<<This article is the second in a series of Leadership Lessons from Wikipedia. Read the first Wait What? & Anyone Can Edit>>
Wikipedia has literally thousands of editors and participants. The project is one of the most popular sites on the Internet, with millions of views a day. No single person leads or coordinates the thousands of edits that happen every day. And, yet, the workings of Wikipedia can teach us Lessons on Leadership.
When we work in teams, conflict is inevitable. And when you work on the world’s largest crowd-sourced encyclopedia – the repository of all human knowledge – conflict occurs daily.
Much of the time, edits are not controversial. Someone might fix a typo. Someone else adds a piece of breaking news. Someone might decide that an area of knowledge needs expansion, as when XX nearly single handedly added hundreds of scientists. The various people working on articles co-exist and create in parallel. Inevitably though, editors will disagree about what belongs in an article or how something is phrased or the proper title of an article.
When editors disagree, they take the discussion to the Talk page of the article and strive to reach consensus. And when they do, they are instructed to first assume good faith.
Assuming Good Faith
To create order in a fundamentally chaotic world, certain guideline and guideposts are necessary. And in the world of the ‘pedia, a fundamental guideline is that in every conflict, we must Assume Good Faith of the others involved in the dispute. Since the various editors don’t generally know each other IRL (in real life), they cannot build trust face-to-face. Therefore, they are instructed to bring trust with them.
The primary reason to Assume Good Faith is that when we believe that the other person is acting in an aggressive or belligerent manner, compromise is exceedingly difficult to achieve.
The Attribution Fallacy
Sadly, assuming good faith (particularly of strangers) is not a fundamentally natural behavior. Psychologists call it the Attribution Fallacy. Simply put, when we make a mistake, we attribute the best possible explanation. And when someone else makes a mistake, we attribute the worst possible reason. For example, if I’m late to a meeting, I rationalize that I was talking with another client, or that I had a sick child that morning, or a flat tire, or any number of a million reasons why I was late that made it not my fault. If someone else is late to my meeting, I tell myself the worst possible story about why. They don’t respect me or what I’m trying to achieve. They don’t care about other people at all. In fact, they have an irremediable character flaw that runs deep in their soul. This, my friends, is the Attribution Fallacy at work.
The Best Possible Story
When we assume good faith, we assume the best. We tell the best possible story about why someone is opposing us. When we assume noble intent, the stories we tell open the doors to understanding and consensus. We get curious rather than confrontational. We read emails with a friendly tone instead of a snarky tone. Assuming good faith creates an atmosphere of trust and belonging.
How do you show your team that you believe that they are acting in the best interests of the team?