Re: Types of conflict in cohousing -- did I miss any?
From: Mary Baker, Solid Communications (
Date: Sun, 24 Jan 2016 11:28:24 -0800 (PST)
These are some really great  examples of specific frustrations, Sharon.

I have to agree that one of the most difficult things to deal with in cohousing 
are those people that speak ‘Conciliato’ yet are Machiavellian in their actual 
behavior.  I was describing to an Italian friend how some people dress like 
earth muffins and toss around phrases like “speaking from one’s own truth” and 
“embracing one’s human-ness” yet at the same time they may be the most viperish 
manipulators in the community. My friend said this is the language of 
Conciliato—full of love and conciliation—but as two-tongued as the snake in 
Eden. I loved that! For me, it helped put the whole thing in a broader 
perspective and it was also humorous. 

I also began to notice that my European friends are generally much more 
tolerant of deviant behavior within a small community or neighborhood. The 
curmudgeons, the drama queens, they’re all accepted as part of the fabric. 
They’re even good-naturedly teased and prodded for a reaction. 

I think there’s a lot of pressure in American cohousing communities for 
everyone to be very vanilla—like watching an Arlo Guthrie concert but with 
Wonder Bread and Ivory Soap commercials. 


From: Sharon Villines 
Sent: Sunday, January 24, 2016 9:17 AM
To: Mary Baker, Solid Communications ; cohousing-l [at] 
Subject: Re: [C-L]_ Types of conflict in cohousing -- did I miss any? 
(Mariana's questions)

> On Jan 23, 2016, at 11:27 AM, Mary Baker, Solid Communications <mary [at] 
>> wrote:
> I am referring to a lack of consequences for established residents who for 
> some reason give themselves permission to target, bully and insult others. 
> This ties into conflict avoidance because people don’t want to take a stand 
> when this kind of thing happens—not even a mild, “hey that’s not okay”. But 
> these are two sides of the same coin, aren’t they?  I’ll mention them both 
> the workbook.

In addition to this are the people who by passive surreptitious means get their 
way. They are hidden in their actions and don’t respond to queries. Or they 
claim authority on behalf of some segment of the community without ever 
identifying them. Sneaky people no one wants to call out. The person who does 
call them out is blamed for being the difficult person.

I find this kind of conflict much more difficult and conflict causing than one 
who gets angry or digs their feet in on every issue. Someone who is open can 
usually be talked to by someone. Sneaky people are too hidden and often deny 
what is going on. They aren’t just avoiders—they are passive aggressive. They 
manipulate to their own self-righteousness aims. They act as if they are 
protecting the community when they are not.

Unclear or badly designed systems create conflict. And conflicts have two 
sides, even if one side appears to be the victim or the anger appears to come 
out of nowhere. Discussing it as a personality or politeness issue will not 
resolve the conflict. 

Conflicting purposes or aims can be the cause of conflict but these usually 
arise from unclear community expectations. I have a right to have my own aims 
in my unit but in common space, I have to act in accordance with agreed upon 
community standards.

Then there are limited common elements, which we have not clearly defined, or 
of which we have several definitions. Therein lies much conflict. And the 
conflict also makes the problem difficult to resolve. Conflicting aims.

> Another example of transparency: I was on the security team and we had a rash 
> of petty thefts, and of course the predictable hue and cry. However, not only 
> did everyone have an opinion, some were speaking for the community as in “We 
> don’t want this,  no one wants that, we talked about that years ago.” But we 
> have quite a few new families with young children, so I knew I wasn’t getting 
> a good sampling.

The big conflict I experience over this is caused by people making exaggerated 
characterizations of any examination of any situation as criminalizing people. 
A suggestion to call a lawyer is characterized as prosecution and going to the 
legal system. Efforts to correct this kind of characterization can be squelched 
in a meeting by the facilitator as argument and not allowing people to express 
their opinions. But it influences decisions and often leads to a stalemate.

Some of us once wanted to put up a NannyCam to find out who was taking things 
from the refrigerator. One such theft was cutting a piece out of a 
ten-year-old's birthday cake before her party. Another taking clearly marked 
special pastries purchased at a special bakery in another town for a membership 

The objective of finding out who was doing this was to correct a direction in 
the community that was leading to suspicion of several people, and fear of 
using our own common facilities. Everyone was limited in their own functioning 
by probably one person. This was worse than knowing who was doing it and 
knowing why and working with them to restore community values.

> Well, we ORDERED a camera but when it arrived the new team leader couldn’t 
> figure out how to use it so she sent it back.

This is the kind of thing I mean by being sneaky — not so “sneaky" in this case 
but taking a unilateral action that is contrary to a community or team decision.

> Without this kind of archived information, the loudest voices in the 
> community hold sway, simply because they can shout down everyone else. 

But this is not the loudest voice. It can be the quietest action, as in 
returning the camera. And effective because it is not discovered for months and 
months. Everyone else is waiting for the camera to arrive and it has already 
been returned.

Conflict is bigger than the people identified as involved.


According to

> Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among that involves a real or 
> perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to 
> be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, 
> spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding 
> someone from a group on purpose.

(I deleted “among school age children”. It’s universal.)

Bullying is an aggressive act directed at a person or persons in a power 
relationship. It isn’t loud voices or disagreement or emotional responses. 
Bullying has a defined target that is repeatedly assaulted. 

Exclusion is a form of bullying. It prevents a person physically from being 
present and participating. 

The word “bullying” has become the catch-phrase for strong disagreement and/or 
criticism. Friend who was criticized in every performance review by 3 
principles claimed they were all bullying her.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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