/admit fault. Or they do admit fault superficially, but still claim to have been wronged more.There exists another misconception that leaders should be impartial. However, leaders have skin in the game, and thus are not impartial - and they shouldn't be. The OP's interest is to have the community run smoothly, not babysit Dave's feelings. – AndreiROM Mar 29 '18 at 17:35
  • @Belle-Sophie What I meant is that you shouldn't try to convince Dave that he is the cause of the conflict (or even assume that he is), because doing so would make it seem like you are taking Frank's and Gerard's side which in turn is likely to drive Dave (and possibly Alice) away from your community. Instead you should try to acknowledge the feelings of all involved to preserve your community's members and its morale, which I assume is the most important goal here. And also by reminding everyone of this goal you are more likely to convince them to resolve their issues with each other. – r3mus n0x Mar 29 '18 at 19:39
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    Frank understands and accepts that he could have acted differently. He is willing to work towards a solution. Dave, on the other hand, believes that Frank is entirely at fault and that his own actions were impeccable. I aim to be impartial, where it helps the community. There will always be conflict in a large community. I do not 'pick sides' in a conflict between members, unless one side is completely out of line and even then it's not a "the other side is right, you are wrong", but a "you acted out of line". – Belle Mar 30 '18 at 9:05
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    In this case, Dave is creating tension in the community. Whether Frank is right or wrong has nothing to do with that. In fact, what Frank does is irrelevant, unless Frank is acting out of line with community guidelines. Dave is acting out of line with community guidelines. – Belle Mar 30 '18 at 9:09

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